Steamer Afric A Casualty Of War

By James Donahue

A torpedo from a German submarine destroyed the White Star Line's steamship Afric in the English Channel on February 12, 1917. She took 22 sailors to the bottom with her.

The Afric was not a grandiose vessel, even though she was part of the mighty fleet of ships serving the White Star Line at the turn of the century. Clearly built for the commerce trade, the ship went into service in 189l.

A general description of the Afric established that she had a most ordinary profile. She was 570 feet long, had a single funnel, four masts and only three decks, thus showing very little superstructure. She offered cabins for up to 350 passengers.

What was unique about the Afric was that she was a refrigerated ship, designed to carry cargos of meat . . . up to 12,500 hanging carcasses . . . on long voyages from Liverpool to Sydney, Australia. Thus she was a form of meat wagon put to sea.

Strangely, the owners sent the ship to New York on its maiden voyage, then immediately put the ship back in drydock in Belfast for "modifications." This implies that they wanted more speed since she was going to be carrying perishable cargos halfway around the world. In the end the twin-screw ship maintained a steady speed of 14 knots.

It was on Sept. 9, 1899, that Afric began her regular route between England and Australia. She remained on that route faithfully until the Boer War, when she was pulled aside for service as a troop carrier for the Royal Admiralty.

Then, early in World War I, she was struck by a torpedo from German submarine C-66 and quickly sunk, right off the coast of England.

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