This new 110 XPF stamp issue, designed by Jean-Jacques Mahuteau, forms the second instalment of the stamp series dedicated to legendary ocean liners and shows the Natal, a Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes mail packet which, in 1882, became the first ship to provide a regular service between Marseilles and Noumea via the Suez Canal.
The first of seven identical steamships built at La Ciotat, the Natal was a two funnel vessel fitted with a propeller, and had three masts and three decks. With a length of 130.75 m and a beam of 12.07 m, the liner could accommodate 211 passengers and a crew of 196, and averaged a speed of 12 knots.
After making three trips in Oceania, the Natal was transferred to the China route, which she sailed from 1884 to 1897. In 1890, she ran into a violent typhoon on the way from Hong Kong to Saigon and suffered major damage. The Natal sailed the eastern Mediterranean routes from 1897 to 1898 and was then reassigned to routes in the Indian Ocean up until 1914.
The liner was requisitioned for war service during the First World War and regularly carried not just mail but also soldiers serving in auxiliary troops. She played a part in the Gallipoli landings and was also one of the ships used to transport the Serbian army from Corfu to Salonika in 1916.
On the evening of 30th August 1917, the Natal was hiding in Marseilles harbour, with all lights out, to avoid detection by German submarines when a freighter rammed her port side. She sank in the space of a few minutes, taking over a hundred people, including the captain, with her to her watery grave.
For the last hundred years, the wreck has lain off Planier Island at a depth of 127 m. In professional diving circles, it is rumoured that the wreckage hides a mysterious treasure...