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The Historic Ship Amiral Latouche-Tréville

The Historic Ship Amiral Latouche-Tréville

The Amiral Latouche-Tréville, also known as the Admiral Latouche-Tréville, was a famous merchant ship owned by the French maritime transportation company Chargeurs Réunis (Compagnie Maritime des Chargeurs Réunis). Historical documents record that a young Vietnamese man named Nguyen Tat Thanh, who later became famous as Ho Chi Minh, served on the ship from 1911 to 1913 as a kitchen assistant.

This ship should not be confused with three other ships of the same name owned by the French Navy, named after Admiral Louis-René Levassor de Latouche Tréville (1745–1804).

Basic Information

The Amiral Latouche-Tréville was owned by the Chargeurs Réunis company, also known as the Five Star Line due to the company’s emblem featuring five stars on the smokestack. It was one of six ships bearing the title Amiral in the Chargeurs Réunis fleet, including Latouche-Tréville, de Kersaint, Nielly, Orly, Ponty, and Magon.

Named after French Navy Admiral Louis René Latouche-Tréville (1745-1804), the ship had the registration number 5601960 and was built by the Loire Shipyard (France) starting on September 21, 1903, and launched in February 1904 in Nantes. The ship measured 118.7 meters in length, 15.2 meters in width, with a gross tonnage of 5,572 tons, a maximum payload of 7,200 tons, operated on steam power, and could accommodate up to 1,100 people (including the crew).

After its launch, the ship was operated by Chargeurs Réunis from 1904 to 1929. During World War I, it was used to transport a Russian expeditionary force, commanded by General Lokhvitsky, from Manchuria to Marseille to join the French allies. On February 27, 1925, the ship collided with the Norwegian steamship Anna Skogland in Havre and suffered minor damage. On March 11, 1929, the ship was retired and dismantled in Dunkirk after 25 years of service.

Historical Human Connection

In the early 1920s, the Chargeurs Réunis office in Saigon was located across from the Ben Nghe River, at the corner of Catinat Street (now Dong Khoi), on the first floor of a café called La Rotonde. On June 2, 1911, the Amiral Latouche Tréville, captained by Louis Édouard Maisen with a crew of 69, sailed from Hai Phong to dock in Saigon. During this period, Chargeurs Réunis recruited additional staff to work on the ship.

Among the applicants was a slender young man working as a porter at the dock, named Nguyen Van Ba, who was hired as a kitchen assistant (cum janitor), starting work on June 3, 1911, at Saigon port. On June 5, 1911, the ship departed Saigon for a voyage to Singapore.

The Journey of a Young Kitchen Assistant

Ho Chi Minh later recounted his time as a kitchen assistant on the Amiral Latouche-Tréville in the book “The Stories of President Ho’s Activities” by Tran Dan Tien. From Saigon, the ship traveled to Singapore, crossed the Strait of Malacca, visited India, Ceylon, Djibouti (the Horn of Africa), the Red Sea, Port Said, and the Mediterranean, docking in Marseille, France, on July 6, 1911. The thousand-mile journey across continents was arduous, with demanding work on the ship involving early mornings and late nights, cleaning, fuel supply, passenger service, and kitchen duties.

During a brief stay in Marseille, Nguyen Van Ba was allowed ashore to visit the Cannebière Port. Subsequently, the ship set sail for Le Havre on July 15, 1911, and then went to Dunkirk for over 40 days of repairs. Here, Nguyen Van Ba was granted a few days of freedom by Captain Louis Édouard Maisen and went to stay at his private residence in Sainte Adresse to help with gardening. Nguyen Van Ba also traveled to Paris to meet the revered Phan Chau Trinh.

After repairs, the Amiral Latouche-Tréville continued its journey to the Americas, visiting the west coast of Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, the Lesser Antilles, and finally arriving in the United States in early December 1912. In the U.S., Nguyen Van Ba sent a letter from New York to the Middle Kingdom’s envoy on December 15, signing it Paul Tatthanh. Leaving New York, the ship docked in Boston and returned to Le Havre in early 1913. Nguyen Tat Thanh then moved to the United Kingdom, where he resided for four years (1913 to the end of 1916).

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