Irish Ships and Shipping

Paquebot mail by Brian Limerick

The whole concept of Paquebot mail would seem to be surrounded by much confusion, both in maritime and postal circles. It might be true to say that few seafarers are acquainted with, and understand the rules regarding the Paquebot mail privileges. Unfortunately, the same can also be said to be true of many postal officials.

The concept is based on the fact that a merchant ship on the high seas is sovereign national territory of the country whose flag she flies (similar to an embassy) and therefore mail posted aboard a ship in international waters is entitled to be franked with stamps of, and in accordance with the postal rates of the country of the ship's registry.
It can be seen that when the ship reaches its next port and mail posted by passengers and crew is handed over to the local postal authorities, that difficulties will arise and for this reason, back in 1893, rules were laid down by the Universal Postal Union (U.P.U.). These rules have been regularly updated, the last time being in Lausanne in 1974.

The relevant articles referring to the legal use of Paquebot mail are as below:

Article 26 (2). If the items are posted on board on the high seas they may be prepaid - by means of the postage stamps and according to the rates of the country to which the ship appertains or is under contract. Items prepaid in this way must be handed over to the post office at the port of call as soon as possible after the ship's arrival.

Article 133 (6). The stamping (postmarking) of the items posted on ships shall be the responsibility of the postal official on board charged with the 8 duty or, failing those, with the post office at the port of call at which these items are handed over. In that case the office shall impress the correspondence with its date stamp and add the word NAVIRE, PAQUEBOT or any similar note.

Many of the passenger carrying ships of certain countries still have post offices on board, mainly Scandinavian ferries and cruise ships but also some ships of the Italian, German and Russian fleets.

Since World War II use of the Paquebot privilege by merchant ships has declined to where most (but not all) such mail today is probably of philatelic origin.

Many of the old Paquebot markings have disappeared but surprisingly, except for the Latin American countries, there is continued use of such markings at most of the older ports and many of the new ports and new markings keep appearing from not only the old ports but from the new ones as well.

During 1981 some 116 new Paquebot markings were reported, 37 of these being from previously unreported ports. Included were . new markings from large ports like New York and Bremen and smaller ports such as Port Cartier in Canada, Port Huon, Tasmania and
Landskrona, Sweden. One new port also reported was Avilas in Spain with a new marking first used on an envelope posted to me by the Master of m.v. Tuskar Rock! Many of the ports of call of the ships of Irish Shipping have Paquebot markings, including Durban, Baltimore, Antwerp, Liverpool, Singapore and also many of the smaller European ports.

The U.P.U regulations were originally intended to apply to surface mail but have since been revised to include Paquebot privileges for airmail. However, these airmail regulations are more complicated than for surface mail and therefore rarely used. Quite often, though, mail, with only second class rate or printed matter rate, posted for me by obliging ship's officers 
has arrived within days rather than weeks.

There are many types of Paquebot markings in use throughout the world and it is their variety, and the difficulty in obtaining them, that makes them interesting to collect. Most are straight line marks, sometimes with the name of the port included, or combined in a datestamp. Some of these are illustrated with this article.

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