Finnish sailing ship seized as war prize

3 August 1941

The Pamir in Wellington Harbour, 1940s (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-025572-F)

Five days after its arrival in Wellington Harbour, the four-masted barque Pamir was seized in prize by the New Zealand government, which regarded Finland as ‘territory in enemy occupation’ (in reality, Finland had joined Nazi Germany’s invasion of their mutual enemy, the Soviet Union, but was not formally a member of the Axis powers). The Pamir remains the only ‘enemy’ vessel ever to be seized by New Zealand.

Due to wartime shipping shortages, the barque was pressed into service as a New Zealand merchant vessel, mainly carrying wool and tallow to San Francisco and Vancouver. Managed by the Union Steam Ship Company and manned by a youthful, mostly New Zealand crew, the Pamir made 10 voyages under the New Zealand ensign. Few big square-rigged sailing ships had been seen in local ports for decades, and the barque left a lasting impression on many New Zealanders.

The Pamir was handed back to its Finnish owners in 1948 and later became a training vessel for the German navy. It was lost in the Atlantic during a hurricane in 1957.