The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) was a British based shipping and logistics company dating from the early 19th century. Formerly a public listed company on the London stock exchange, it was sold to Dubai Ports World (DP World) in March 2006 for £3.9 billion. DP World currently operate three P&O branded businesses, P&O Ferries (including P&O Ferrymasters), P&O Maritime and P&O Heritage. The origins of P&O can be traced back to 1822 when Brodie McGhie Willcox and Arthur Andersen went into partnership to operate a shipping line, primarily operating routes between England and Spain and Portugal. In 1835, Dublin shipowner Captain Richard Bourne joined the business, and the three men started a regular steamer service between London, Spain and Portugal – the Iberian Peninsula – using the name Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, with services to Vigo, Oporto, Lisbon and Cádiz. The company flag colours are directly connected with the Peninsular flags: the white and blue represent the Portuguese flag in 1837, and the yellow and red the Spanish flag. P&O first introduced passenger services in 1844, with a leisure cruise departing from Southampton to the Mediterranean. These voyages were the first of their kind and the forerunner of modern cruise holidays. The company underwent rapid expansion in the later half of the 19th century.
Mail contracts were the basis of P&O’s prosperity until the Second World War, but the company also continued to become a major commercial shipping line and passenger liner operator. In 1914, it took over the British India Steam Navigation Company, which was then the largest British shipping line, owning 131 steamers. In 1918, it gained a controlling interest in the Orient Line, its partner in the England-Australia mail route. Further acquisitions followed and the fleet reached a peak of almost 500 ships in the mid-1920s. In 1920, the company also established a bank, P&O Bank, that it sold to Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now Standard Chartered Bank) in 1927. At this time it established a commercial relationship with Spinney’s of Haifa, that developed into a major regional high-end grocery store chain, which eventually provided shipping services access to much of the Middle East. Until 1934 it operated liners from Key West, Florida to Havana; then it operated from Miami to Cuba until 1960.
In 1932, P&O expanded their passenger operations to Australia, with the introduction of Strathaird, which departed on a cruise to Brisbane and Norfolk Island.
Eighty-five of the company’s ships were sunk in the First World War and 179 in the Second World War.