Historic Tall Ship Arrives in Marseille to Deliver the Olympic Flame

Belem arrives in Marseille, with French aerobatic team in background
Image courtesy of the Elysee

Published May 8, 2024 9:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, amidst tight security and much fanfare, the torch for the 2024 Paris Olympics arrived at the port of Marseille aboard a historic, French-built tall ship. 

The torch boarded the French barque Belem in Piraeus late last month, following a traditional lighting ceremony at the ruins of the ancient city of Olympia. The vessel left Athens on April 27 and wended its way westward to Marseille, arriving in the inner harbor about 1900 hours on Wednesday. Belem received a full ceremonial welcome, complete with a yacht flotilla, fireworks, a French Air Force aerobatic display, and an enthusiastic crowd of 225,000 well-wishers, including French President Emmanuel Macron. 

The preparations for security were thorough, given the size and symbolism of the gathering. Islamist terrorist cells have targeted French public spaces in the past, and the authorities were taking no chances. Over 6,000 law enforcement officers were in attendance, including an anti-drone team, bomb squads and an elite tactical team. It was an early test of the security apparatus that French authorities are building for the games, addressing all threats from cyberattacks to suicide bombers. (So far, France's public-sector trade unions have created the most disruption, starting with a garbage pileup from a trash collection strike in Marseille.) 

The ship that delivered the flame to Marseille is a French national monument. She is a historic steel-hulled, three-masted barque built in Nantes in 1896 - the same year that the Olympic Games were revived in Athens. After a successful career ferrying sugar, chocolate and rum from South America to France, Belem was bought by the Duke of Westminster and converted into a large yacht. Irish Brewer Sir Arthur Guinness bought it from the duke seven years later, and he owned it until his passing in 1949. The ship is now owned by a French foundation and was specially restored for the Olympic torch ceremony, with government support.