America’s Worst Cruise Ship Disaster Remembered 60 Years Later

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andrea doria

The 60th anniversary of the worst cruise ship disaster that took place within U.S. waters occurred last month, on July 26 to be exact, marking the date when the Andrea Doria sank 45 miles south of Nantucket Island, back in the day when “sailing” the Atlantic in a comfortable, familiar cruise ship was still the most comfortable and familiar way of getting across.  Unlike the Titanic, there are still plenty of people around who remember the Andrea Doria and provided personal reminiscences.

She was the pride of an Italian fleet attempting to rebuild its economy and reputation after World War II.  Although not as massive as the Titanic (1,134 passenger capacity with 572 crew), she was nonetheless Italy’s largest, fastest and supposedly safest.  In fact, there were those who whispered that she truly was unsinkable, a most unfortunate flouting of the fates if there ever was one.

According the “Inky” Mirror, the Andrea Doria was the epitome of a contemporary modern ocean liner, designed to be most seaworthy, with a double hull and 11 watertight compartments.  She was glitzed up almost to the point of being a bit gaudy (according to a surviving passenger), with an art deco interior, $30 million worth of other original artwork, including a mural by Salvatore Fiume on the eight walls of the first-class lounge, illustrating the painting and sculpture of Italy’s finest Renaissance artists.

On July 17, 1956, she set sail from her home port of Genoa on what was supposed to be a routine nine-day crossing bound for New York City, including brief stops at Cannes, Naples and Gibraltar to pick up more passengers before entering the open Atlantic.

Up until about 11 p.m. on the evening of July 25, everything had gone as planned.  It was approximately at that hour when a 528-foot Swedish ocean liner named Stockholm showed up on the Andrea Doria’s radar screen.  She was headed form New York to her homeport of Gothenburg.

Both ships were in the heart of the east and west-bound travel lanes and at first impression were to pass starboard to starboard.  Whereas the Stockholm was sailing under relatively clear skies, the Andrea Doria was shrouded in a fog bank, had reduced her speed from 23.0 to 21.8 knots, activated her warning whistle and had closed the watertight doors—all standard operating procedure.

They approached each other at a combined speed of 40 knots, relying on radar at first with no radio communication.  But somehow or other each had misinterpreted the other’s position, and when lookouts finally made visual contact, the ships appeared to be on a collision course.  Despite last minute maneuverings, it was too late and the Stockholm slammed the Andrea Doria one-third of the length from her bow on the starboard side, gashing a 40-foot wide hole to the waterline.

It was a lethal blow.  Water began pouring in; the collision had ripped open the oil tanks and flooded nearby compartments, thereby forcing the ship into its ultimately fatal list.  Forty-six people died — mostly from blunt impact.  Six ships successfully rescued the remaining passengers before the Andrea Doria finally titled and plunged some 11 hours after impact. Incidentally, the rescue fleet included the Stockholm herself, despite being badly damaged.

The Andrea Doria rests 250 feet down, 125 miles off the coast of Long Island and about 45 miles off Nantucket.  Her watery grave is unmarked, and yet she calls like a siren those intrepid souls who don SCUBA gear and try to visit personally, descending through darkness and tricky currents that test the limits of human courage and endurance in what is known as the “Mount Everest of Shipwrecks.”  Seventeen haven’t made it back, the most recent being in July of last year.

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Source: The Post and Courier

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