Originally published 13 November 2011
“SOS DE ICEH SOS HERE AT 0320 GMT LAT. 40.30 N 69.53 WE NEED IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE”
SS Andrea Doria was an ocean liner for the Italian Line (Società di navigazione Italia) home ported in Genoa, Italy, most famous for its sinking in 1956, when 46 people died. Named after the 16th-century Genoese admiral Andrea Doria, the ship had a gross register tonnage of 29,100 and a capacity of about 1,200 passengers and 500 crew. For a country attempting to rebuild its economy and reputation after World War II, Andrea Doria was an icon of Italian national pride. Of all Italy’s ships at the time, Andrea Doria was the largest, fastest and supposedly safest. Launched on 16 June 1951, the ship undertook its maiden voyage on 14 January 1953.
During the ship’s maiden voyage, it encountered heavy storms on the final approach to New York, listing a full twenty-eight degrees. Nevertheless, Andrea Doria completed its maiden voyage on 23 January only a few minutes behind schedule, and received a welcoming delegation which included New York Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri. Afterwards, Andrea Doria became one of Italy’s most popular and successful ocean liners as it was always filled to capacity. By mid-1956, it was making its 100th crossing of the Atlantic.
A collision course
On the evening of Wednesday, 25 July 1956, Andrea Doria, commanded by Captain Piero Calamai, carrying 1,134 passengers and 572 crew, was heading west towards New York. It was the last night of a transatlantic crossing from Genoa that began on 17 July: the ship was expected to dock in New York the next morning.
At the same time, MS Stockholm, a smaller passenger liner of the Swedish American Line, had departed New York about midday, heading east across the North Atlantic Ocean toward Gothenburg, Sweden. Stockholm was commanded by Captain Harry Gunnar Nordenson, though Third Officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen was on duty on the bridge at the time. Stockholm was following its usual course east to Nantucket Lightship, making about 18 knots (33 km/h) with clear skies. Carstens estimated visibility at 6 nautical miles (11 km).
As Stockholm and Andrea Doria were approaching each other head-on, in the heavily used shipping corridor, the westbound Andrea Doria had been traveling in heavy fog for hours. The captain had reduced speed slightly from 23.0 to 21.8 knots (42.6 to 40.4 km/h), activated the ship’s fog-warning whistle, and had closed the watertight doors, all customary precautions while sailing in such conditions. However, the eastbound Stockholm had yet to enter what was apparently the edge of a fog bank and was seemingly unaware of it and the movement of the other ship hidden in it. (The waters of the North Atlantic south of Nantucket Island are frequently the site of intermittent fog as the cold Labrador Current encounters the Gulf Stream.)
As the two ships approached each other, at a combined speed of 40 knots (74 km/h), each was aware of the presence of another ship but was guided only by radar; they apparently misinterpreted each other’s course. There was no radio communication between the two ships, at first.
The original inquiry established that in the critical minutes before the collision, Andrea Doria gradually steered to port, attempting a starboard-to-starboard passing, while Stockholm turned about 20 degrees to its starboard, an action intended to widen the passing distance of a port-to-port passing. In fact, they were actually steering towards each other — narrowing, rather than widening, the passing distance. Compounded by the extremely thick fog that enveloped the Doria as the ships approached each other, the ships were quite close by the time visual contact had been established. By then, the crews realized that they were on a collision course, but despite last-minute maneuvers, they could not avoid the collision.
In the last moments before impact, Stockholm turned hard to starboard and was in the process of reversing its propellers, attempting to stop. The Doria, remaining at its cruising speed of almost 22 knots (41 km/h) engaged in a hard turn to port, its captain hoping to outrun the collision. At approximately 11:10 PM the two ships collided, the Stockholm striking the side of the Andrea Doria.
Impact and penetration
When Andrea Doria and Stockholm collided at almost a 90-degree angle, Stockholm’s sharply raked ice breaking prow pierced Andrea Doria’s starboard side approximately midway of its length. It penetrated three passenger cabins, numbers 52, 54 and 56, to a depth of nearly 40 feet (12 m), and the keel. The collision smashed many occupied passenger cabins and, at the lower levels, ripped open several of Andrea Doria’s watertight compartments. The gash pierced five fuel tanks on Andrea Doria’s starboard side and filled them with 500 tons of seawater. Meanwhile, air was trapped in the empty tanks on the port side, contributing to a severe, uncorrectable list. The ship’s large fuel tanks were mostly empty at the time of the collision, since the ship was nearing the end of its voyage, but all the empty fuel tanks did was help the list increase.
Meanwhile, on the bridge of Stockholm, immediately after the impact, engines were placed at ALL STOP, and all watertight doors were closed. The ships were intertwined for about 30 seconds. As they separated, the smashed bow of the stationary Stockholm was dragged aft along the starboard side of the Doria, which was still moving forward, adding more gashes along the side. The two ships then separated, and the Doria moved away into the heavy fog. Initial radio distress calls were sent out by each ship, and in that manner, they learned each others’ identities.
In the last moments before impact, Stockholm turned hard to starboard and was in the process of reversing its propellers, attempting to stop. The Doria, remaining at its cruising speed of almost 22 knots (41 km/h) engaged in a hard turn to port, its captain hoping to outrun the collision. At approximately 11:10 PM the two ships collided, the Stockholm striking the side of the Andrea Doria. The world soon became aware that two large ocean liners had collided.
Andrea Doria capsizes and sinks
Once the evacuation was complete, the captain of Andrea Doria shifted his attention to the possibility of towing the ship to shallow water. However, it was clear to those watching helplessly at the scene that the stricken ocean liner was continuing to roll on its side.
After all the survivors had been transplanted onto various rescue ships bound for New York, Andrea Doria’s remaining crew began to disembark—forced to abandon the ship. By 9:00 AM. even Captain Calamai was in a rescue boat. The sinking began at 9:45 a.m. and by 10:00 that morning Andrea Doria was on her side at a right angle to the sea. The ship fully disappeared into the Atlantic at 10:09—almost exactly eleven hours after the collision with Stockholm took place.
22-year-old Evelyn Bartram Dudas was the first woman to successfully dive onto the Andrea Doria. Dudas reached the wreck in June, 1967; her future husband, John Dudas, retrieved the ship’s compass.
As of 2010, years of ocean submersion have taken their toll. The wreck has aged and deteriorated extensively, with the hull now fractured and collapsed. The upper decks have slowly slid off the wreck to the seabed below. As a result of this transformation, a large debris field flows out from the hull of the liner. Once-popular access points frequented by divers, such as Gimbel’s Hole, no longer exist. Divers call Andrea Doria a “noisy” wreck, as it emits various noises due to continual deterioration and the currents’ moving broken metal around inside the hull.
However, due to this decay new access areas are constantly opening up for future divers on the ever-changing wreck. The ship lies on her side at a depth of about 250 feet in an area where the underwater weather can change suddenly from clear and calm to a ripping current filled with sediment. But the reward for those who venture this deep is to briefly rediscover a ship still recognizably the luxury liner that gaily cruised the southern Atlantic route in the 1950s. Most of the deck hardware and all three swimming pools are clearly visible. Lifeboat davits still jut from the boat deck and great cranes dominate the bow. The ship’s name can still be made out on both the bow and stern.
After 20 minutes exploring the wreck, the diver must spend another 90 decompressing before returning to the surface. But he brings back with him unforgettable images of ruined luxe and of the end of a magnified era in ocean travel.
thanks to Wikipedia