Italia/Italia Prima/Valtur Prima/Caribe/Athena
1948 - Present Day
December 11th 1915, the recently founded Swedish American Line
started its activity on the North Atlantic with the maiden voyage of their
first ship Stockholm, formerly the Holland-Amerika liner Potsdam.
The company was the brainchild of Wilhelm R. Lundgren, who had seen the
profitable possibilities of a Swedish transatlantic shipping line. Sweden
had so far witnessed a massive emigration to the Americas, but so far they
had been forced to travel via England to reach their destination. The voyage
was not an easy one, not least because of language-barriers between the
Swedes and the crewmembers on board the ships they were travelling with.
Lundgren realised that a Swedish transatlantic line would erase these problems.
The passengers would travel directly between Göteborg and New York, and
with an all-Swedish crew, there would be no language difficulties.
Swedish America Line was too late to earn their share of the emigration.
On the company's eighth year, Sweden saw the last wave of emigration. The
company would have to find a new clientele soon.
they did. Their new passengers became the tourists. Instead of people seeking
fortune in America, SAL now carried them and their relatives still living
in Sweden between the continents for short visits. By the end of the 1920s,
SAL was already setting their sights for the growing cruise industry. The
two new ships Gripsholm and Kungsholm set a trend that the
Swedish America Line would follow until its final days: Ships of great
comfort and decoration.
continued their activity through the 1930s and established itself
as one of the prime cruising lines of the world.
Business was blooming and the
company soon decided to place an order for what would be their largest
ship so far - a new Stockholm, with a projected size of some 30,000
tons. The shipyard to build it was the Monfalcone shipyard in Italy.
|The new Stockholm
sets out on her maiden voyage.
years later, in December 1938, the almost finished Stockholm caught
fire and sustained heavy damage. However, the shipyard did not give up
and started rebuilding the Stockholm almost from scratch.
in 1939, World War II became a fact and brought ordinary life to a sudden
halt. As with many other shipping companies, SAL was forced to contribute
with their ships. The Gripsholm and Drottningholm served
as repatriation ships for the Red Cross.
1940, when Europe had been at war for seven months, the new Stockholm
was launched in Italy. But with the war raging on, the Swedish America
Line had no interest in receiving her. However, Italy was in need of ships
and purchased the Stockholm and renamed her Sabaudia. She
served Italy as a trooper but was sunk at the end of the war.
peace was finally achieved after six years of bloody fighting, SAL was
in need of a new ship. But the board of the company was faced with a problem.
The first thought was too build a ship similar the company's old successful
ones. But with aeroplane travel growing rapidly, it might be wiser to build
a smaller vessel with less passenger capacity. In spite of protest from
the chief executive officer and the American part of the company, it was
decided that a smaller ship was to be built.
of building the new ship was given to the Götaverken shipyards in
Göteborg. But from the very start of her construction, the new ship suffered
from bad luck. Due to union strikes, the laying of her keel was delayed
by several months. When the day to launch her finally came, on September
9th 1946, it took several tense minutes before she started her
journey towards her rightful element. For some, it was indeed a bad omen.
the Stockholm was finally completed, it was apparent that she differed
from the line's earlier vessels in many ways. The Swedish America Line
had established a reputation of operating ships with luxurious decorations
and spacious passenger accommodations. The new Stockholm did not
have any of those. Although she was the largest ship so far built in Sweden,
a small ship in the company's
fleet. Indeed, with her 12,165 tons she was the smallest liner operating
on the North Atlantic run, with a passenger capacity of no more than 395
|The small public areas
on board the Stockholm were comfortable, but not much more. This
picture shows the First Class Lounge.
tonnage was very much apparent when you looked at her interiors. The large
public spaces that had been something of a trademark on SAL's other ships
could not be found on the Stockholm. All of her saloons and public
rooms were no doubt comfortable, but they were not comparable to those
on SAL's old 'floating palaces'.
passenger capacity and the small public spaces made the Swedish America
Line market their new vessel as 'a different ship', built 'for comfort
rather than luxury'. But the American branch of the line did not welcome
the new ship with warm feelings. With her not so impressing size in mind,
they did not foresee a grand future for her on the American cruise market.
the third Stockholm also had her good qualities. Her exterior design
was sleek, resembling a yacht, and in some aspects even a navy destroyer.
The slanted bow gave her a speedy look, although her service speed was
only 17 knots. She was painted in the Swedish America Line's traditional
colours; a white hull and a light-yellow funnel with a blue shield adorned
with three golden crowns. Internally, she had a new feature. When design
her staterooms and crew-quarters, it was done so that all were located
along the sides of the hull. By doing so, all rooms had access to daylight
and a view of the sea through at least one porthole. This was, according
to the ship's crew, 'a revolution on the Atlantic'.
21st 1948, it was time for the Stockholm to set out on
her premiere voyage. It had been much delayed, and the North Atlantic soon
reminded people that February is not the most ideal month to cross her.
The Stockholm encountered heavy winter storms and suffered from
severe rolling in the rough seas. The twists and rolls of the ship were
very unpredictable, and a passenger was killed in the storm. The Stockholm's
rotten luck continued.
the Stockholm was known as one of the worst 'rollers' on the North
Atlantic. This was of course bad publicity, so the Swedish America Line
took her in to remedy her instability. Cargo holds that was intended for
express goods was filled with 3,000 tons of stone to give her some more
weight in the keel. Unfortunately, the problem was not lightness, but a
bottom simply not suited for the North Atlantic. The stones now occupying
much cargo-space did not do things much better.
|The badly damaged Stockholm
limps back to New York on the morning following her fateful collision with
the Andrea Doria.
of the Swedish America Line continued her service with the company, and
in 1953 she was taken in for a refit. The ship's superstructure was enlarged
to include more passenger cabins and a cinema theatre. Her passenger capacity
was thereby increased to 548 people. Three years later, in the first half
of 1956, Stockholm was fitted with stabilisers, and finally her
rolling motion was partially tamed. But even now she could not count as
a very well known ship on the North Atlantic. However, an event that would
change that lay in her future.
25th 1956 shortly before noon, the Stockholm slipped
her moorings in New York harbour to depart on her 103rd eastbound
crossing with Göteborg as final destination. Commanding her was Captain
Gunnar Nordensson, whose experience in ships and the sea went back to 1911
when he first joined the business.
that night, at 10.30 p.m., as the Stockholm was approaching Nantucket,
another ship was coming in from the other direction - the Italia Line's
Andrea Doria. Commanding the bridge of the Stockholm was
third officer Johan-Ernst Carstens Johannsen. At the age of 26, he was
already an experienced seaman, having been to sea for more than ten years
ship was travelling through Nantucket's waters, the weather was clear.
In front of them lay a bank of fog, through which the Andrea Doria
was now steaming at high speed. On the bridge of the Italian ship, second
officer Curzio Francini had already noted on his radar that a ship was
in front of him. It took a few minutes before Carstens made the same discovery
on the Stockholm, as she had a slightly less powerful radar.
noted that the meeting vessel, whose identity he still knew nothing of,
was 12 nautical miles in front of him and on his port side. When the distance
had shrunk to 10 miles, Carstens went to the plotting table and plotted
the approaching ship's course. He came to the conclusion that she was two
degrees to the port of his ship. But the lookouts could not see any lights
in front of the Stockholm. Nevertheless, Carstens prepared his ship
to pass on the starboard side of the Andrea Doria by making a slight
turn to starboard.
as the Völkerfreundschaft.
fog-surrounded Andrea Doria, things were a little different. The
crew on her bridge interpreted the radar echoes as the Stockholm
was four degrees on their starboard bow. When the distance between the
two ships was about four miles, Captain Piero Calamai on the Andrea
Doria ordered his ship four degrees to the port to give them a little
more safety space. He did this in spite of international rules that proclaimed
that when two ships meet they should do so on the starboard side of each
other. The two ships did not yet have visual contact when the distance
between them was as little as two nautical miles.
bridge of the Stockholm, Carstens could not believe what he saw.
The other ship was turning the same way he was. He ordered his ship hard
to starboard, maintaining his speed of about 18 knots.
Andrea Doria's bridge, Captain Calamai was just as confused as Carstens
on the Stockholm's bridge. Still believing that Stockholm
was on his starboard side, he ordered his ship hard to port, but did not
divert from his speed of 22 knots. By doing so, he caused his ship of 30,000
tons to skid towards the Stockholm. When Carstens saw this he ordered
his engines full astern and turned to starboard. He then ordered the watertight
was slowing down at the same time as the Andrea Doria came skidding
out of the fog towards her at high speed. Collision was inevitable. The
Stockholm's bow, reinforced for the sometimes icy Scandinavian waters,
sliced through the hull of the Italia Line's pride and joy on her starboard
side, just abaft of and below the bridge. The Stockholm then fell
back, exposing her now badly crumbled bow and the massive hole in the Andrea
Doria's side. The Italian ship continued at her high speed, but then
came to a stop at a distance of about one mile from the Stockholm.
After only a few minutes, the Andrea Doria had taken on a 20-degree
list to starboard.
order of business on the Stockholm was of course to sound the ship.
She had already sunk three feet at the head and taken on a list of four
degrees. When inspecting the twisted bow, it was discovered that five crewmen
had been killed instantly when the impact came, and several more were trapped
in the wreckage. When it was clear that the Stockholm was in no
overhanging danger, her lifeboats were launched to rescue people from the
sinking Andrea Doria.
|The former Swedish liner
as the accommodation ship Fridtjof Nansen.
followed must be one of the most dramatic rescue-operations at sea ever.
In addition to the Stockholm's lifeboats, many other crafts came
to the rescue, among them the magnificent French liner Île de France
and the Cape Ann. Thanks to this, the only people that died in the
disaster were those who perished as a cause of the violent collision, in
all 46 people.
eleven electrifying hours since the collision, the Andrea Doria
rolled over and sank. The Stockholm, which in addition of her own
534 passengers was now carrying 327 passengers and 245 crewmembers from
the lost Italian liner, blew her whistles and slowly started her return
to New York.
to New York harbour became a prolonged tension for all on board the Swedish
liner. With the bow badly twisted and crumbled, the forward watertight
bulkhead was now the only thing keeping water out. Should it give away
during the voyage, it could be a new disaster immediately. The Stockholm
was carrying 1,319 people, but had room in her lifeboats for only 846.
With this in mind, she was escorted by the Tamaroa and the Owasco,
but if something would happen, these two ships had now possibility of taking
on board all the people from the Stockholm.
the sturdy Stockholm stood up to the test brilliantly, in spite
of her no longer existing bow. On the way back she averaged 8.4 knots,
and although the forward bulkhead was taking on great strain, it held together
all the way back to New York.
the Stockholm arrived at the Swedish America Line's pier 97 in New
York harbour, a large crowd of people had gathered to see the damaged liner.
Policemen were there to hold them back, and numerous media representatives
had also gathered on the docks. The first people to disembark from the
Stockholm were those saved from the Andrea Doria.
America Line now had to repair the Stockholm and put her back into
service quickly, before her absence could accumulate too great losses in
profit. Her next three transatlantic crossings and a cruise were cancelled,
as she was in apparent need of a new bow. She was hardly in condition to
return to Sweden for these repairs, and so the task was given to Bethlehem
Steel Company Shipbuilding Division in New York. On July 28th,
three tugs towed her from pier 97 to the place where she would be given
a new bow. The work cost the Swedish America Line $1,000,000 and after
about three months she was again ready for service.
the hearings had been conducted in New York, and a settlement had been
reached between the two shipping companies, the Stockholm continued
serving the Swedish America Line. But she was still the misfit of the fleet
and could not offer the high standard available on the company's other
ships. In 1954, the company had ordered a new Gripsholm from the
Ansaldo Shipyards in Genoa, Italy - the same company that had once built
the Andrea Doria. After some delays, the new Gripsholm was
delivered to SAL in 1957. A new Kungsholm had been delivered from
the Dutch yard of de Schelde in 1954, and with these two new ships in service,
SAL could try to get rid of the Stockholm. After several failed
attempts, the East German government emerged as a possible buyer and on
January 3rd 1960, the Stockholm was sold after only 12
years of service in the Swedish America Line's fleet. She was renamed Völkerfreundschaft.
She kept her bonds with Sweden though, as she was sometimes chartered to
the Swedish Stena Line for cruises from Göteborg.
|In 1994, the former Stockholm
was transformed into the cruise ship Italia Prima. Only the hull
is still recogniseable from the old Swedish liner.
25 years in East German communistic service, the Völkerfreundschaft
no longer made any profits. In 1985, she was sold to the Panamanian company
Neptunas Rex Enterprises, who shortened her name to just Volker.
the rest of the year laid up in Southampton and was then towed to Oslo
in Norway to serve as a barracks ship under the name Fridtjof Nansen,
providing shelter for asylum seeking refugees.
she was sold to the Italian company Star Lauro, situated in Naples. She
was towed to Genoa to be given an extensive refit. Upon her arrival there,
she was given a chilly welcome by the press. The Italians had not forgotten
that this was the ship that sunk their pride Andrea Doria some 30
years ago. In 1992 the work of refitting the former Stockholm began.
It was discovered that the Swedish-built liner was in a very good condition,
except for the American-built replacement bow, which needed the most refurbishing.
of giving her names as Surriento or Positano, the old Stockholm
emerged as the Italia in 1993, but was sold again the following year. Her
new owners, Nina Cia. di Navigazione, decided to completely gut her and use the
sturdy hull as the foundation for a completely new ship - the Italia Prima
at 15,200 tons. Beginning in 1998, she was then employed cruising in the Caribbean.
In November 1999, the ship was chartered to a Rome-based Italian
operator called Club Valtur. The ship was renamed Valtur Prima, and was
kept on her West Indies itinerary, with Cuba as her specialty. This operation
was successful, but after two years the situation would change dramatically.
With the terrorist attacks on New York city and Washington D.C.
on September 11th 2001, the global situation was greatly affected.
This forced Club Valtur to cancel their sailings. Valtur Prima was laid
up at Havana, awaiting an uncertain future. But the former Stockholm once
again found employment, when she was chartered on a five-year basis to Festival
Cruises. However, the plans for the ship doing 7-day cruises out of Havana under
the name Caribe failed to generate much profit, and she was laid up in
Havana before being transferred to Lisbon, in Portugal. In 2004 she was sold to
the Portugese company Nina SpA, and moved to the Portugese registry. In January
2005 the ship was once again renamed, this time Athena, and employed
for Classic International Cruises on such varied itineraries as the Baltic, the
Adriatic & Ionian Islands and New England/Canada. Hopefully, this distinguished
lady will be with us for some time yet.
Italia/Italia Prima/Valtur Prima/Caribe/Athena - Specifications:
||525 feet (160.4 m)
||69 feet (21 m)
||12,165 gross tons
diesels turning two propellers.
||Originally 395 people,
increased to 548 people during 1953 refit.