1947 - 1994
large shipping companies such as Cunard White Star and the French Line
rebuilt their reduced fleets after World War II, smaller companies also
sought the way to success. In the Netherlands, the famous Holland America
Line operated the route to North America. Great Dutch ships as the Nieuw
Amsterdam had hit the waves within the latest decade, and she had become
an immediate success.
Dutch shipping companies – the Nederlandsche SB Mij. and the Rotterdamsche
Lloyd – were aiming at the East India route. Nederlandsche SB Mij. had
introduced their Oranje in 1939. Her maiden voyage to Indonesia
had been very popular, and now the Rotterdamsche Lloyd needed to compete
with a similar liner on the same route.
1939 the keel of a 20,000 gross ton liner was laid at the De Schelde shipyard
in Vlissingen for Rotterdamsche Lloyd.
However the outbreak of war
later that year halted the construction of the ship. While still on the
slipway, the Germans bombed the future liner, and they subsequently took
her over and continued construction for themselves. But continued construction
was frequently sabotaged by the Dutch resistance, and stopped by Royal
Air Force bombing. Eventually, the Germans abandoned the ship, who seemed
to have no other future than a trip to the scrappers. For the rest of the
war, the devastated hull remained undisturbed.
|The Willem Ruys
in her original colours. (Painting courtesy of Stephen Card)
peace returned to Europe, Rotterdamsche Lloyd decided to put the liner
in service despite the damage she had suffered during the past years. The
completion was considered a national priority. And so, on July 1, 1946
the ship was launched and christened Willem Ruys after the founder
of the Rotterdamsche Lloyd. It took until November 21, 1947 until the vessel
had been completed, and on December 2, 1947 she set out on her maiden voyage
from Rotterdam to Indonesia. By now, Holland's Queen Wilhelmina had granted
the company a 'royal prefix' for its services during the war, thus becoming
Royal Rotterdam Lloyd. The Willem Ruys became a popular ship on
the Indonesia service – Rotterdamsche Lloyd had succeeded in creating a
worthy rival to the Oranje.
Willem Ruys success depended much on the Dutch relationship with
Indonesia. This group of islands had been a Dutch colony since the 17th
century, but in 1949 the area gained its independence. This greatly reduced
the passenger traffic between the Netherlands and Indonesia. The Willem
Ruys became less successful, and it was considered to move her to the
more profitable North Atlantic run. Before she was transferred in May 1958,
she had suffered a collision with her rival, Oranje. Fortunately,
there was no loss of life in the event.
the Willem Ruys had served for some time on the New York run, she
was put on the Canadian service and later on the route to New Zealand via
the Suez Canal. Before she entered the New Zealand route, she had been
rebuilt by Wilton-Fijenoord to fit in the round the world service.
of a heavy drop in passenger traffic, the Willem Ruys was sold to
the Italian shipping company Lauro Line. The same year, the old rival Oranje
was also sold to the Lauro Line. The Willem Ruys was delivered to
the line in December that year. In
January 1965, she was officially
handed over and renamed Achille Lauro after the managing director
of the Lauro Line.
|Poolside fun on board
the Willem Ruys.
began to rebuild and modernise the liner by CN Riuniti di Palermo. Unfortunately,
the vessel suffered an explosion and a resulting fire on August 29, and
work was thereby much delayed. Not until April 13, 1966 did the Achille
Lauro enter service again. The most obvious changes made to her were
the heightening of the two funnels, and the repainting of the hull into
blue. The gross tonnage had been increased to 23,629, and the first voyage
went to Wellington from Genoa via Sydney. She continued as a fairly popular
ship in the Lauro Line for another six years without any major event. However,
on May 19, 1972 the ship was badly damaged by fire during an overhaul at
Genoa. It took five months before Achille Lauro could enter service
again. In December 1972, her service to Oceania ended and she was to cruise
Lauro served another uneventful three years before a shaking event
occurred. On April 28, 1975 she accidentally rammed the small Lebanese
cattle carrier Youssef in the Dardanelles. The accident resulted
in one human casualty. The next serious accident happened in 1981, when
the ship suffered yet another fire. The blaze did not send the ship to
the scrappers, however, but she was put into service again later. In 1982,
she was seized by the authorities because the owners had not paid the port
duties. At the time she was on her way home from a cruise, and she was
stopped in Tenerife for several months before she could return to Genoa.
There, she was laid up until the Lauro Line could pay their debts.
the Lauro Line merged with the Chandris Line. In this new company’s service,
the Achille Lauro entered the history books that same year.
7, 1985 the Achille Lauro was employed on a ten-day cruise. She
was supposed to call at Alexandria in order to allow passengers to go to
Cairo, and then rejoining the ship at Port Said. Only about half of the
passengers went ashore, while the rest stayed on board to enjoy the ship.
During the trip from Alexandria to Port Said, the ship was taken hostage
by five Palestinian terrorists. This was the first time in history a passenger
ship was hijacked like this. The terrorists showed their seriousness –
madness – when they killed the
disabled American tourist Leon Klinghoffer, and threw him and his wheelchair
overboard. The Egyptian authorities gave the hijackers permission to leave
the area without harassment, and the Achille Lauro soon arrived
at Port Said. The hijackers left the ship onto a tugboat and made a victory
lap around the harbour. They left victorious in an aeroplane, but the American
authorities would not accept this and forced the plane down over Sicily.
The Egyptian government retained the liner in retaliation. Yet again, the
Achille Lauro suffered the repercussions of a crisis that had a
great effect on American-Egyptian relations. Eight days later, the Achille
Lauro returned to her homeport.
|In 1965, the former Willem
Ruys was restyled as the Achille Lauro.
the Achille Lauro took on the Swiss flag, under the care of the
Star Lauro company. Two years later, a movie was released called ‘The Hijack
of the Achille Lauro’. It starred Karl Malden and tried to reflect
the event that had taken place four years earlier. Since the Achille
Lauro was not available during the filming, many exterior shots showed
other liners and especially cargo ships.
of the ship came a few years later. On December 2, 1994 she was cruising
in the seas off Somalia when she once again suffered a fire. This time,
it was so devastating that all 1,090 passengers and crew had to be taken
off. Of them, three people were killed in the blaze before they could be
rescued. The fire lasted for three days and the ship became a total loss.
|The Willem Ruys/Achille
Lauro - Specifications:
||631 feet (192.8 m)
||82.3 feet (25.1 m)
||21,119 gross tons
||Eight Diesel engines
powering two propellers.
||Originally 900 people