The Sinking of the SS Andrea Doria 25 July 1956


SS Andrea Doria (1951)
SS Andrea Doria (1951)

The Andrea Doria was built by the Ansaldo Shipyards of Genoa, Italy, for the Italian Line and symbolised Italian national pride. She served the southern Atlantic routes.

She was launched on 16 June 1951 and her maiden voyage took place on 14 January 1953. She was 701.5 feet long with a beam of 90.3 feet and had a gross tonnage of 29,083. The Andrea Doria was powered by steam turbines and had twin propellers which gave her a speed of 22 knots.

The Andrea Doria was the first ship to have three outdoor swimming pools and no expense was spaired on the internal decoration. The Andrea Doria was equipped with many technological advances of the age such as the latest early warning radar. She had a double hull divided into 11 watertight compartments which meant that any two could flood without endangering the ship's stability. She carried a total of 16 steel lifeboats (eight on each side of the ship as can be see in the picture above).

There were enough lifeboats to accommodate all passengers and crew. She was capable of accommodating 1,241 passengers: 218 in First Class, 320 in Cabin Class, and 703 in Tourist Class. There was also a crew of 563.


Collission with MS Stockholm

The Andrea Doria left her home port of Genoa on 17 July 1956 under the command of Captain Peiro Calamai. She stopped at Naples, Cannes and Gibraltar before continuing to New York. She should have arrived in New York harbour on 26 July 1956 – but she never did.

The MS Stockholm, a passenger liner of the Swedish American Line under the command of Captain Harry Nordenson, was a much smaller vessel, only capable of speeds up to 19 knots. She weighed 12,644 tons. She left New York on 25 July 1956. Both ships were heading for the Nantucket Light Vessel which marked the limits of the dangerous Nantucket Shoals.

The Andrea Doria ran into fog about 150 miles from the Light Vessel. Captain Calamai took the necessary precautions when entering fog fields. The watertight doors were closed, the siren was sounded and lookouts posted. Even the ship's radio was turned on.

Navigational law requires that if a vessel encounters fog, the ship must proceed at “moderate speed” and be able to stop within visibility distance. The Andrea Doria reduced speed by five knots and steamed ahead at 21 knots (very similar to the speed of the RMS Titanic).

By 8 p.m., visibility had deteriorated to half a mile ahead. Two ships showed up on her radar which the Andrea Doria soon overtook.

At 9.30 p.m., the Nantucket Light Vessel appeared on the radar. Captain Calamai altered course to 6º to port to place the vessel on the starboard side. At 10.20 p.m., it was reported that the Light Vessel was only 1 mile from starboard. At 10.45 p.m., Second Officer Curizo Francini spotted another ship on the radar. Captain Calamai confirmed that the ship was on the starboard bow and reckoned that the ships would pass each other starboard to starboard by a sufficient but narrow margin.

He altered course again by 4º to port to widen the gap between the ships. Captain Calamai made a grave misjudgement and he broke the “Rule of Road” which states that when two ships meet end on, both ships should alter course to starboard. Had he altered course sooner, he should have avoided the collision.

Captain Calamai ordered his officers to keep a close look but it was too late.

Instead of seeing a green starboard light on their starboard bow, the actually saw a red port light. The captain ordered hard to port and sounded a double blast on the ship’s siren. At 11.10 p.m., the Andrea Doria started to turn and the Stockholm’s bow crashed into the starboard side of her almost at a 90° angle.

The Stockholm’s bow caused tremendous damage to the Andrea Doria’s side. At the time of the collision, both ships were travelling at approximately 20 knots.

The bow of the MS Stockholm after the collision with SS Andrea Doria
The bow of the MS Stockholm after the collision with Andrea Doria

Sinking of SS Andrea Doria

Both ships gave S.O.S. distress calls. The Andrea Doria gave her position as 40º 30' N, 69º 55' W.

The Stockholm had hit the Andrea Doria in the starboard fuel tanks. As they were nearly empty, water gushed into them rapidly so that the Andrea Doria started to list to starboard.

The Andrea Doria could have survived with a 15º list but once it had developed into a 22º list it was clearly doomed. There was a system on board to fill the fuel tanks with sea water to regain balance but unfortunately, the damage caused by the Stockholm made this impossible. The flooded corridor led to the generator room and once water hit the generators, the loss of power to the ship was almost immediate.

Captain Calamai made the decision to abandon ship 30 minutes after impact. At the time of the collision, the Andrea Doria carried over 1,700 passengers including: 190 First Class, 267 Cabin Class, 672 Tourist Class and 570 were Crew members.

Once the Andrea Doria had developed this serious list, lifeboats on her starboard side could not be used: their lost capacity accounting for over half the passengers on board. It was obvious that help from other ships would be needed to carry out the rescue.

SS Andrea Doria listing to starboard
SS Andrea Doria listing to starboard

SS Andrea Doria on her side
SS Andrea Doria turns completely on her side

The closest ship which could offer practicable assistance was the Ile De France but she was about 45 miles away. The Ile De France arrived at the disaster scene at 2.00 a.m. and an immediate two hour rescue operation began. There were still over 1500 passengers and crew on board. 30 or more ships had hurried to the scene.

The main rescue ships were:

    Ile De France – 753 passengers were rescued;

    Stockholm - 545 passengers and crew were rescued;

    Cape Ann - 129 surviving passengers were rescued;

    Pvt. William H. Thomas – 159 passengers were rescued; and

    Edward H. Allen – 77 passengers were rescued

Of the 1700 people on board, 1663 were rescued. Once the passengers had been rescued, Captain Calamai ordered his remaining crew on board to abandon ship. He intended to go down with his ship but his fellow officers would not leave the Andrea Doria if he stayed. At 5.30 a.m., the captain and his crew were rescued before the Andrea Doria sank.

SS Andrea Doria sinks
SS Andrea Doria sinks


Inevitably, an Inquiry was held.

The Italian Line sued the Swedish-American Line for $1,800,000 and the Swedish American Line sued the Italian Line for $4,000,000.

The Inquiry had been in session for three months before the two shipping lines agreed to settle their dispute outside of the court.

It was clear that the builders of the Andrea Doria had not built her to sustain a list of more than 15º and that the fuel tanks should have been flooded to ensure equal balance in the ship.

Two major lessons were drawn from the disaster: The safety mechanism to flood ballast tanks should be remote controlled from a safe position (presumably above the water line); and separate ballast tanks should be installed on every ship.

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