The keel of the 631-foot-long
liner was laid in 1939 at Flushing, Netherlands, but the ship was
not completed until 1947 because of the war. When launched she was put into service by the Royal Rotterdam Lloyd’s service
between the Netherlands and Indonesia
under the name Willem Ruys. She offered 275 first class cabin beds and 770 tourist class cabins. After Indonesia nationalized Dutch assets in 1956, the ship began around-the-world service from Rotterdam, through the Suez Canal to Australia, and
then to Port Everglades, Florida by way of the Panama Canal.
The ship’s troubles
began after it was sold to the Lauro Lines of Italy in 1964 and given its notorious name, Achille Lauro. This was the name
of a former mayor of Naples. The new owners refurbished the
ship, added extra accommodations, and planned to put it in service between Europe and Australia. During the renovation, however, an explosion and fire rocked the ship.
The renovation was completed, however, and the Achille Lauro entered service on the high seas.
She now had facilities
for 152 first-class and 1,155 tourist-class passengers. Her twin stacks were heightened and painted blue. They were topped
with stylish twin smoke dispersers giving the ship a distinctive appearance. The promenade deck was extended forward and her
upper decks aft were glazed to protect the forward pool from the wind. With her new dark blue paint scheme, with a red boot
topping, she looked very much like a modern liner.
The new look did not
erase the jinx, however. She was first placed back on the Australian service, steaming from Genoa
to Sydney and then to Wellington, New Zealand. On April 28, 1975, the Achille Lauro collided with and sank the Youssef,
a 497-ton Lebanese cargo ship off the coast of Turkey.
At least one person died in this accident.
There is a report that
the liner suffered yet another fire sometime in 1981. It was repaired but before it was returned to service, the ship was
seized by authorities after her owners, the Lauro Line declared bankruptcy. The Lauro Line merged with the Chandris Line in
1985. That was the year the Achille Lauro was seized by hijackers at Alexandria.
The liner remained on
the high seas until November 30, 1994, when she suffered her final and devastating fire. It happened while she was cruising
in the Indian Ocean, just off Somalia.
They said the fire started in the engine room and soon got out of control. The captain gave the order to abandon ship and
about a thousand passengers and crew took to lifeboats.
The tanker Hawaiian King
was the first of a number of ships that answered the liner’s radio call for help, and was credited for rescuing most
of the passengers. Two people died and eight others were injured during the transfer from life rafts to the deck of the tanker.
The fire ravaged the
old ship for two days before it listed and sank on Dec. 2.