Andrea Doria Lost When Helmsman Made Wrong Turn
By James Donahue
The fine new Italian luxury liner Andrea
Doria, the “Grande Dame of the Sea,” was enjoying popularity from the day it was launched in 1953 until it was
sunk in a collision off Nantucket Island on July 25, 1956.
For those three years, the 697-foot-long
Andrea Doria was touted as the largest, fastest and safest of new passenger liners on the Atlantic crossing. It boasted eleven
watertight compartments with bulkheads extending from A-Deck to the double hull. Thus, like the Titanic before her, the ship
was considered unsinkable by her builders. She also was equipped with radar so it could be warned of nearby vessels, even
in fog or dark of night.
All of these safety features built into this
great liner, yet the Andrea Doria was destined to become the last great liner to be lost near the end of the era of Atlantic
crossings by sea.
The Doria, Captain Piero Calamai, was near
the end of a nine-day voyage from Genoa to New York with 1,706 passengers and crew. The other ship involved in the collision
was the Stockholm, a 528-foot-long Swedish liner, under the command of Captain H. Gunnar Nordensen. As the Stockholm steamed
away from New York harbor at a full 18 knots, Third Officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen was standing watch on the bridge.
As the Andrea Doria approached what was known
as a busy coast the ship was passing through thick fog. Calamai only ordered the ship’s speed reduced from 23
to 21.8 knots. He had the ship’s watertight doors closed and ordered the foghorn to blow. A crew member was stationed
as a lookout. Seeing the radar image of another ship yet some distance off, Calamai changed to a more southwestern course
to avoid it.
Meanwhile, Carstens-Johannsen, who was not
in fog and did not see the approaching liner, felt that a strong current was causing the Stockholm to drift north of its course.
He also ordered a southerly course change, thus putting the two liners on a collision course.
As the two ships drew closer, the Doria’s
crew watched the Stockholm speed right toward them. The Doria’s radar, however, told the crew that the ships were on
course to pass safely starboard-to-starboard.
That information, from an early radar system
that was not yet that reliable, caused Captain Calamai to steer to pass the approaching ship starboard-to-starboard, something
that was a violation of the rules of the road for ships at sea. He said his decision was based on the belief that they were
already approaching each other for starboard and a port-side passing would mean crossing the bow of the other ship. So with
the other ship only about three nautical miles off, Calamai ordered a four-degree course change to port
Just at that moment the Andrea Doria emerged
from the fog bank and the two ships suddenly were visible to each other. On the Stockholm’s bridge, Carstens-Johannsen
ordered his helmsman to make a sharp turn to starboard to give the oncoming ship a wide berth. He did not expect the Andrea
Doria to be running for a starboard-to-starboard pass. Thus he turned his ship right into the side of the other liner.