MS Achille Lauro

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Achille Lauro
Name: Willem Ruys (1947-1964)
Achille Lauro (1965-1994)
Operator: Royal Rotterdam Lloyd (1947-1964)
Flotta Lauro Lines (1965-1986)
StarLauro (1987-1994)
Ordered: 1938
Builder: Koninklijke Maatschappij "De Schelde" Shipbuilding
Laid down: 1939
Launched: 1946 (Delayed due to WWII)
Completed: 1947
Maiden voyage: December 2, 1947
Out of service: November 30, 1994
Fate: Sank on December 2, 1994, off the coast of Somalia due to fire onboard.
General characteristics
Tonnage: 21,119 GRT as built
23,629 GRT after refurbishment
Length: 630ft. (192m.)
Beam: 82ft. (25m.)
Draught: 29.2ft. (8.9m)
Capacity: 900 passengers
Crew: 400

MS Achille Lauro was a cruise ship based in Naples, Italy. Built between 1939 and 1947 as MS Willem Ruys, a passenger liner for the Rotterdamsche Lloyd. She is most remembered for her 1985 hijacking. In 1994, the ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean off Somalia.

Concept and construction

Ordered in 1938 to replace the aging ships on the Dutch East Indies route, her keel was laid in 1939 at De Schelde shipyard in Vlissingen, Netherlands, for Rotterdamsche Lloyd (now Nedlloyd). Interrupted by World War II and two bombing raids, the ship was not launched until July 1946 as the Willem Ruys. The ship was named after the grandson of the founder of the Rotterdamsche Lloyd who was taken hostage and shot during the war. Willem Ruys was completed in late 1947. At that time, the Rotterdamsche Lloyd had been granted a royal prefix in honor of its services during the war. Willem Ruys was 192 metres (630 ft) in length, 25 metres (82 ft) in beam, had a draught of 8.9 metres (29.2 ft), and measured 21,119 gross register tons. Eight Sulzer engines drove two propellers. She could accommodate 900 passengers. She featured a superstructure very different to other liners of that era: Willem Ruys pioneered low-slung aluminium lifeboats, within the upper-works’ flanks. The next ship to adopt this unique arrangement was the SS Canberra in 1961. Today, all cruise ships follow this layout.

Service history

As the Willem Ruys

On the East Indies route

As Willem Ruys, the ship began her maiden voyage on December 2, 1947. Together with her main competitor and running mate, the MS Oranje of the Netherland Line, she became a popular fixture on the Dutch East Indies route. However, when the East Indies gained independence from The Netherlands in 1949, passengers numbers decreased.

Collision with the Oranje

On January 6, 1953, Willem Ruys collided in the Red Sea with running mate MS Oranje, heading in the opposite direction. At that time, it was common that passenger ships pass each other at close range (1 tot 1,5 nautical miles) to entertain their passengers. During the (later heavily criticized) abrupt and fast approach of Oranje, Willem Ruys made an unexpected swing to the left, resulting in a collision. It was a near-miss disaster. Oranje badly damaged her bows. Due to the possibility she would be impounded for safety reasons, she was unable to call at Colombo as scheduled, and went directly to Jakarta. Willem Ruys suffered less damage. There was no loss of life involved. Later, it was determined that miscommunication on both ships had caused the collision.[1]

Later years

After repairs, Royal Rotterdam Lloyd decided to release the Willem Ruys on the North Atlantic run. First, she was placed on the New York service, and later Canada was included.

In 1958, the Royal Rotterdamsche Lloyd and the Netherland Line signed a co-operative agreement to create a round-the-world passenger service. The joint fleet would sail under the banner of "The Royal Dutch Mail Ships". Together with the Oranje and the Johan van Oldenbarneveldt, the Willem Ruys underwent an extensive refit to prepare her for this new service. She made two charter trips to Montreal for the Europa-Canada service. Then, from September 20, 1958 until February 25, 1959, she underwent a major facelift at the Wilton-Fijenoord shipyard in Amsterdam, turning her from a passenger liner into a cruise ship. Her original four class distinctions became First and Tourist Class. A hundred new cabins were installed and air-conditioning was extended throughout all accommodations. The Javanese crew members were replaced by Europeans, who required upgraded crew accommodation. Externally, she was fitted with a new glazed in Tourist Class Wintergarden, her forward funnel was heightened and stabilizers were fitted. Willem Ruys was now able to accommodate 275 first class, and 770 tourist class passengers, although there were many interchangeable cabins which had additional berths fitted, which could increase the maximum passenger number to 1167. Her new specifications would see her tonnage increase from 21,119 to 23,114 gross register ton.

On March 7, 1959 Willem Ruys went off on her new world service to Australia and New Zealand. She departed from Rotterdam, sailing via Southampton, the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, Fremantle, Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand, returning via the Panama Canal. The Royal Dutch Mail Ships (Willem Ruys, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Oranje) became a popular alternative to the British liners.

At the end of 1964, due to a strong drop in passenger numbers, Willem Ruys was laid up in Rotterdam and put up for sale.

As the Achille Lauro

In 1964, she was sold to the Flotta Lauro Line, or Star Lauro, (now MSC Cruises) and renamed the Achille Lauro (after the company owner). Extensively rebuilt and modernized after an August 1965 onboard explosion, the Achille Lauro entered service in 1966 carrying passengers to Sydney, Australia. The ship played a role in evacuating the families of British servicemen caught up in the Six Day War, arriving in Cairo on June 1, 1967.[citation needed]

The Achille Lauro was converted to a cruise ship in early 1972, during which time she suffered a disastrous fire. A 1975 collision with the cargo ship Youseff resulted in the sinking of the latter, and another onboard fire in 1981 took her out of service for a time. She was laid up in Tenerife when the Lauro Lines went bankrupt in 1982. The Chandris Line took possession of her in 1985, shortly before the hijacking.

1985 hijacking

On October 7, 1985, four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) took control of the liner off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said.

The hijackers had been surprised by a crew member and acted prematurely. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons. After being refused permission to dock at Tartus, the hijackers killed disabled Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and then threw his body overboard.[2] The ship headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner.

United States President Ronald Reagan ordered that the plane be intercepted by F-14 Tomcats from the VF-74 "BeDevilers" and the VF-103 "Sluggers" of Carrier Air Wing 17, based on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga[3], on October 10 and directed to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella, a N.A.T.O. base in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested by the Italians[4] after a disagreement between American and Italian authorities. The other passengers on the plane (including the hijackers' leader, Abu Abbas) were allowed to continue on to their destination,[5] despite protests by the United States. Egypt demanded an apology from the U.S. for forcing the airplane off course.

Disagreement between Italy and U.S.

Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi claimed Italian territorial rights over the NATO base and Italian Air Force and Carabinieri lined up facing the American Navy SEALs which had arrived with two C-141s. Other Carabinieri were sent from Catania to reinforce the Italians. It was the gravest diplomatic crisis between Italy and United States and was resolved five hours later.


The fate of those convicted of the hijacking is varied:

  • Bassam al-Asker was granted parole in 1991. He died on February 21, 2004.
  • Ahmad Marrouf al-Assadi disappeared in 1991 while on parole.
  • Youssef Majed al-Molqi, convicted of killing Leon Klinghoffer [2], was sentenced to 30 years, left the Rebibbia prison in Rome on February 16, 1996, on a 12-day furlough, and fled to Spain, where he was recaptured and extradited back to Italy. On April 29, 2009, Italian officials released him from prison on good behaviour.[6][7] In June 2009, however, al-Molqui's attorney told the Associated Press that the Italian authorities had placed his client in a holding cell and were about to deport him to Syria.[8]
  • Abu Abbas left the jurisdiction of Italy and was convicted in absentia. In 1996, he made an apology for the hijacking and murder, and spoke out in favor of peace talks between Palestinians and Israel; the apology was rejected by the U.S. government and Klinghoffer's family, who insisted he be brought to justice. Abbas was captured in Iraq in 2003 by the U.S. military during its 2003 invasion of Iraq. He died in U.S. custody March 8, 2004.
  • Ibrahim Fatayer Abdelatif was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. He served 20 and three more on parole and on July 7, 2008, he was expelled from an illegal immigrant detention center in Rome. He plans to appeal this arguing that he has nowhere else to go since Lebanon will not allow his return as he was born in a refugee camp and is thus not a Lebanese citizen.

The PLO was sued for its role in the death of Leon Klinghoffer. The $1.5 billion suit was dropped when the PLO paid an undisclosed sum to Klinghoffer's daughters.[2] The family founded the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation in cooperation with the Anti-Defamation League.[2]

Later years

The ship continued in service; she was reflagged in 1987 when the Lauro Line was taken over by the Mediterranean Shipping Company to become StarLauro. On November 30, 1994, she caught fire off the coast of Somalia while enroute to South Africa. At that time, the cause of the fire was suggested by Italian officials to be a discarded cigarette.[9] The crew attempted to battle the fire for several hours but were unsuccessful.[10] Abandoned, the vessel sank on December 2.[11]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:


  1. "Aanvaring ms Willem Ruys en ms Oranje". Arendnet Scheepvaart. Retrieved 2010-01-03. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Klinghoffer daughters recall personal tragedy at commemoration of terror victims outside Israel - Haaretz - Israel News". Haaretz. 2006-12-24. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  3. "F-14 Tomcat in Combat website recalling the Achille Lauro affair". Retrieved 2010-07-04. 
  4. Heymann, Philip B., (2001), Terrorism and America: A Commonsense Strategy for a Democratic Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press.
  5. Bosiljevac, T.L. (1990). SEALS: UDT/SEAL Operations in Vietnam. Ballantine Books. p. 200. ISBN 0-8041-0722-X. 
  6. "Achille Lauro Murderer Released in Italy - Jewish World - Israel News". Israel National News. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  7. [1][dead link]
  8. "Italy expels Palestinian hijacker to Syria, Associated Press, June 27, 2009, published in AT&T on-line news, retrieved June 27, 2009". 1985-01-01. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  9. "Achille Lauro Smolders After 1,000 Are Rescued". NY Times. 1994-12-02. Retrieved 2010-0704. 
  10. "1994: Blazing liner abandoned off east Africa". BBC. Retrieved 2010-0704. 
  11. Reuben Goossens. "Achille Lauro". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 

External links

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