Paint Covers Ship's Past

Stockholm: A Vessel Involved In One Of The Worst Peacetime Sea Accidents This Century Still Sails 41 Years And Several Names Later.

April 27, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff and Frederick N. Rasmussen

A famous ship dripping with irony slipped quietly in and out of Baltimore on Monday in its maiden voyage here.

The visitor for less than a day at Pier 5, Dundalk Marine Terminal, was a 15,000-gross- ton passenger vessel called Italia Prima, meaning "Italy First."

The ship was in the last stages of an around-the-world tour that began Dec. 21 in Genoa, Italy. Genoa was the home port of Christopher Columbus and another famous 16th-century Italian sailor, Andrea Doria, who won the city freedom from the Spanish.

Sailing for a half-century, the Italia Prima was none other than the former Stockholm of the Swedish-America Line. On July 25-26, 1956, it rammed and sank the pride of the Italian merchant marine, Andrea Doria. It was the century's second-most-famous peacetime maritime accident, after the Titanic.

Almost no one noticed the ship here. Unfortunate. It was the talk of the maritime world 41 years ago. Many ship buffs may have assumed it was scrapped long ago; it hasn't been the Stockholm for 37 years.

For several hours Monday at Pier 5, in an early evening drizzle, taxis and buses came and went. They disgorged 251 passengers, mostly German tourists, who climbed the gangplank after sightseeing in Baltimore or Washington before departing to New York and home to Bremerhaven, Germany. The ship had arranged no fanfare. No Baltimore passengers embarked.

One German passenger said her colleagues were well aware they were on the once-famous Stockholm. One young crew member said it was a "good ship." Another said it rolled in rough weather. Several young crew members seemed to know little about the Stockholm and showed little enthusiasm over its history.

The pier was empty except for two middle-aged ship fans inspecting the 520-foot-long ship, which has had four names, several owners and an unusual resilience on the high seas since its birth in 1948. It left Baltimore Monday night and, proceeding via the C & D Canal, made New York in 20 hours and is due in Bremerhaven May 8. Its top speed is 19 knots.

It was the first new passenger ship to cross the Atlantic from Europe after World War II in the days when ships were always referred to in the feminine. The larger Andrea Doria, 697 feet long and 29,100 gross tons, was built in 1951. Many said it was the most beautiful ship afloat.

Its nemesis, the Italia Prima, has lived longer than many notable ships of this century: United States, Lusitania, Queen Elizabeth, Morro Castle, Queen Mary, Normandie, Titanic and Olympic.

On the fateful fog-shrouded night, 51 people died during and after the accident. The Stockholm, headed from New York to Europe, sliced into the New York-bound Andrea Doria's starboard-side prow at 11:10 p.m. July 25 in the Atlantic Ocean 45 miles south of Nantucket, Mass.

"They raced towards each other at a combined speed of 40 knots," wrote Alvin Moscow in "Collision Course."

"With the force of a battering ram of more than one million tons, the Stockholm plunged into the speeding Italian ship, crumpling her like a thin sheet of tin, until her energy was spent. With the Stockholm pinioned in her, the Andrea Doria, twice her size, pivoted sharply under the impact, dragging the Stockholm along as the giant propellers of the Italian Liner churned the black sea violently to white."

The black Andrea Doria was mortally wounded with seven of her 11 decks pierced by the white Stockholm's bow.

It immediately heeled over to an 18-degree list that dangerously increased with each passing minute. The ship designed to withstand a list of 7 degrees had quickly passed the dangerous maximum of 15 degrees.

Piero Calamai, the Andrea Doria's captain, realized his ship was lost and ordered an immediate SOS sent.

The ship's radio operator flashed the message from his key over and over again through the dark North Atlantic night: SOS DE ICEH. SOS HERE AT 0320 GMT. LAT. 40.30 N 69.53 W. NEED IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE.

The heroic rescue effort led by a half-dozen ships including the Stockholm and Ile de France saved 1,660 passengers and crew including six Marylanders on the Andrea Doria. Four Marylanders were on the Stockholm.

Most dramatic was the case of Linda Morgan, 14, who was asleep in her bed in the Andrea Doria in the area rammed by the Stockholm. She disappeared and was feared dead. She was found injured in the wrecked bow of the Stockholm after it pulled away.

Years later, in the book "Saved" by William Hoffer, she was quoted as saying, "My husband's a pilot. We fly all over. We hike and canoe and climb. I believe life is to be lived to the fullest. Life is precious. There's a very thin line between when you're living and when you're not."

The Italian ship sank in 225 feet of water at 10:09 a.m. July 26. No blame was affixed. The cause of the collision of two modern radar-equipped ships is still debated.

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