Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Fire at Sea. The sinking of 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.
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.
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 murdered wheelchair-bound American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and threw his body overboard. 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-14A Tomcats from the VF-74 "BeDevilers" and the VF-103 "Sluggers" of Airwing 17, based on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, 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 after a disagreement between American and Italian authorities.
The other passengers on the plane (possibly including the hijackers' leader, Abu Abbas) were allowed to continue on to their destination, 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-141's. 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 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. Abandoned, the vessel sank on December 2.
Click here for a brief video of the shocking fire that sank the Lauro.