When the Netherland Line introduced the 'Oranje' in 1938 the competing Rotterdam Lloyd line were compelled to match this level of speed and comfort with new vessels of their own. Their order for a new vessel was placed with the Koninklijke Maatschappij de Schelde shipyard in Vlissingen during January 1939. Construction was halted at the outbreak of World War Two, despite a variety of actions by the Germans and the Dutch Resistance against the partially completed hull, it remained substantially intact and outlived the war. After the hostilities ended work recommenced on completing the vessel. On July 1st 1946 the citizens of Holland witnessed the launching of the 'Willem Ruys', the vessel named after the founder of the Rotterdam Lloyd line.
The maiden voyage of the Willem Ruys began on December 2nd 1947 from Rotterdam to Batavia with 779 passengers. The Suez Canal was passed through on December 11th, Singapore was reached on December 22nd, and arrived at Tandjong-Priok, Batavia’s port, on Christmas Eve. The return trip was made January 3rd - 23rd 1948. When the East Indies gained their independence in 1949 after two centuries of Dutch rule, the change led to a major upheavel in the level of service to be operated over this route.
Ironically the Willem Ruys sustained minor damage in a collision with its arch rival the Oranje off Port Sudan in the Red Sea on January 6th 1953. Both continued on their scheduled sailings, the Oranje to Indonesia and the Willem Ruys to Holland. After repairs were completed in 1958 the Willem Ruys was placed on the North Atlantic route, initially servicing New York but later to include certain Canadian ports.
After a short stint on the North Atlantic run the ship visited the Wilton-Fijenoord shipyard for a major facelift to allow useage on world service to Australia & New Zealand. This new service began in March 1959, alongside rivals Johan van Oldenbarnevelt & Oranje, all now operating under the 'Royal Dutch Mails' banner. They captured some of the migrant trade between the Europe & Australia. This round the world service saw them operating through the Suez & Panama canals. The Willem Ruys generally operated the eastbound world service. By the end of 1964 the Willem Ruys was laid up in Rotterdam, the result of poor passenger loadings, no doubt many travellers were transitioning to the skies as the jet age took off.
In January 1965 the ship was sold to the Lauro Line, renamed 'Achille Lauro' after the managing director of the shipping line and was sent away for a refit at the yard of CN Riuniti di Palermo. Whilst being refitted an explosion and fire occurred on August 29th 1965, as a result her recommissioning was delayed. When completed the ship presented a different image, particularly with the new high slim-line funnels topped by rakish smoke dispersers. Additionally much glazing was added to the decks to provide greater protection for the cruise passengers. After refit the ship commenced service on April 13th 1966 to Australia & New Zealand, plying this route until 1973 by which time demand for this service had greatly diminished.
Placed into Mediterranean cruise service the 'Achille Lauro' suffered a series of incidents. It was in collision with a cargo ship, the Youssef, the damage inflicted caused the Youssef to sink. In 1981 whilst cruising near the Canary Islands another fire occurred killing two people, requiring more repairs. In 1982 the authorities in Tenerife seized the ship for non-payment of port fees. After several months the ship was able to return to Genoa, but did not immediately return to service.
In 1982 - 1983 the ship was leased to the Chandris Lines. Typical of the cruises plied by the Achille Lauro was the eastern Mediterranean circuit which started at Genoa, then to Naples, Syracuse, Alexandria, Port Said, Tartus, Limassol & Rhodes. On October 7th 1985 whilst on a ten day cruise the ship was seized by five Palestinian terrorists whilst en-route from Alexandria to Port Said, Egypt. At this point very few passengers were on board, most were sightseeing in Egypt. The terrorist action included the murder of one elderly passenger, wheel chair bound Leon Klinghoffer, an American. The Egyptian & Italian governments negotiated the surrender of the terrorists and their release to Palestine Liberation Organisation representatives. On their flight to Tunis aboard an Egyptian passenger aircraft, American fighter planes intercepted the aircraft and forced it to land at Catania, Sicily. International law gave the Italian authorities the right to bring a murder trial against the recently acquired hostages. However the Italian authorities released the suspects without trial, leading to the collapse of the existing coalition government.
The Achille Lauro as she looked after the 1965/66 refit.
In 1987 the Lauro Line became reflagged as the Star Lauro line.
The Achille Lauro continued as a cruise ship until November 30th 1994 when a fire broke out in the engine room whilst on a cruise from Genoa to the Seychelles. The location was in the Indian Ocean 150 miles off the coast of Somalia. The fire could not be contained, the order to abandon ship was given at 5am local time with all 1,090 passengers and crew taking to the life boats. The majority of the passengers were rescued by the tanker Hawaiian King, regretably in the rescue two lives were lost and eight persons were injured. The fire burned for three days, with the ship taking on an increasing list. The ship finally sank on December 2nd 1994.
Length: 631 feet
Beam: 82.3 feet
Gross Weight: 21,119 tons; 23,114 tons after 1959 refit; 23,629 tons after 1966 refit.
Engines: Eight direct-reversing two stroke crosshead diesels - total 27,000 shp (32,500 bhp)
Service Speed: 22knots
Passenger Capacity: 344 first, 301 second +3rd/4th; 275 first, 770 second after 1959 refit; 152 first, 1,155 tourist after 1966 refit.