The events of 25th July 1956 were the first one of its kind ever experienced in the history. On that fateful night, the Swedish passenger ship hit the Italian ship, Andrea Doria. This incident took place exactly at 11:11 pm an average of 180 nautical miles eastwards to the Ambrose lightship. The Italian luxury liner was struck in such a way that all the lifeboats that could be used to rescue, the victims of the accident were rendered unusable. Within the first ten minutes of being struck, the Andrea Doria transmitted a signal at Lat. 40° 30.’
N, Lon. 69° 53′ W calling for help. W since all the port-side lifeboats had been damaged, the only hope of rescue was the rapid response of nearby ships.
The loss was not as much as the titanic disaster of 1912 since only forty six people from Andrea Doria died as a result of the accident. Five crew members from Stockholm who were present at the in the area of bow despite the entire ordeal, 1660 passengers managed to survive thanks to the rescue .at 10:09 am the following morning. Andrea Doria capsized and sank at 40°29′ 30″ N, 69° 51′ 00″ W which is 17.8 nautical miles south west of the Nantucket Shoals lightship.
According to testimonies given out during the month of the disaster, the Italian liner Andrea Doria which was crossing the Atlantic ocean for the 101st time left Genoa on the 17th of July 1956 under the stewardship of captain Piero calamai. Later that day the Italian liner proceeded at a reduced speed of 21.8 knots through the fog on a heading of 267° true towards the Nantucket Shoals lightship positioned about 45 miles southeast of Nantucket Island. The mist sounding at that time was 6 seconds blast per 100 seconds. Captain calamai was in immediate command from 3 pm that afternoon and had ensured all preparations for running through the fog had been done. The watertight doors had been locked.
The Swedish-American liner Stockholm, on the other hand, departed from New York pier at exactly 11:31 am on the same day, 25th July 1956 on her 103rd crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The Swedish American liner was under the leadership of Captain Gunnar Nordenson. The liner was set for Gothenburg, Sweden then later on to Copenhagen, Denmark. The pilot was discharged at 1:32 pm off Staten Island. After passing the Ambrose channel lightship, the course was set for 090° true due east toward the Nantucket Shoals lightship. This would direct them to a point 20 miles south of Nantucket lightship to avert the dense traffic that converged there heading westbound.
The captain’s rationale regarding his reason for putting his vessel on a course that would encounter the western traffic was that it was safer to cross the westbound lanes by turning northward and heading towards Scotland and Nova Scotia on his way to Scandinavia. Seemingly this is where the complete mayhem started. Stockholm passed the Fire Island buoy at exactly 3:11 pm and at 7:11 pm she was picked on her radar while she is forty one nautical miles away. The senior second officer projected that it was as a result of the mirage brought about by the warm air over cold waters. Moreover, it is unusual for a vessel to pick up the island more than thirty miles away. johan-Ernst, a third officer took over the watch from enestorm. This change was late by thirty minutes from the usual change time. This transpired merely because Carstens had previously relieved snowstorm for a thirty minutes dinner break earlier that evening.
At around 9:00 pm, captain Nordenson came up for a lastl check of how things were going on. At this time the Stockholm recorded a speed of 18.5 knots, full speed ahead. At that time the water was calm despite the occasional swell. Water temperature was at 70° F with a mild breeze emanating from the southwest.Third officer Giannini of Andrea Doria took over the Nantucket Shoals lightship on the radar at around 9:20 pm. at a proximity of 17 miles. Meanwhile, helmsman of Stockholm was changedCaptain calamai ordered the change of Andrea Doria’s course from 267° to 261° at 9: 40 pm. At this time the Nantucket lightship was about 14 miles ahead of radar. His intention of doing this was to ensure the vessel passes about a mile and a half stationery to the south of the stationary lightship. Captain Nordenson of Stockholm also ordered for a change of course from 090° to 087° at the same time for the vessel to pass within two miles south of the Nantucket lightship which was her last fix position before heading north.
Captain Nordenson left standing orders that would be informed in case fog or any unexpected weather conditions erupted in the course of the sail. Meanwhile, he went to his cabin. This was quite unprofessional as it is known all over that advection fog is experienced in that region at that time of the year. Besides his standing orders, he also informed the people in charge to call him before Stockholm reached the Nantucket lightship. He did so so that he would issue the next order for the course to be changed northward to 066°.
At 10:04 pm Carstens-Johannsen fixed the ship’s position using radio beacons and radio direction finder from Nantucket lightship and Block Island. This new fix indicated that the ship was being set more northerly as opposed to captain Nordenson’s orders. Although he used radio identifiers of these beacons, he was unaware that it was possible for him to use Morse codes received from them to evaluate the presence of dense fog at that time. At exactly 10:10 pm, Carstens changed Stockholm’s course from 087° to 089°. He did this to counter the current which was bringing his ship more toward the north as contrary to captain Nordenson’s instructions. Later on, Carstens claimed that this correction was made at 10:30 opposite to the information recorded on the course recorder from Stockholm which indicates that the change was made at 10:10 pm.
As at 10:20 pm Andrea Doria which was westbound was one mile away from the Nantucket Shoals lightship. After noticing this captain, Calamai ordered the course to be changed from 261° to 268° to direct the ship towards the Ambrose channel lightship and the entrance to New York harbor. The course recorder recorded that the course was changed from 089° to 091° by Carstens which he later on claimed was as a result of taking a second RDF fix about fifteen minutes after the first correction. The same course recorder also indicated that between 10:10 pm and 10:40 pm, the ship’s average heading remained unchanged. It is only after the change of the helmsman that a slight change in the ship’s average heading was noticed on the recorder print. From the information obtained from the course recorder, it is evident that there was poor concentration on the part of Peder Larsen, the new helmsman who failed to control the ship causing it to yaw several degrees to either side of the mean course lane.
This lack of concentration was proven later on during the pretrial hearings in New York. Shown below are the pertinent segments are obtained from the course recorders of the two vessels between 9 p.m. and 11:40 p.m. local time.
The course variations mentioned above are acknowledged together with the details surrounding the minutes before and after the collision. Moreover, it is quite easy to notice the wide variations at Stockholm after Larsen took over the steer at 10:40 pm. Stockholm’s third officer claimed he made appropriate use of the radar plotting board near the radar screen.
However, this is not true since he fully depended on the helmsman for the actual course heading any time he wanted to note down a position on the board. This is basically because Stockholm’s radar had no gyro repeater that would help him to check the ship’s instantaneous heading. It is also evident that the helmsman at the wheel was not keen on doing what he was expected to do.
At 11:05 pm captain calamai from Andrea Doria ordered a four degrees change of course to the left and none to the right. This is to surge the distance between the two vessels to avoid the collision. The helmsman, Giulio Visciano observed the gyro compass tick off the four degrees heading change in compliance with the order “nothing to the right.” With this, Andrea Doria was only permitted to move faintly off the desired 264° course lane leftwards. Consequently, the helmsman was not permitted to allow any drift to the right of the new course. This is evident in the course recorder that shows a minor drift of one to two degrees to the left of the 264° true line just before the captain ordered the evasive action. Just thirty minutes prior the collision, captain calamai ordered saw the oncoming vessel indicating a red sidelight. The forward masthead which indicated that the oncoming ship was turning to them was also visible. Upon this realization, captain calamai ordered the wheel to be put hard apart, but it was too late for the steam turbine engines to take any action. This is how the fatal accident occurred.
At 10:26 pm local time which was about twenty-six minutes prior to the collision , the Stockholm was picked up on Andrea Doria’s radar at a bearing of four degrees and seventeen nautical miles to starboard according to pretrial hearings testimonials. At that time Andrea Doria was heading 268° true through the dense fog at a relatively reduced speed of 21.8 knots. Eighteen minutes before the collision which was at 10:53 p.m. local time, Andrea Doria was picked up on Stockholm’s radar about twelve miles. Meanwhile, Stockholm’ sheading averaged at close to 090° true with wide variations in yaw as initially noted. Briefly, after the collision, a third officer at Stockholm was to note down a rough deck log which he saw the radar echo from Andrea Doria at 11:00 pm. This issue arose during the pretrial hearing where demonstrations were unveiled to him on the impossibility of two ships closing at a combined rate of two miles in every three minutes to be twelve miles away from each other at 11:00 pm. He, however, argued that the time he had noted down was not the exact time but just estimation. By this, he implied that the real-time was earlier than the time he noted down.
After Andrea Doria appeared on his radar, Carstens-Johannsen plotted the approach of the fast vessel on the plotting board with the first plotting at a distance of ten miles and a bearing two degrees to port. The second plotting would be at 11:02. After connecting the two points, he realized that the oncoming ship ought to pass his ship at a distance of about half a mile which is somehow closer to captain Nordenson instructions. It is however ironical how the third officer was unable to see the lights of the oncoming ship as they continued to approach each other.
The collision was as a result of human error. The most evident is lack of concentration among the helmsmen. One of them who was on duty at the time of the accident was not keen enough to see the lights from the oncoming ship. The other mistake committed by the operators is the delays in the changing times. They failed to observe the stipulated time for changing duties, and this caused some sluggishness in their activities.
Halpern, S. An Objective Forensic Analysis of the Collision Between Stockholm and Andrea Doria.
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