Thursday, May 10, 2007
In 1971 Dad worked for the US State Department and somehow managed to qualify for a little-known government subsidy of shipping interests whereby we could return to the States for home leave by ship, in first class. So Mom and Dad and my brother Andy and I sailed aboard the Raffaello, one of the Italian Line's twin superliners (the other was Michelangelo), from Genoa to New York.
Raffaello was designed specially for the transatlantic service. She was very big -- 902 feet overall -- and very fast, with a top speed of almost 31 knots and cruising speed of 26.5 knots, enabling her to cross the Atlantic in 5 days. Before she and her sister Michelangelo made their maiden voyages in 1965, though, the advent of jet airplane travel spelled the end of the era of the great ocean liners. Raffaello took seven years to build, and her career on the transatlantic run lasted barely longer than that before the Italian government could no longer afford the massive subsidies to keep her sailing. A brief attempt was made to use her as a cruise ship, but her design, ideal for a passenger liner, was not suitable for cruising. She was too big, too fast and fuel-hungry, and had too many windowless, spartan third-class cabins for the cruise market. An overhaul was deemed too expensive, so she was retired and put up for sale. The Italian Line refused a bid from a cruise operator who planned to rebuild her, no one seems to know why -- perhaps they thought they could get more for her. It was not to be. In the end the Raffaello, which cost $45 million to build, was sold to the Shah of Iran for use as a floating barracks for only $2 million. In the riots when the Shah was overthrown, the ship was looted and badly damaged, and her drinking water distillation system was destroyed. For years she lay at her moorings, inhabited only by rats, until in 1983 in the Iran/Iraq war she was torpedoed by Iraqi jets. Finally, the hulk was accidentally rammed by a harbor tug and sank. Michelangelo survived as a barracks ship until 1991, when she was sold to Pakistani scrappers. It is said that by 1992 all that remained of the beautiful Italian Twins were a few toilet seats for sale in the markets of Karachi.
Some photos (click on the thumbnails to enlarge):
The Italian Twins
First-class suite on Raffaello
Raffaello in Iran
Michelangelo being broken up