How was it possible that two great ocean liners, manned by
experienced crews and having the latest 1950's radar technology, could collide in open
waters? Many factors came together in the same instant, sealing the fate of the Andrea
At 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 25, 1956, Captain
Piero Calamai stood on the bridge of the Andrea Doria, staring to the west. The
afternoon sun was headed toward a nebulous haze on the western horizon, the unmistakable
precursor of a July fog of the Massachusetts coast.
Fog. The quiet killer of the sea. It enshrouds a ship like a dark blanket, robbing a
navigator of his most treasured tool: vision. The Andrea Doria was equipped with
two of the latest radar scopes, but Calamai was a traditional captain who preferred the
evidence of his eyesight. He would rely on the radar when he had to, but he would keep his
own senses vigilant. Fog destroyed more ships than storm winds, coral reefs or icebergs.
On this voyage the ship left Genoa on July 17, stopped at Cannes, Naples, and Gibraltar
before heading out past the Azores and across a sunny summer route toward New York. She
was estimated to arrive at her pier the next morning, Thursday July 26, at 9 a.m.
Like every ship's captain, Calamai had issued standing orders that
he was always to be summoned in the event of fog. This Wednesday afternoon he appeared on
the bridge before he was called, perhaps sensing an impending haze.The suspicion was based
on experience, for the area off Nantucket is often foggy, particularly in July, when the
warm currents from the Gulf Stream collide with icy northern waters. A bank of fog
stretched ahead of the bow, Calamai called to the engine room to reduce the speed due to
fog. The ship slowed from 23 to 21.8 knots. At its slightly reduced speed the Andrea
Doria would reach the Ambrose lightship, the last major checkpoint before New York
Harbor, at 7 a.m., only one hour behind schedule. The watertight doors were closed to lock
the ship into eleven separate compartments below A deck. The Andrea Doria was
"unsinkable" as long as not more than two compartments flooded. The other
compartments would stay dry as long as the ship did not list more than twenty degrees to
either side. The ship's foghorn began to bellow its six-second blast every one minute and
forty seconds, a necessary but always foreboding symbol of a blinded ship steaming through
fog. A seaman was sent up to the forecastle on the tip of the bow to spot an approaching
hazard. One of the two Radar units were switched on and checked for proper operation. The Andrea
Doria was rigged for fog.
The Stockholm had left pier 97 in New
York at 11:31 that morning and by nightfall it was well away from New York, cruising
ahead at a top speed of eighteen knots. Nordensen walked on the wings of the bridge in
contemplation. Third Officer Carstens went about his duties. He checked the compass in
front of the helmsman to make sure he was holding course steady at ninety degrees. He
stepped outside the wing and glanced at the crow's nest to assure himself the lookout was
alert to his post. He looked for signs of fog and plotted the position of the ship. He
also monitored the radar scanner, it was set at the fifteen mile range. At 9:40pm the
Captain ordered a change of course to eighty-seven degrees that would take them
approximately one mile south of the Nantucket Lightship. A few minutes later Captain
Nordensen left Carstens in command and went down to his cabin with instructions that he be
notified of fog. The navigation of the ship was now completely in the hands of the third
mate, who did not need to be reminded of the standing orders of his stern captain. Never
leave the bridge without using the standby sailor as lookout, never pass another ship
closer than one mile, and in the event of fog, snow, sleet, or any unusual occurrence he
was to put the engine telegraph on standby and notify the captain immediately.
The following sequence was pieced together from the books-Collision
Course and Saved. The events as originally reported in the books are in error. A corrected
sequence of events has been presented here courtesy of Captain Robert J. Meurn of the
United States Merchant Marine Academy based on the findings of John C.
||Giannini spotted a pip on the radar, seventeen miles
distant. Franchini took a loran fix on the Andrea Doria's position, then listened
with the radio direction finder for the signal sent out by the Nantucket lightship. He
plotted the bearing of the signal and reported to Calamai, "We are headed directly
toward the lightship." Calamai ordered a change of course to two hundred and
sixty-one degrees. The new course would take them one mile south of the Nantucket
||Carstens took RDF readings from Block Island and the
Nantucket lightship. In addition to its regular directional signal, the Nantucket
lightship was broadcasting a special signal that was a coded warning that there was
dangerous fog in the area. Though the meaning of the radio signal was recorded in a manual
on board, Carstens seemed to be unaware of it.
||Carstens plotting now showed the Stockholm to
be two and one-half miles north of its intended course.
||The telephone rang on the bridge. The forecastle
lookout reported he could hear a foghorn off the starboard bow. Franchini was following
the movement of the pip and he told Calamai they were passing the lightship at a distance
of one mile. Calamai ordered a course of two hundred and sixty-eight. The Andrea Doria
was now headed almost due west, directly toward New York.
||Carstens took another position fix. The Stockholm
was farther off course to the north, 2.7 or 2.8 miles from its intended route, drifting in
a strong current. Carstens ordered a shift in course two degrees to the south to
compensate. At 10:40pm the three seaman rotated duties and Peder Larsen took the helm.
Carstens felt he should keep a close watch on the compass with Larsen at the helm.
Carstens believed the Danish sailor let his attention wander from strict observation of
the compass needle.
||"It's a ship. We can see a ship," Franchini
yelled out to the others from the chartroom, where he was crouched over the radar screen.
"Seventeen miles distance, four degrees on the starboard bow. The unknown ship was
almost directly in front of the Andrea Doria's course. A few sweeps of the radar
told the officers that the ship was not merely a slower one moving west, such as others
they had passed that evening, This ship was moving east, toward the Andrea Doria.
It was disconcerting since the oncoming ship was twenty miles north of the recommended
eastbound route. The ship was drifting slowly to the right for a safe starboard to
||Carstens took another RDF reading and the ship was now
three miles off coarse to the north. Carstens ordered Larsen to shift course an additional
two degrees south, which would put the ship on a heading of ninety-one degrees.
||Franchini was tracking the bearing of the pip. If the
bearing continually increased to the north, it meant the other ship was on a course that
would let it pass safely on the starboard side. If the bearing decreased, then the ships
were on a dangerous course and would have to take evasive action. The bearing was
increasing and if both ships held their courses, they would pass safely
starboard-to-starboard. When ships meet head-on in the open sea, they are supposed to pass
port-to-port, unless that would force them into a crossing course. Since the ship was
already to the starboard side to the north, there seemed to be no reason to swing to the
right for a normal port-to-port passage.
||When the other ship was about seven miles ahead,
Franchini switched the radar to a range of eight miles. Each reading seemed to confirm his
observation that the other ship would pass safely on his starboard, or right side. Calamai
asked "how close will she pass?" Franchini replied, "About one mile to
||At the helm Larsen reached up and pulled on a cord,
ringing six bells-eleven o'clock. Captain Nordensen heard the bells and knew that the Stockholm
would soon be approaching the Nantucket lightship and he would need to set a course for
the open sea. He carefully put away his logbooks and diary and prepared to go back to the
||Carstens detects the Andrea Doria to the
right of heading flasher on radar after his third RDF fix and through miscalculation on
the radar range believes it is 12 miles away. He thinks he is looking at the 15-mile range
scale but Andrea Doria in reality is only 4 miles away on the 5-mile scale.
||When the other ship was three and a half mile away at a
bearing of fifteen degrees, Calamai ordered a turn of four degrees to port. Calamai
reasoned the swing to the left would open the gap between the two ships and allow them to
pass starboard-to-starboard even farther than the one mile estimate. Calamai and Giannini
watched the horizon carefully on the starboard. It was important to make visual contact
with the other ship as soon as possible, for radar is at best an imprecise aid to
navigation. Eyes are more trustworthy.
course change to starboard to a course of 118 degrees.
||Carstens looks at radar and detects Andrea
Doria 6 miles away thinking he is on 15-mile scale. Actually the Andrea Doria is 2 miles
away as the Third Officer is in reality on the 5-mile range scale. The Stockholm's Third
Officer detects contact on radar to left of heading flasher and orders a further course
change to starboard to 133 degrees.
||Calamai did not expect to see the other vessel until it
was close, because of the fog, but he was puzzled that he did not at least hear its
foghorn. Giannini studied the radar and saw the other ship at a distance of one and a half
miles and at a bearing of thirty to thirty-five degrees off to the right. Going outside he
searched the starboard side with his binoculars. Suddenly he saw a blur of lights some
thirty-five degrees off to the right, just as the radar had indicated.
||When the compass indicator moved fifteen degrees, the
mate ordered, "Amidships." In response, Larsen brought the wheel back to center.
||The ships were about one mile apart when the vague glow
of the approaching vessel separated into visible masthead lights. Giannini pointed his
binoculars at the glow and strained to see the masthead lights. There were two white
lights, the lower one slightly to the right of the other. For an instant, Calamai thought
the other ship would pass safely to the right. It was perhaps the last serene moment
Captain Piero Calamai would ever experience. Giannini was suddenly confronted with the
realization that the lower masthead light of the other ship was rapidly swinging to the
left of the higher masthead light, and the red light on the port side of the other ship
was now visible for the first time. The other ship was turning directly toward the Andrea
Doria. Calamai had to act quickly, "Hard left!" he yelled at Helmsman
Giulio Visciano. It was a last daring attempt to outrun a disaster, by turning the Andrea
Doria to the left faster than the unknown vessel was turning to the right. Franchini
blew two short whistle blasts to signal a left turn and straining under a hard left
rudder, the Andrea Doria slid forward for perhaps half a mile before the turn
took effect. But instead of easing the Andrea Doria away from the menacing ship
coming toward them, the turn exposed the broad mass of the Doria's side, like a
target, to the onrushing bow of the other vessel.
||On the bridge, both Bjorkman and Carstens
simultaneously saw a dramatic change in the unknown ship's navigational lights, and stared
into the darkness in disbelief. Horror etched across Carstens' face. He could see the
other ship swinging into a hard left turn that was bringing it into a direct line with the
Stockholm's course. Soon, he saw the entire starboard side of the other ship in
front of him. Carstens could see the sharp steel bow of his ship headed directly for the
vulnerable broadside of the giant in front of him. Carstens had no time to speculate. The
mate pulled hard on the telegraph indicator to FULL SPEED ASTERN, to lessen the force of
the impact by reversing the engines. At the same moment, he decided to turn the ship's bow
away from the looming target. "Hard starboard!" he yelled at Larsen. Larsen
turned the wheel five full revolutions to the right and held it firmly in place. Carstens
heard the unknown ship's whistle shriek a protest into the night. Carstens could hear the
starboard screw finally spin backward, but he knew that it was too late. He braced himself
for the impact, and watched helplessly as the white bow of his ship took aim on the
starboard side of the black hull of the Andrea Doria.
||"She is coming against us!" Calamai yelled in
amazement. The captain instinctively drew back from the railing of the wing. The bow of
the intruder seemed to point directly at him on the bridge, though he knew it would hit
much lower some forty feet below. For an instant Calamai wished he was down there, where
the impact would crush him. It would be an act of mercy, for the captain saw in the
approaching bow a more horrible destiny. He was a captain! This was his ship! How could
this happen to him? Never in all his years at sea had Piero Calamai felt so alone. Then
the Stockholm struck!
||The third mate of the Stockholm used the
radar set barely seen here on the extreme right and the telephone on the aft wall in the
||A close-up of the Stockholm radar set, which
had been checked for accuracy the day before the collision, and the plotting board to the
||The spacious wheelhouse of the Andrea Doria
contained two telegraphs, two radar sets and two helms. The metal wheel automatic pilot
was switched off when fog was encountered.
||The Doria's chartroom behind the wheelhouse.
The radar plotting device was in the top drawer.
||The Stockholm Engine Room where one man,
standing at the desk in the center when the telegraph rang FULL SPEED ASTERN, had to open
two air valves and reverse both engine wheels seen here.