MS Achille Lauro 1965-94 - ex Royal Rotterdam Lloyd MS Willem Ruys

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Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author

Please Note: All ssMaritime and other related maritime/cruise sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any shipping or cruise companies or any travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! Although the author has been in the passenger shipping industry since 1960, although is now retired but having completed over 690 Classic Liners and Cargo-Passengers Ships features I trust these will continue to provide classic ship enthusiasts the information the are seeking, but above all a great deal of pleasure!

 Flotta Lauro released this Achille Lauro post card prior to her completion


Part Two - MS Achille Lauro

Please Note: This page is incomplete as it is still being updated!

At the end of 1964, due to the MS Willem Ruys’ poor passenger loadings, she was with great sadness laid up in Rotterdam, as had been the MS Oranje of the Netherland Line been laid up in Amsterdam. These two old rivals were placed on the market and were sold in January 1965 to an Italian Shipping Company Lauro Lines, or Flotta Lauro Line. The Willem Ruys was officially handed over on January 6, 1965 and she was renamed Achille Lauro after the managing director of the Lauro Line, whilst she was still in Rotterdam.

She then headed for Palermo, Italy where she would be extensively be rebuilt into an ultramodern Liner and Cruise Ship by “CN Riuniti di Palermo.” As work was well on the way and they were ready to commence the fitting of her newly reshaped aft funnel, suddenly on August 29, the Achille Lauro was rocked by a huge explosion and a fire broke out. Finally, when the fire was out and the ship was safe, work was continued, but obviously completion was delayed.

Here we see the fire that broke out after an explosion on August 29, 1965 during the rebuilding


A view of the Achille Lauro is seen with her modernised superstructure and her two new funnels fitted

Externally there were some significant changes made to this already beautiful ship. The most obvious being her new sharply raked bow, giving her an additional 12ft in length. Then there were her two brand new high slim-line type funnels, which were topped by stylish twin smoke dispersers giving the Achille Lauro a distinctive look. The funnels were painted blue, with a traditional Lauro logo of a white star being added and the smoke dispersers were black.

In addition, promenade deck was extended far forward with glazing, whilst her upper also glazed aft in order to protect the First Class pool from the wind. Her hull was repainted blue with just some white on the forward top of the bow section and red boot topping. The previous forward and aft main masts were removed and a new shapely Signal radar mast was fitted just behind the Bridge with a short white mast forward.

Undoubtedly, she was a magnificent sight for what was a ship that was designed pre-WW2, yet now she looked very much like a brand new modern liner. Her gross tonnage had been increased to 23,629 and her length from 631ft to 643ft, this 12ft longer than before due to her shapely new raked bow! Her new passenger capacity was as follows; 270 First Class and 917 Tourist Class, although there were a good number of cabins which were interchangeable between the classes.

When completed she headed for Rotterdam, her original homeport, where it was decided in honour of her heritage, she would commence her maiden voyage from there! MS Achille Lauro departed Rotterdam on April 7, 1966 and headed for Southampton.

The all-new MS Achille Lauro seen in Southampton whilst on April 8, during her maiden voyage

Sent in by a supporter, but does not wish any credit, but thank you JCS

Then back to Italia to Genoa arriving on April 13, sailing via the Suez Canal to Fremantle on May 4, (Perth) Western Australia, after which she headed via the treacherous Great Australian Bight or the Southern Ocean to Melbourne arriving on May 8 and she arrived in Sydney on May 10.

MS Achille Lauro is seen arriving in Sydney on May 10, 1966

Photograph by & © Jeff Eastwood

From Sydney, she then made a return voyage to Wellington New Zealand and upon her return to, she returned to Europe via the same ports, except for one additional port of call, being Singapore.

The Achille Lauro continued on this service into the 1970s, although due to the closure of the Suez Canal in 1967, she like the Angelina Lauro as well as all other ships on the Australian service, were rerouted to sail via Africa and many then returned via the Panama Canal.

However, on May 19, 1972 whist the Achille Lauro was undergoing an overhaul at Genoa, she was badly damaged by fire, and it took five months before she could return to service again. However, as the company had already decided that due to a lack of passengers the Achille Lauro would be withdrawn from the Australian liner service, and thus she departed for her final voyage on October 13, 1972 and headed to Sydney. Having arrived at all her usual ports, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney, Wellington, back to Sydney, her last departure as a passenger liner from Melbourne was on November 13, 1972. Upon her return to Britain and Europe in December, she officially became a fulltime One Class cruise ship.

A superb postcard of the cruise ship MS Achille Lauro


Sadly, the Achille Lauro was in a way a much-troubled ship that continued right up to her eventual end, to her sinking on December 2, 1994. But more on that later!

The Achille Lauro commenced cruising and did so without any problems, until a shocking event occurred whilst in the Dardanelles. On April 28, 1975 the Achille Lauro somehow collided with a 497-ton Lebanese Cattle Carrier, the MS Youssef. The small ship was badly damaged and the accident resulted in one human tragedy.

The next serious accident happened in 1981, when the Achille Lauro suffered yet another major fire. The massive blaze thankfully did not send the beautiful ship to the breakers, for once she was completely restored and updated, she was in due course returned to service again.

Sadly her troubles were far from over, for the very next year, in 1982 she was seized by the authorities due to the ships owners, Lauro Line’s not having paid port duties. At the time she was returning to Genoa via Tenerife whilst on a cruise, but as soon as she arrived in Tenerife she was arrested, and she remained there for several months. Once a general arrangement had been made between the parties, she was released and the Achille Lauro was permitted to sail for Genoa. Once there, she had to be laid up until the Lauro Lines were able pay all their debts. After all debts had been paid, she returned to her cruise duties, however passengers numbers began to slow down somewhat, for Lauro Lines had to rebuild their reputation again.

Lauro Lines made a wise move and merged with the Greek giant, Chandris Lines in 1985. Under this new Company’s guise the MS Achille Lauro would sadly entered the history books that same year.

Lauro Lines merged with the Chandris Line in 1985. It would be this year that became Achille Lauro’s most notorious year ever, with an event, which the world would remember, even to this day. On October 7, 1985, Achille Lauro was on a ten-day cruise; however, just before arriving at Alexandria, the Achille Lauro was taken hostage by five Palestinian terrorists.

The Santa Maria

Not since the hijacking of the Argentinean Liner Santa Maria, by a Portuguese rebel group on January 23, 1961. The Santa Maria was held for 13 days. The Palestinian terrorists were in a rage, when they murdered a disabled passenger, American Mr. Leon Klinghoffer. After which, they threw him and his wheelchair overboard. After various demands, the Egyptian authorities gave the hijackers permission to leave the ship without punishment. As they left the ship, they made a victorious lap around the harbour, soon after they departed by plane. However, the American authorities forced them down over Sicily. In the meantime, the Egyptian government retained the Achille Lauro, in retaliation. Again, whilst under the Italian flag, she suffered another crisis. Eight days later, the Achille Lauro returned to her homeport. One of the terrorists was captured by the Americans during the 2003 war Iraq.

The cruising lifestyle around the pool

The ship continued her cruise duties, although she was re-flagged in 1987, when the Lauro Line became Star Lauro. In 1990, a TV movie was made, named, “Voyage of Terror - The Achille Lauro Affair,” starring Burt Lancaster and Eve Marie Saint. Like most movies, we cannot believe what it shows, as general exterior shots were of other cruise ships, even cargo ships, but it came off reasonably well.

Post card release by Star Lauro

The Achille Lauro was now sailing under a Swiss flag

Several years later came the demise of the great Willem Ruys / Achille Lauro. November 30 1994, she was cruising off Somalia in the Indian ocean, when yet another fire broke out. This time there would be no reprieve for her, as this fire would be devastating. After the fire began to burn out of control, the captain gave the order to abandon ship at 0500 local time, 0200 GMT. All 1,090 passengers and crew abandoned ship. The tanker ‘Hawaiian King’ was the first of a number of ships that answered Achille Lauro’s SOS.

The Panamanian registered ‘Hawaiian King’ rescued most of the passengers. Sadly, two souls died, and eight were injured during the transfer of passengers from life rafts onto the tanker. As night fell, survivors were recovering onboard the ‘Hawaiian King.’ The US Navy cruiser Gettysburg, which by now had been stocked with much needed food. The fire raged for three days, and the Achille Lauro was declared a total loss. “The Achille Lauro is listing by at least 40 degrees, and you can still see smoke and flames, the passenger decks on the stern side are burning, and flames are licking halfway up the vessel,” said the tanker’s captain, Dimitrios Skapinakis. Achille Lauro sank on December 2.


The tragic fire ended the distinguished career of this fine ship


The BBC reported on the Achille Lauro fire. It may be viewed by clicking the link shown below. You will need RealPlayer to view it.


MS Willem Ruys / MS Achille Lauro - INDEX:

MS Willem Ruys:   Part One.

Photo Page One:   First Class. Online soon.

Photo Page Two:   Tourist Class. Online soon.

Brochure:              All Classes. Online soon.

Achille Lauro:        Part Two. Online soon.

Achille Lauro:        SOS - Message sent by UK Coastguard re SOS received.


Also Read:             MS Oranje / Angelina Lauro - Netherland Line.

.                           MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt - Netherland Line.

.                           MS Sibajak - Royal Rotterdam Lloyd.


“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.”



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