With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian


Royal Rotterdam Lloyd

MS Willem Ruys

Later rebuilt to become Flotta Lauro’s Achille Lauro



MS Willem Ruys berthed in Rotterdam

Having spent many happy hours on the Dutch liner Willem Ruys it is with joy that I add this remarkable liner to ssMaritime. Having completed a successful career with Royal Rotterdam Lloyd, she received an interesting rebuild to become the Italian liner Achille Lauro.

Part One covers her life as the Dutch passenger liner, and Part Two tells the Achille Lauro story.

Part One - Willem Ruys

The Willem Ruys story will delight those who have sailed on her be it to Indonesia, or Australia and New Zealand. I am sure that many happy memories will linger, as you peruse the many photographs of her. For those who sailed on the Achille Lauro, will also be delighted seeing her again, that stylish modern, delightful cruise ship

Both the Netherland Line and Rotterdam Lloyd serviced the East Indies route. Rotterdam Lloyd, had ships such as the elegant trio of liners - Slamat, Indrapoera, and Sibajak, each being 12,000 GRT. However, regardless of their past elegance, these ships were rather antiquated, as the Netherland Line had introduced a number of superior ships such as the elegant and very popular Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, which commenced her East Indies service in 1930. Then in 1939, the Netherland Line introduced a new modern ship for her time, the Oranje. She joined the JVO to the East Indies. The maiden voyage Oranje to Indonesia was so popular, that Rotterdam Lloyd knew that they needed to compete with the Netherland Line, and build a superior liner.

Rotterdam Lloyd’s MS Sibajak – launched 1928


MS Johan van Oldenbarnevelt - launched 1929


MS Oranje - launched 1938


The keel of the ship was laid down in January 1939 at the De Schelde shipyard in Vlissingen. However, with the outbreak of the war, the construction was halted and she remained on the slipway. The Germans first attempted to bomb her, then strangely enough they even continued the construction, which was sabotaged number times by the Dutch resistance. Soon the Germans gave up the idea, and left the ship to deteriorate. The rusting hull somehow survived the chaos of war.

The launching of the Willem Ruys - 1946

After the war, it was decided to complete her, becoming a matter of national pride. It was an exciting day on the 1st of July 1946, she was launched by Mrs E. E. Ruys-van Houten and was christened Willem Ruys. In my first edition of this article I stated that she was named after the founder of the Company, Mr. Willem Ruys, however, I was later corrected by a family member, Gabrielle van Heuven-Ruys, who wrote; “she was NOT named after the founder of the company, but after his great-grandson Willem Ruys, who was shot by the Germans on the 15th of August 1942, together with two other prominent citizens of Rotterdam, after having been taken as hostages in retaliation for an attack on the railways near Rotterdam by the Dutch Resistance. She was launched by his widow, Mrs. E. E. Ruys-van Houten.” I am most grateful to Gabrielle van Heuven-Ruys for correcting me!

On December 2, 1947, the 21,119 GRT Willem Ruys set out on her maiden voyage from Rotterdam to Indonesia. As a special honour, Queen Wilhelmina had granted the company a Royal prefix for its services during the war, thus the company was now officially named “Royal Rotterdam Lloyd.” The Willem Ruys featured a superstructure very different to any liner ever built. She pioneered the low-slung aluminium lifeboats, within the upper-works’ flanks. The next ship to adopt this unique arrangement was P&O’s Canberra in 1961. Today, all cruise ships follow this layout, pioneered by Willem Ruys. Compared to Oranje, her rival, she was the more luxurious of the two, setting net standards in comfort in all classes.



Willem Ruys departed on her maiden voyage on December 2, 1947


Full steam ahead, as Willem Ruys sails for Indonesia


A long voyage ahead


First class Smoking Lounge


Left: – Right Tourist class Social Hall


There is a Link to the Willem Ruys photo page further down the Page.


Specifications as Built


Length                                       631 feet - 192.8 m

Beam                                         82.3 feet – 25.1 m

GRT                                                      21,119

Engines                                      Eight Sulzer Diesel Engines (27000 SHP)

Screws                                      Twin

Service Speed                             22 knots

Passenger Capacity                      344 first, 301 second, as well as third and fourth classes

Crew                                         400

Livery                                        Grey Hull, Black Funnels, White Boot Topping

Registry                                     Rotterdam

Stabilizers                                   nil (as built)


Painting by Captain Stephen Card

Willem Ruys, became the most popular liner on the Indonesia route, thus finally Royal Rotterdam Lloyd had a worthy rival to the Netherland Lines, Oranje. Dutch ships sailed back and forth to Indonesia, until an event, which was about to change the Dutch shipping industry dramatically. The East Indies, group of islands, having been a Dutch colony since the 17th century, gained its independence in 1949. The flow of traffic between the Netherlands and Indonesia thus suffered a meltdown. Before being placed on a new service in 1958, Willem Ruys was involved with a minor collision with her rival, Oranje in the Red Sea. There was no loss of life. After repairs, Royal Rotterdam Lloyd decided to deploy her on the North Atlantic run. First, she was placed on the New York service, and later Canada was included.


Royal Rotterdam Lloyd released this post card after her refit at Wilton-Fijenoord Shipyards

Note the new glazing aft of the lifeboats

Her next incarnation would see her have a major facelift at the Wilton-Fijenoord shipyard. Internally 100 new cabins were installed and air-conditioning was extended throughout all accommodations. In addition crew quarters were also substantially upgraded. Externally, she has a new glazed in Tourist Class Wintergarden, her forward funnel was heightened and stabilizers were fitted. Willem Ruys was now able to accommodate 275-first class, and 770-second class passengers, although there were many interchangeable cabins which had additional berths fitted, which could increase the maximum passenger numbers to 1167. Her new specifications would see her tonnage increase to 23,114 GRT.

Soon she would commence on her new round the world service to Australia and New Zealand. She departed on this new service from Rotterdam on March 7, 1959, sailing via Southampton, the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, Fremantle, Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand, returning via the Panama Canal. She and her two Dutch comrades at sea, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Oranje, were a popular alternative to the British liners and combined they enjoyed excellent loadings. The two companies Royal Rotterdam Lloyd and the Netherland Line collectively operated under the popular banner of “The Royal Dutch Mail Ships.” as they together with Greek, and Italian companies, operated on the migrant service to Australia, with paying passengers on the return voyage, most being migrants visiting their families back home. February 1963, the 33-year old JVO was sold to the Greek Line, to become the ill-fated Lakonia, taking up cruise duties from the UK to the Mediterranean.


Willem Ruys in Cape Town – Courtesy

Photo Table Bay Underway Shipping

At the end of 1964, due to poor passenger loadings, Willem Ruys was laid up in Rotterdam, whilst her running mate the Oranje was laid up in Amsterdam. Both were placed on the market and sold to Flotta Lauro Lines. In January 1965, she was officially handed over and renamed Achille Lauro. Oranje was renamed Angelina Lauro.

Her new tall funnels together with deck extensions gave her a long sleek profile


MS Willem Ruys / Achille Lauro INDEX:

MS Willem Ruys:       Part One

Photo Page One:         First Class

Photo Page Two:        Tourist Class

Achille Lauro:              Part Two

Achille Lauro:             SOS



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Commenced in the passenger Shipping Industry in May 1960 &

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Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images that have been provided by Shipping Companies and private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors. However, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer/owner concerned. I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me (my email address may be found on only), in order that due credit may be given. I know what it is like, I have seen a multitude of my own photographs on other sites, yet these individuals either refuse to provide credit or remove them when asked, knowing full well that there is no legal comeback when it comes to the net. However, let us show these charlatans up and do the right thing at all times and give credit where credit is due!

This notice covers all pages, although, and I have done my best to ensure that all photographs are duly credited and that this notice is displaced on each page, that is, when a page is updated!




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