- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — On a foggy July night in 1956, the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria was speeding toward New York on the last leg of a trans-Atlantic crossing when it collided with a passenger ship and sank, killing 51 persons.

Half a century later, the Andrea Doria is still taking a toll as it rests on its side about 200 feet down in frigid waters south of Nantucket, Mass.

At least 14 persons have died while exploring the wreck. The latest fatality came July 8, when researcher David Bright suffered decompression sickness after making his 120th trip to the Andrea Doria ahead of an anniversary dive there.

“It’s called the Mount Everest of diving. It’s such a dangerous depth, but it attracts a lot of interest,” said Capt. Robert Meurn, professor emeritus at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island and, like his friend Mr. Bright, an expert on maritime history and the Andrea Doria in particular.

In 1956, Capt. Meurn was a 19-year-old cadet aboard a training ship and heard the distress calls from the collision the night of July 25.

It was at the U.S. Coast Guard station across Long Island that first word of the disaster was received in a crackling radio message at 11:22 p.m.:

“We have collided with another ship. Please. Ship in collision.”

The message was from the sleek, white Stockholm, a Swedish passenger ship that had left New York a few hours earlier. In the swirling fog, the Stockholm’s bow, reinforced for northern ice fields, had ripped into the starboard side of the 29,000-ton Andrea Doria, the erstwhile flagship of the Italian Line.

The three-year-old Andrea Doria then radioed its own SOS, a last cry from a vessel already doomed. Water gushing into the gaping hole drowned many on board and tilted the 700-foot liner so sharply that her portside lifeboats could not be lowered.

Fortunately, at least 15 ships were close enough to respond. In all, about 1,660 people on the Andrea Doria were saved, while 46 died. Five were lost on the Stockholm.

The cause of the collision “has been called a mystery, but it really isn’t — it was human error,” Capt. Meurn said by telephone from his home.

Each ship blamed the other, but the case was settled out of court, leaving the issue of responsibility unresolved.

Capt. Meurn, among others, contends that the Stockholm’s third officer, Ernst Carstens-Johannsen, had misread the ships’ relative positions on radar. By the time the error was realized, it was too late for the Stockholm to change course.

The collision led to changes that make a similar event today unlikely — the defining of shipping lanes, improved radar and bridge-to-bridge VHF communication between ships. Andrea Doria and Stockholm could communicate only through their radio rooms.

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