Classic ocean liners
SS Michelangelo - SS Raffaello
The SS Michelangelo and her sister SS Raffaello were completed in 1965 by Ansaldo Shipyards of Genoa for the shipping company Italia di Navigazione,
informally known as Italian Line. These
were of the last ships to be built primarily for liner service across the North Atlantic. Planned since 1958, they were originally intended to be
just slightly larger than the SS Leonardo da Vinci, then still in construction, but since the air lines had not had a notable effect on the Mediterranean
area at that time, a pair of genuine "superliners" seemed an attractive idea. And so these ships ended being the largest ocean liners built in Italy,
surpassed in weight - but not in size - only by the SS Rex of 1932.
These ships were true liners with their accommodations divided into three classes. For some arcane reason the three lowermost passenger decks did not have
any portholes. A characteristic feature were the funnels, designed in the Polytechnic University of Turin, which adopted an intricate trellis-like
pipework, instead of the traditional even surface, to allow wind to pass through the funnel, and a large smoke deflector fin on the top. Albeit very
criticized, this design proved to be highly effective in keeping smoke off the rear decks. The smoke deflectors would become popular in ship design during
the decades of 1970-1980, whereas the idea of allowing wind to pass through the funnel would be reused in the late 1980s, becoming widespread in modern
The SS Michelangelo had a total length of 276.2 meters, a beam of 30.1 meters, a draught of 10.4 meters and a register tonnage of 45911 gross and 9192
deadweight. She had capacity for 1775 passengers (535 in first class, 550 in cabin class and 690 in tourist class), having a crew of 720. The propulsion plant
comprised four steam turbines Ansaldo actuating on twin propellers, which generated a total output of 87000 shaft horsepower and gave a service speed of 26.5
knots, which reached 30.5 knots during trials, making this one of the faster ships on her genre at that time.
The SS Michelangelo effectuated Trans-Atlantic service in the Genoa-Naples-New York route between 1965 and 1975. In April 1966 she was hit by an unusually large wave during a storm in the
Central Atlantic, which caused the collapse of the fore part of her superstructure, sweeping two passengers into the sea, killing one crew member and injuring
over 50 people. During the reparations the aluminum plating in the superstructure was replaced by steel, remodelation which was carried out as well
on other contemporary ships such as her sister SS Raffaello and the foreign SS United States and SS France.
After 1975 it was studied to adapt the SS Michelangelo and her sister to serve as cruise ships, but their shortcomings (windowless/small cabins
and three-class layout, among others) rendered the reconstruction as economically unaffordable. The ships ended one year later in the hands of the Shah of Iran,
who purchased them for the miserly role of serving as floating barracks. Ships that had cost 45 millions of dollars each were now sold at the price of only
two millions each.
Still, further plans to reconvert the ships to the cruising role were made, but they faced the same problem, now aggravated for years of deterioration. The
SS Michelangelo would spend fifteen years lying abandoned, fate shared with her sister, until being scrapped in 1991, too soon for such a great vessel.
The SS Raffaello would not even be scrapped; hit by a torpedo during the Iraq-Iran War in 1983 she was partially sank in shallow waters. Some time later her
wreck was rammed by an Iranian cargo ship and in subsequent years local divers further looted the hull. As of 2006, her hull remained partially
submerged and there were reports of plans to finally scrap her.
The SS France was built by the shipyard Chantiers de l'Atlantique at Saint-Nazaire for the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (the national shipping company
informally known as French Line) and put into service in February 1962. At the time of her launching in 1960, she was the longest passenger ship ever built, record which remained unchallenged until
the construction in 2004 of the 345-meter long RMS Queen Mary 2.
The SS France performed the North Atlantic route between Le Havre and New York as the French Line flagship from 1961 to 1974, combining regular
five-days transatlantic crossings with occasional winter cruises, as well as two world circumnavigations. During the last years, to save fuel costs,
crossings took six days. Beyond the luxuries, the French Line had to face the fact that transatlantic passenger trade was at that time forecast to
decline due to increased air travel and, to make things worse, the costs to operate ships were increasing, mostly due to the rising prices of crude oil.
However planning had been wise and the versatile design of the ship allowed to use her as a cruise ship during the winter, which was off-season for the
Atlantic trade. A limitation of the SS France was her design for cold waters, which caused certain discomforts to passengers during cruises in warmer
waters. Nonetheless, the SS France was a popular cruise ship, taking her first world cruise in 1972. Too large to traverse the Panama and Suez Canals,
she was forced to sail around Cape Horn (Chile) and the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa).
But the big blow was the oil crisis in 1973, which caused a quadruplication in the price per barrel. Seen this, the French government decided to subsidize
the ultramodern air liner Concorde instead of the terribly costly Trans-Atlantic route. Without subsidization, French Line withdrew the
SS France from service on October 1973. By that time the eminent vessel had completed 377 crossings, with a total of 588024 passengers,
and 93 cruises (including the two world cruises), with a total of 113862 passengers, this all while navigating a total of 1,860,000 nautical miles.
As built, the SS France had a total length of 316.1 meters, a beam of 33.8 meters, a draught of 10.8 meters and a gross tonnage of 66343 tonnes.
She had twelve decks and capacity for 2044 passengers (407 in first class and 1637 in tourist class), having a crew of 1253. The propulsion plant
comprised eight boilers and four sets of steam turbines Parsons actuating on four propellers, which generated some impressive 175000 horsepower and
speeds of up to 35 knots, being service speed 30 knots. Fuel consumption was not less impressive: 750 tonnes of oil in 24 hours.
After years of incertitude on the future of the emblematic ship, this one was sold in 1979 to Norwegian Caribbean Line for 18 millions of dollars. The
conversion into the largest cruise ship in the world, effectuated at Bremerhaven, would cost 80 millions. In addition, she would be renamed as SS Norway,
with her hull and funnels painted in blue. She would be the first and only purpose-built Trans-Atlantic ocean liner remodeled to be employed exclusively
in luxury cruise service. In the remodelation she was given more generous accommodation and public spaces.
The ship received also technical modifications that would improve much the economy of her operation: the four propellers were reduced to two and the exceeding
machinery was dismantled, which would reduce fuel consumption to a third part, while being fitted with aft and fore thrusters to allow harboring and docking
without requiring the expensive pilot and tug operations that were standard procedure in the heyday of the express ocean liners. The remodelation
also reduced the crew to 875.
In 1980 the SS Norway began her maiden voyage to Miami, amidst speculation about her future in the cruise industry, for she had been built as an ocean
liner. But the SS Norway, with her large size, not only proved to be a popular ship, but would eventually be appreciated as the pinnacle of what the cruise
industry could offer in that time. In fact, a competition began with the purpose to eclipse the popularity of the SS Norway as the "great dame" of the
A brochure from 1980, titled "Welcome aboard the most fabulous ship in the world", claimed: "The ultimate cruise experience begins
and ends aboard the S/S Norway. Never before has so much been offered on board or on land. From its balcony suites to its closed circuit color TV in every
stateroom. From its shopping to its cafes. The S/S Norway is the cruise. Whether you are cruising the Caribbean for the very first time or the tenth,
your reaction will be the same. The greatest vacation you ever spent. Sailing from Miami every Sunday year-round."
In the late 1990 the ship displayed two additional decks atop her superstructure, for 135 new suites and luxury cabins. While these new decks
certainly spoiled the original classic lines, they would be instrumental in keeping the ship financially afloat during the later years of her operation,
as such features became common throughout the cruise industry. Competition would eventually overtake the SS Norway, but also several breakdowns, fires,
and other incidents contributed, however being cutbacks in maintenance cause of much of this trouble.
The worst incident happened in May 2003: a boiler explosion that killed eight crew members and injured other seventeen, but without any passengers being
injured. This last event would definitely appoint the SS Norway as a candidate for the scrapyard. However, scrapping would not be committed until 2008, for legal
problems arose due to the proliferation of asbestos in the insulating surfaces. There were even art pieces onboard the ship when she was left to her fate,
but allegedly they had found new owners before the scrapping works had begun.