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The Wreck of the Andrea Doria

Entire books have been written about the tragedy that followed the accident, the most famous of which are Collision Course, by Alvin Moscow, and Saved, by William Hoffer. Students in merchant marine academies study the case, and over the years points of blame have shifted and evolved like the islands and channels around Monomoy. In a 2012 article for, Samuel Pecota, a professor at the California Maritime Academy, stated, “Calamai remains a tragic, but eminently respectable figure in maritime history. He understood his supreme responsibility to the passengers and crew of his vessel and faithfully performed his duty to ensure their safety after the collision, which in his heart, he knew was largely his fault.” For years, the premise accepted by most analysts was that the Andrea Doria crew had committed the fatal mistakes, but in recent reports, fault has veered towards the Stockholm.

The Wreck of the Andrea Doria

Photo courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association

A wide range of investigators and historians has assembled a catalogue of commonly accepted errors and conditions that, together, led to the crash. First, aboard the Stockholm, 3rd officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johanssen appears to have ignored fog warnings. He would later misread his radar under the belief that it had been set to a 15-mile range, rather than its actual setting of five miles, making the Andrea Doria a very large object much closer than it appeared. When the ‘Doria was sighted right in front of them, Carstens-Johanssen altered course hard to starboard (to his right) without whistling a notice—almost directly into the side of the Andrea Doria. The Stockholm was built to withstand heavy ice, and thus her bow was especially tough; it tore through the side of the Andrea Doria like a knife through a soda can.

Regarding the Andrea Doria, in addition to operating at an unsafe speed, reports indicate that Calamai had failed to follow the proper procedure of adding seawater to the ship’s tanks for ballast once the diesel had been expended. According to Pecota, Calamai was operating “his vessel in a dangerously low state of stability to reduce fuel consumption.” This may explain why the Andrea Doria tipped so quickly, causing half of its lifeboats to be inaccessible. Since crew on both ships believed their passing to be ordinary and safe, neither engaged in direct communication with the other—until it was too late. Finally, as a last ditch attempt to avoid collision, the Andrea Doria altered course to port, opposite of standard shipping protocol; indeed, today’s International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea state that in head-on situations, “each [vessel] shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other.”

Just as consensus over who is to blame for the crash continues to elude maritime scholars, survivor accounts also vary; even the number of casualties was initially in dispute. The headline of The New York Times’ morning edition of July 26, 1956—penned while the ship was still sinking—stated: “Andrea Doria and Stockholm Collide: 1,134 Passengers Abandon Italian Ship in Fog at Sea; All Saved, Many Injured.” Most reports that followed listed the death toll at 51.

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