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Service of Michelangelo



SS MICHELANGELO (1965 - 1991) - Tonnage: 45.933 gross tons - Lenght: 275,81 meters - Width: 31,05 meters
Deep draught : 10,4 meters - Hull No.: 1577 - Radio Callsign: ICVI - 1.775 passengers: 535 1st Class, 550 Cabin Class, 690 Touristi Class - Crew: 725 persons







The construction took it's time, partially because of the changes made to the planned designs, and finally the Michelangelo was launched on 16 September 1962 in Genoa Sestri shipyards. A representative of the Roman Catholic Church was present at the launch and gave the ship the church's official blessing, and on this occasion Giuseppe Zuccoli, the chairman of Italia Line stated that "The future of marine travel, allowing 8 days instead of 8 hours to cross the Atlantic, resides in the height of luxury and the height of quality". Was Laura Segni, the wife of the President of the Italian Republic, was chosen to launch the ship.


On 11 March 1965 she was ready to proceed on her sea trials, which she performed flawlessly (unlike the QE2 did four years later). The only issue were strong vibrations of the hull when steaming at full power, which were fixed in the successive winter.

Michelangelo was fully completed and delivered on 21 April 1965, 5 years from the start of her construction. The ship had cost Italian Line $50 million, but at the time Italian Line considered this a worthy investment.

As a last rehearsal she cruised in the Mediterranean sea.


On May 12. 1965, with great celebrations, the new pride of Italy started with 1.495 passengers for her maiden voyage from Genoa to New York, under the command of the Captain Mario Crepaz. The Michelangelo performed her service perfectly, and within two months she had a sister, the Raffaello. She gained popularity among the few passengers who chose to travel by sea with her great service that included for example 50 different types of pasta (how very Italian), and a steward that attended only to the needs of the passengers pets. As a sign of people´s affection to her, she soon received the nickname 'Mic'.


As previously stated, the only thing that bothered the Italian Beauty were the vibrations in the stern that were very common on liners (the HAPAG's Blue Ribbon winner Deutchland had such strong vibrations that she had to be withdrawn from transatlantic service).

To fix the vibrations, the Michelangelo's screws and some parts of the transmission were modified during her first winter, overhaul in January 1966. The new propellers did not only provide more stability to the ship, they also increased her speed: on her post-refit trials the ship clocked an impressive speed of 31.59 knots, which made her theoretically the fifth-fastest liner in existence (surpassed only by Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, United States and France). It also meant that she was now faster than her sister, who had been slightly faster before, thanks to her slightly different hull shape. However the service speed remained still at the more economical 26.5 knots. The modifications were executed also on Raffaello.

  L' incidente della Michelangelo

Although she had gone through a successful overhaul in spring 1966, the year proved to be a dangerous one for the Michelangelo. While she was steaming into one exceptional storm in the middle of Atlantic Ocean, waves 20 meters high hit the ship again and again. One abnormal wave tore into the forward superstructure of the ship, tearing a great hole into it; the wave killed two passengers and one crew member. 

   This was the only serious accident ever to take place on the Michelangelo, since her repairs were very well done. She later survived a similar storm without any damage. On the page "Michelangelo accident" you can read one the exceptional and dramatic report about what happened that day.


The Michelangelo did not serve only on the Genoa-New York route, she also served in the northern Southampton-New York route and made occasional cruises, though from the start Italian Line recommended  that the ships should not be used for cruises.

 The times when the ships were simultaneously travelling on the transatlantic route were very exciting for the passengers. The two beauties would pass each other on the sea, both travelling at approximately 26 knots, thus passing each other with combined speed of over 50 knots. The ships would blow their horns, passengers would fire flares, fly balloons and the powerful wake shake the other ship. The ships were ordered to pass each other as near as was safely possible to get the most from such occasions.


 As the years progressed, it was becoming more and more clear that the age of the great liners was over. Towards the end of the 60's 96% of all transatlantic travellers did their crossings by air.

The English company Cunard Line withdrew both of their Queens in 1967 and 1968, respectively. In 1969 The advent of the new jet-airliners such as the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet and the supersonic Concorde set into flight for the first time, delivering the final blow for the liners.

That same year United States Lines withdrew their flagship United States from service partially because of strikes by the crew. The relations between Michelangelo's owners and her crew did not always go well either. Trade union rules dictated that a ship of Michelangelo's size needed a double crew, 725 on service and 725 on shore switching turn every two weeks. This meant that the ship, that usually carried only about 400 passengers when her full passenger capacity was 1775, had a crew of 1450. This of course made her running costs extreme, with less and less passengers choosing to use her services. When Italian Line's directors tried to negotiate with the crews representatives on cutting down the number of the crew, the trade unions refused all action and instead demanded raises to their wages, which meant that the Italian government had to subside the ships more to keep them running. It did not help the ship's situation that the crew often started lightning strikes for the silliest reasons. They even walked out once because the crew was served tap water instead of mineral water (the story does not tell weather this happened on the Michelangelo or the Raffaello).

Italian line tried to compensate for their losses with measures such as cutting the cruising speed of the ships and other measures, but to no avail. In 1972 another idea for compensate their ever-grooving losses, was to offer trips with special prices in the US.

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