THE LAST GREAT ITALIAN SUPER-LINERS – TS MICHELANGELO AND TS RAFFAELLO

Excellent Italian news video on the TS Michelangelo and TS Raffaello.

The end of the 1950s brought many changes to trans-Atlantic steamship service. Jets started service and began to dominate travel from the USA to Europe. Proud ships such as the Cunard Line’s two Queens and French Line’s distinguished old Liberté, built in 1930, sometimes carried close to no passengers at all. When they did, the crew outnumbered the number of passengers most of the time. The remarkable fleet that had once totally dominated the North Atlantic had been turned into ghost ships.

The super-liners meet up in Genoa…

However, many conservative shipping lines would not admit defeat to the air liners and continued to produce great ships. The French Line commissioned the enormous France in 1962. She was intended as a pure trans-Atlantic liner, but she would within short be dependent on heavy subsidies from the French government.

The Italian Line had commissioned the Leonardo da Vinci in 1960. She had been a replacement for the lost Andrea Doria, but by the time she entered service the ocean liner trade on the North Atlantic were losing money rapidly to the airliners.

At the same time, the Italian Line were considering to construct two new liners for the trans-Atlantic run. This utter futility could only be explained with the fact that the shipping line’s directors were trapped in the old day’s thinking ways. They figured Italy would need new superliners to compete with on the oceans.

The first sketches of what would later become the Michelangelo and Raffaello were drawn already in 1958. They showed two ships with black hulls and with two conventional funnels each. But instead of the traditional look, the Italian Line decided they would go for something more modern. The final sketches showed two white-hulled ships with two strange-looking, lattice-like funnels, placed far aft. Those lattice-funnels were from the beginning intended for the sister ships Gugliemo Marconi and Galileo Galilei, but their owners – Lloyd Triestino – had not approved of the design. The original style was designed by Professor Mortarino of Turin Polytechnic.

Even though the airlines were taking over the North Atlantic, the Italian Line management would not admit defeat and started construction of the two longest Italian liners ever. The first of the ships was constructed at the famous Ansaldo Shipyard in Sestri Ponente and the second vessel at CR dell’Adriatico at Trieste. On September 16, 1962 the first of the duo – the Michelangelo – was launched. Some five months later, on March 24, 1963, her sister followed. Construction of the two ships continued until April 1965, when the Michelangelo was completed. She set out on her maiden voyage between Genoa and New York on May 12.

The Raffaello was not far behind. In July she was completed, and on the tenth of that same month, she made her first voyage, a Mediterranean cruise. That cruise had merely been a warm-up for her maiden voyage that started on July 25 between Genoa and New York.

The Michelangelo and Raffaello never earned a single lira in profit for the Italian Line, but one cannot deny that the sisters were one of the most beautiful and comfortable ships ever built. The Italians showed that they still were able to produce first class ships for a worldwide market. The staterooms and the public rooms on board the liners offered the passenger unlimited luxury. There were at least one private shower and toilet in every cabin, and on the ship there were altogether six swimming pools – three for adults and three for children. The first class ballroom aboard the Raffaello was dominated by huge crystal chandeliers, and the ship’s two luxury suites were equipped with a large television in each room.

But being large and beautiful did not keep the Raffaello out of trouble. On October 31, 1965, she suffered a severe engine room fire, which made her limp back to Genoa on one propeller, and in May 1970 she collided with a tanker in Algeciras Bay.

Even though the Michelangelo and the Raffaello did not make any money for the owners, they were ‘kept alive’ by the Italian Government’s generous subsidies. But after nine years in service – in 1974 – the North Atlantic operations almost ceased. From then on the Raffaello was used mainly for cruising.

Unfortunately, cruising was not the cure for the Raffaello. She, along with her sister, continued to lose money. After some time, the Italian Government declared to the Italian Line that keeping their subsidy was an impossibility. The two ships had entirely relied on this money and now they were forced to stop sailing. On April 21, 1975, the Raffaello made her last cruise out of New York towards lay up, and the Michelangelo followed less than three months later. On June 6, the Raffaello had reached La Spezia where she would be laid up, all too close to the infamous scrapping yard.

However, the Raffaello’s destiny was not to be scrapped at La Spezia. In 1976, the successful owner of the Home Lines approached the Italian Line and offered a more than reasonable price for the two ships – he wanted to put the sisters back into service in American cruise services, keeping the Italian crew. But the Italian Line would not hear of it. The wanted to get rid of the two embarrassing money-losers – they wanted them out of the country. And so, the ships stayed in Italy until the end of the year when another buyer emerged. It was the Shah of Iran’s government who wanted them for use as accommodation ships for army personnel, oil workers and navy trainees. The Italian Line saw no obstacles, and in December the ships were sold.

Upon arrival in Iran, the Michelangelo was moored at Bandar Abbas, and the Raffaello at Bushire. The Raffaello remained on the spot until a few years into the Eighties. During this period, the ship was neglected and fell into a poor state – rat infested and sun scorched. She would probably have remained there until she fell apart or the scrappers took her, but the never-ending hostilities between Iran and Iraq resulted in a turn-pointing air attack on Bushire in February 1983. During this devastating attack, the Raffaello was hit and slowly sank in the harbour waters. No breaking up of the ship ever commenced and she remains there until this day.

The Michelangelo remained in Bandar Abbas until 1991 when she was broken up by Pakistani scrappers.

Click here for more information on the Michelangelo and Raffaello thanks to ssmaritime.com.

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About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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