Service of Raffaello

S/S RAFFAELLO (1965 – 1983) – Tonnage: 45.933 gross tons – Lenght: 276,2 meters – Width: 30,3 meters
Deep draught: 10,4 meters – Hull No.: 1864 – Radio Callsign: IBLO
1.775 passengers: 535 First Class, 550 Cabin Class, 690 Touris Class – Crew: 725 persons

The second ship of Italia Line’s new duo was launched from the shipyard “San Marco” of Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in Monfalcone (Trieste), in March 24, 1963. As well happened for the Michelangelo, at the launch was present the President of the Italian Republic, but this time, the ship was launched by Mrs. Giuliana Merzagora, the wife of the president of the Senate.
Although the magnificence and futurism of its interiors, during her career the Raffaello was never as celebrated as her sister, and generally her life proved to be much more uneventful.

After the first tests on sea, Raffaello soon received some modifications to the screws and to some parts of the transmission that fixed the strong vibrations generated when the ship steamed at the maximum speed. The modifications were finished in June 1965. Successively, the same modifications were successively applied also to Michelangelo.
In 10 July 1965 she was finally ready and as a last rehearsal before her maiden voyage, she made a 7 days Mediterranean cruise, passing through Cannes, Malta, Piraeus and Naples. Among the 1,200 passengers were the President of the Italian Senate Merzagora and his wife, Mrs. Giuliana Merzagora, was the godmother of the ship.
On 25 July 1965 she left Genoa with 1.121 passengers for New York for the first time on the route that was intended to be her main playing field.

The Raffaello (or Raf, as she was nicknamed) provided perfect service from the very beginning, with her luxurious and very Italian restaurants, her six swimming pools, and generally by being one of the most beautiful ships both on the inside and the outside to ever serve on any route. Originally she was also faster than her sister, probably owing to her slightly longer and narrower hull. however, when the Michelangelo’s screws and transmission were changed during her first winter overhaul in January 1966, she overtook her sister on that front.

Differently than Michelangelo, the Raffaello suffered a certain unluckiness to her propeller apparatuses during her life.
  In October 31, 1965 (her 5th only voyage) while she was en route to Gibraltar a fire suddenly broke out in the aft engine room. One crewman, removing a thermometer had accidentally caused hot oil to spray on an electrical control panel. Luckily the fire claimed no lives, but forced the ship to steam by only the right screw and without one pair of stabilizers. The sea conditions were also foreseen to get worse, with 30 knots wind speeds and 20 meter high waves, so Captain Oscar Ribari wisely decided to turn back. During the turning in the storm, the ship’s rolling caused minor injuries to about sixty passengers. The ship arrived to Genoa in 6 November where she was repaired and was soon back in service.

On 17 October 1966 her departure from Genoa was postponed because of one serious problem with boiler n. 1.
On 19 May 1970 Raffaello accidentally collided with the Norwegian tanker Cuyahoga in Algeciras Bay, on the southern coast of Spain. Luckily there were no casualties and  only tore one empty oil tank of the tanker. Raffaello’s crossing was delayed and the ship stopped 8 days for temporary reparations at Gibraltar. During these days the passengers where hosted aboard at total costs of the navigation Company, and offered tourist also excursions to the city. In this page you can foundsome rare images of the damage.
On 28 September 1973, under the command of the captain Dario de Visintini, Raffaello had once again turn back en route, after only 40 miles away from Naples, because of problems to the propeller apparatus. She returned to Genoa for the reparations which endured until 6 October, with 1.144 passengers aboard, at total cost of the Company.

After the deadly accident in 1966 that happened to Michelangelo during a storm, also Raffaello’s forward superstructure’s sheets made by aluminium alloy were replaced by steel. One abnormal wave tore the forward superstructures of Michelangelo, claiming three lives onboard the ship and many injured. So Italian Line wisely decided not to take any chances. For more details please see the page Michelangelo accident.

But in the same year the Raffaello was the protagonist of an unique event. The Alfa Romeo carried some models of the Spider 1600 on the Raffaello, to be presented to the American market. One Spider was exhibited in the party lounge of the first class, during the whole journey. Meanwhile for the first time in the navy history, 2 cars run using the first class lido as track. You can see some photos of this event in the photo gallery “Interiors Raffaello”.

Even though the Raffaello was slightly bigger then her sister (only 22 tons to be exact) and equally wonderful, the Michelangelo was always the main ship of the Italia Lines, and Raffaello simply her little sister. So when the transatlantic liners started losing more and more of their passengers to the jet airplane, the Raffaello was the one who was sent to gather alternative income from cruises while the Michelangelo remained on the Atlantic route. 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 waves 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.

ut also the Raffaello had her chance to write one page in the naval history for one time in her life. Even though the Royal Caribbean lines claimed that their “Voyager Of The Seas” was the first ship to have an on-board ice rink, this was not true. In 1970 the Raffaello’s theatre was converted into an ice rink, and an American family was contracted to perform ice skating shows to the passengers. 

The two twins were theoretically well designed for use as cruise ships. They were very much “outdoors” ships, with lots of deck space, several swimming pools and an outside appearance of pure beauty. But her passenger accommodations were not suitable for cruises, divided into different classes. This resulted in the complete non-usage of the tourist class cabins during cruises, for they were considered too small and austere by the demanding cruise passengers. Generally cruise ships have only one class, the first class, and cruise passengers who were very much used to democracy did not look well upon the “old-fashioned” ship. Moreover, in the 1960’s and 70’s, the ideal cruise ship was also very small with gross tonnage of approximately 30,000 tons at most. In fact, in the ’60s and ’70s the cruise market was not developed as nowadays. Cruise travels were a kind of status symbol and few people could afford such holidays. These two things combined made the couple Michelangelo – Raffaello, large 45 000 ton, very unfavourable cruise ships.

Though being considered too large, did not stop the Raffaello from making a wide variety of cruises. In addition to making the usual Caribbean cruises, she also sailed to the: Black Sea, Israel, Rio de Janeiro and even to Nordkapp (North Cape) to witness the midnight sun. However, none of these choices proved very profitable to the company.
Soon after the Raffaello had entered service it became clear that the liners had lost the battle for the North Atlantic: in 1969 only 4,7% of the people crossing the Atlantic chose to do so by ship, travelling in 8 days instead of 8 hours. One by one the legendary liners were taken off service, the Queen Mary in 1967, Queen Elizabeth in 1968 and the speed-champion United States in 1969. However, ever-growing subsidiaries from the government kept the Raffaello and her sister sailing for several years. 

The Raffaello probably didn’t earn a single lire to Italian Liners during her career, nor did her sister. As the ships became more and more unprofitable, a problem arose with the crew: according to trade union regulations, ships of those sizes needed a double-up crew, thus 725 onboard and 725 on land, rotating in service on the ship. Thus the ship that usually carried only about 400 passengers on a crossing had a total crew of 1,440. When the trade union realised their jobs were under threat because of the jet airliner, they decided to fight for their income. Lightning strikes, lasting for 24 to 48 hours, became regular on the White Elephants. Often the reason for a strike was ridiculous to say the least, like once when the crew of one of the ships walked out because they were not served mineral water.
Other than the crew’s strikes, the complaints by the private cruise Companies, because of the invasion of government competition in the Mediterranean cruise market were not helpful to the situation.

In 1969, one brighter thing happened for the Raffaello as well. Maybe partially in an attempt by the Italian Line to revive the ships, the film “My Love Help Me” (in Italian “Amore mio aiutami”), featuring the Italian actors Alberto Sordi and Monica Vitti, was filmed aboard the Italian Twinins. The film was presented for the first time onboard the Michelangelo, by Alberto Sordi. In the movie, the protagonists mount aboard Raffaello but in reality the movie is filmed aboard both the ships. The main ballroom and the restaurant are aboard Raffaello, while the most of exterior decks and the cabins were aboard Michelangelo (the cabin of the two protagonists was the “Miramare” suite).

When the company tried to compensate for the ever-growing losses, they entered negotiations with the trade union about cutting the crew on both of the ships. The unionist would not hear it, instead they demanded a rise to their wages. Italia Line was forced to cut down the cruise speed of the ships to somehow control their expenses. By 1974, only four transatlantic liners remained in service: the Michelangelo, the Raffaello, the Cunard Line’s Queen Elizabeth 2 and French Line’s “France”.
In 1974 the oil crises had struck, and fuel expanses of the liners had raised to 217% of what they used to be. This turned the unprofitable ships even more into the red: in fall 1974 the France was laid up. Both the Michelangelo and the Raffaello spent almost the entire year cruising, but as noted before, they were not amongst the most profitable cruise ships.

Italian newspapers started demanding reasons for why the taxpayer’s money was spent on the “floating memorials of a bygone era” and proclaimed that the ships should be sunk, not subsidied. In 1975 the Italian government stated that they simply could not keep paying Italian Lines 100 million Lire a day to keep the ships running, and in spring 1975 the government informed Italian line that their ships wouldn’t receive any more government support. This meant the death of the Italian Sisters.

On 21 April 1975 the Raffaello left New York for the last time, sadly without any ceremonies. on 30 april 1975 she dropped anchor in the port of Genoa for the last time, after 113 voyages from New York, and was laid up. In June 6th she was moved to La Spezia, the location of an infamous Italian scrapyard. There she was joined by her sister a month later. Luckily the fate of Raffaello was not to be scrapped at La Spezia.

In 1976 several companies eyed the sisters for possible purchase.
The Norwegian shipowner Knud Kloster visited the ships and he would preferred buying Michelangelo and Raffaello instead than France, because their outside decks were more suitable for cruises. They were more spacious and had 3 pools, absent on the France’s decks. But he decided to buy France because he required less transformation works inside and already had more portholes. Also the companies Chandris and Costa Armatori of Genoa didn’t want the ships because of the same reasons: transformation costs.
Incredibly, the American Company “Home Lines”, who really wanted to buy the sisters and retain their Italian crews and for use them for Caribbean cruises, was declined by Italian line, because they didn’t want be associate with their former money-losers.

So the Raffaello and her sister continued their stay in La Spezia until another buyer emerged. In fall of 1976 the Shah of Persia made an offer on the sisters. He wanted to buy them for use as permanently moored barrack ships on southern coast of Persia. With the great disappointment of all the people who travelled on them and of all the people who worked years at their construction, Italia Line accepted and sold the ships that had originally cost $45 million, for the ridiculous price of $2 million.

In spring 1977 the Raffaello, naked by her original furnishings,  left on her final journey around the Arabian peninsula into the remote port of Bûshehr (Bushire) in southwest Persia. There she was modified to accommodate 1,800 military personnel. Also 50 Italian workers were permanently employed aboard for her care and maintenance.
But In the late 1970’s the Shah was overthrown and Persia became the Islamise Republic of Iran and the Italian personnel had to leave the ship and return to Italy.

In 1978 one reconstruction of the two ships was suggested in order to utilise the ships as cruise ships turned to a deluxe clientele, reducing the passenger capacity to 1.300 persons. The project foresaw also two new names for Michelangelo and Raffaello should become “Scià Reza il Grande” and “Ciro il Grande” (‘Shah Reza the Big’ and ‘Ciro the Big’, respectively).  
A commission of experts was purposely sent from Italy to examine the ships and for execute some maintenances, immediately noticed the poor state of the ships. The hulls were rusted, the wood that covered the outside decks was becoming deformed by the sun, and their once opulent interiors were invaded by rats. It was clear that those ships, who only a few years before were the admirals of the Italian fleet, would never sail again.

Under the Iranian rule Raffaello was neglected and laid idly at her pier in Bushire, scorched by the sun as the empire of rats grew.
A clear statement of that time is the memory of the Iranian Officer Yassan Behzad, who writes:

“I used to live on board Raffaello at port of Bousheher for almost two years1978-79. At the termination of Imperial regime by Islamic revolution the ship was looted and heavily damaged by the locals and since it’s water distilling plants was out of service it become inhabitant and rats took over the ship.

At the brake of the war with the Iraq Raffaello was considered a land mark for bombing the Bousheher Port by the Iraqis so it was decided to be towed to the 1000 meter off shore and anchored with couple of navy sailors as guards. On one of the morning during the first year of Iran /Iraq war it was strike by an Iraqi torpedo and sank to the bottom of Persian Golf were it was further looted by local divers for art affect and salvage parts. It was the greatest place as I ever spend two years of my life and I still hold my cabin room key in my key chain”.

She would probably have laid there until being sold for scrap, but on 17 November 1983, during the Iraq/Iran war, Iraqi bombers hit her and she partially sank in the harbour waters. Not long after one Iranian cargo ship, the “Iran Salam” accidentally rammed her reporting serious damages to the hull and finishing off the job the Iraqi had begun.
Before Raffaello was bombed in was rumoured around Italy the possibility of recovering the ships by some non Italian agents, but until today, she lays on the spot where she sank, and no breaking up of the shipwreck has ever commenced… This was the end of the most modern and futuristic Italian ship.

The Michelangelo instead survived and used as barrack until June 1991 when she was sold to Pakistani scrappers. By 1992 all that remained of the beautiful Italian Twins were toilet seats sold on the market of Karachi.

Today, the wreck of the Raffaello is covered by 7 meters of water and, irony of the history, it lays only 2 Km far from the atomic central power of Heleylah (few Km at south of Bushehr), one of the centrals at the center of international tensions nowadays. It seems that the Raffaello was moved in that position during the Iran – Iraq war, just in order to defend the nuclear central from the attacks of Iraqui air force. In this time (September 2007) we got know that a private firm has bought the wreck and maybe it will proceed soon at his  scrapping and definite removal from the bottom.

Because of the many communications from people who looks the wreck of the Raffaello with Google Earth, we communicate once again the the wreck is NOT visible from the surface of the sea and it lays exactly by the coordinates 28°49’0.24″N , 50°52’36.58″E among the white signalising buoys, to avoid that other ships could to ground on the wreck. We publish this photo of the water over the wreck. We publish here a photo  at the water over the wreck, shot in January 2008, by an Iranian photograph, who wish to be anonymous and that we thank very much for the job.

As curiosity, there is by the cost of Bushehr as tourist attraction, a bar called “Rafael”, a Kentucky Fried Chicken!. It is positioned in front of a surfaced rusty hull of a wreck, but that is not at all the Raffaello! It is the “Iran Salam” (or “Iran Siam”, depending from the interlocutors), a hull only 40 meters long. For these photos we thank Tommaso Persano.