Achille Lauro

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The Willem Ruys
The Willem Ruys
The Achille Lauro
The Achille Lauro

The Achille Lauro was a passenger liner, most remembered for its 1985 hijacking.

Ordered in 1938, her keel was laid in 1939 at Vlissingen, Netherlands, for Rotterdamsche Lloyd. Interrupted by World War II and two bombing raids, the ship was not launched until July 1946 as the Willem Ruys. Completed in late 1947, she began her maiden voyage on December 2, 1947. She was 192 metres in length, 25 metres in beam, 8.9 metres high and weighed 21,110 tons fully loaded with 900 passengers and crew. She had 8 Sulzer engines, driving 4 propellers. She made her own drinking water out of seawater. In 1964, she was sold to the Lauro Line and renamed the Achille Lauro (after the former mayor of Naples, Achille Lauro). Extensively rebuilt and modernized, she entered service in 1966. The Achille Lauro was destroyed by fire on November 30, 1994, and sank as a result of the fire three days later on December 2. [1]

The hijacking

On October 7, 1985, four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) took control of the liner off Egypt while she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said within Egypt. This has been linked to the Israeli bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis on October 1.

The hijackers had been surprised by a crew member and acted prematurely. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons. Refused permission to dock at Tartus, the hijackers shot one wheelchair-bound passenger – an American named Leon Klinghoffer – because he was Jewish, and threw his body overboard, leaving him to die. The ship headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner for safe conduct and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner.

The plane was intercepted by United States Navy fighters on October 10 and directed to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella, a NATO base in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested by the Italians after a disagreement between U.S. and Italian authorities. The other passengers on the plane (possibly including the hijackers' leader Abu Abbas) were allowed to continue on to their destination, despite protests by the United States. Egypt demanded, but did not receive, an apology from the United States for forcing the airplane off course.

The fate of those convicted of the hijacking is varied:

The PLO was sued for its role in the death of Leon Klinghoffer. The suit was dropped when the PLO paid an undisclosed sum to Klinghoffer's daughters, which was used to fund the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League, which works to combat terrorism through legal, political and educational means.

The ship continued in service; she was reflagged in 1987 when the Lauro Line became StarLauro. On November 30, 1994, she caught fire off the coast of Somalia. Abandoned, the vessel sank on December 2.

The hijack was made into a television movie in 1990, Voyage of Terror - The Achille Lauro Affair starring Burt Lancaster and Eva Marie Saint.

An opera, with libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams, entitled The Death of Klinghoffer, opened to great controversy in 1991. In 2003, a movie version of the opera was produced by Madonna Baptiste and Yan Younghusband, directed by Penny Woolcock.

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