Achille’s Keel: A Wolfsonian Glimpse of the Achille Lauro on the Anniversary of the Hijacking

On October 7th, 1985, four heavily armed Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists hijacked the Italian liner, Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. While hundreds of passengers had disembarked earlier that day to visit Cairo and make excursions to the ancient pyramids, 320 crewmembers and 80 passengers aboard the cruise ship were taken hostage. The hijackers demanded the release of 50 Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israel and threatened to kill the Americans and British passengers and blow up the ship if their demands were not met.

The Achille Lauro sailed to Syria, but was refused permission to anchor. The terrorists responded by shooting and pushing a wheelchair-bound Jewish-American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, overboard. The ship was piloted to Port Said, and on October 9th negotiators convinced the hijackers to free the remaining hostages and to surrender to Egyptian authorities in exchange for safe passage. On October 10th, the hijackers boarded an EgyptAir Boeing 737 airliner in Cairo and headed for Tunisia. U.S. Navy F-14 fighter planes intercepted the airliner and forced it to land at a NATO base in Sicily, where the hijackers were taken into custody. The hijack participants were later tried, convicted, and sentenced to 15 to 30 year prison terms; the organizers of the plot were sentenced in absentia to life in prison.

The Achille Lauro has been inextricably linked in popular imagination to tragedy ever since. Promotional materials in The Wolfsonian–FIU library’s Laurence Miller Collection, however, present a rosier view of the liner in happier times.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Beautiful color photographs reproduced in advertising brochures celebrate the bright and modern interiors of the ship’s public rooms and lounges, and comfortable first and tourist class accommodations.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

There was also the ubiquitous deck plan included to orient their travelers in the layout of the ship.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

The promotional literature also emphasized the “exotic” ports of call and destinations that prospective passengers would have the pleasure of visiting on a typical cruise.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

The Achille Lauro—(which had originally been built by the Rotterdamsche Lloyd Line and had first been commissioned as the MS Willem Ruys)—had experienced other serious incidents over the course of some fifty years of service. In 1953, the ship collided with the MS Oranje and in 1975 with a cargo ship; in 1965, 1972, 1981, and 1994, the ship was plagued by serious onboard fires. The last one, originating with an explosion in the engine room, could not be contained and resulted in orders to abandon ship. The Achille Lauro subsequently sank in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia on December 2nd, 1994.

~ by "The Chief" on October 10, 2015.

One Response to “Achille’s Keel: A Wolfsonian Glimpse of the Achille Lauro on the Anniversary of the Hijacking”

  1. Buen material historico para substentar en un corto y subtancial blog. Felicitaciones!

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