View Full Version : Cruise Ship of Yesterday.....Michaelangelo & Freak Wave

20th January 2011, 02:59 PM
I'm sure many of us here remember the 'freak wave' accident to the Italian superliner Michaelangelo.
In April 1966 whilst on a regular crossing to New York,she encountered a 'freak wave'.
The wave crashed onto the raised forecastle and stove in some of the forward cabins,situated 70 metres from the bow.Two of the passengers in one of the cabins were killed,as was a crew member who died later from his injuries.He was in a deck party led by the Vice Captain( himself seriously injured) who were attempting to cover a hold ventilator broken off by a previous wave.

If an apparently well-constructed liner like Michaelangelo suffered this severity of damage,imagine how today's glass and aluminium 'boxes' would suffer under similar circumstances?
After the story and pics below,I attach a link to a good site(from where this article came) about Michaelangelo and her fellow artist sister ship Raffaello.

It was the morning of the April 12, 1966. Michelangelo was steaming towards New York with 745 passengers aboard, when at 10:00 am she encountered some very bad weather. Waves 20 meters high hit the ship again and again, one abnormal wave came up in front of the ship.
That morning, Captain Giuseppe Soletti (who was on his last crossing as the captain of the Michelangelo) gave instructions for all passengers to stay in their cabins, and ordered the ship to take a more southern route then usual, to avoid the center of the storm. There were many important people onboard the ship on that crossing, including the German writer Gunter Grass and his wife, as well as admiral Giurati, the president of Italia Navigazione.
Claudio Suttora, the 1st official of the ship at the time, tells about the accident:
"The waves got ever more high and violent... and just at the end of one great pitch that wave come up in front of us. The ship, that until that moment could ascend the waves, threaded the prow into that insuperable and frightening wall of water... nobody amongst us realized what was going to happen... that wave appeared ahead of us suddenly... luckily the impact wasn't so strong as to damage also the rudder, so we were still able to keep steerage way".
Claudio Cosulich, the ship's vice captain, who was to become the last captain of the ship recollects:-
"When the wave arrived, I was not on the bridge-,but on the foredeck. One previous wave had uncovered one air intake on the prow deck, so I took with me 4 voluntary crew members and went to repair it, to avoid water entry. The Captain altered course directing the prow in the direction opposite the waves, in order to facilitate our work and protect us. We had just finished, and were descending one ladder under one deck... all us dropped ruinously.
The wave climbed up over the prow about 18 meters high and tore into the forward superstructures of the ship, more than 70 meters away from the head of the prow, tearing a great hole into the superstructure. Even several 2 cm thick windows on the bridge were smashed, over 25 meters above normal sea level.
Two passengers, of which cabins were in the part struck by the wave, were killed immediately. One crewmember died few hours later and more than fifty people were injured, ten of them gravely. Amongst the injured was Claudio Cosulich, the ship's vice captain, who reported one series of fractures to his left arm.
Soon after the incident the Michelangelo was rendezvoused by a US military vessel, that offered additional medical assistance, while the doctors of Michelangelo worked non stop until the arrival in New York.
Michelangelo limped into New York, where temporary repairs were made, and the damaged parts of the ship were covered with canvas. Upon arriving in Italy the ship was more properly repaired and strengthened, replacing the aluminium alloy sheets which composed the frontal part, with steel sheets. After this, she was soon back in service and the same work was made on Raffaello. In fact, aluminium was used for building the superstructures on several modern ships in the '60s, in order to reduce the total weight and the fuel consumption. So after the accident of Michelangelo, also other liners as France and United States had the forward superstructures strengthened by steel.
This was the only serious accident ever to take place on the Michelangelo, since her repair were very well done: she and her twin Raffaello later survived a similar storm without any damage.
The following is a statement of one of the cooks.
It was 12 April 1966. Some days before, Captain Giuseppe Soletti expressed his wishes for a good Easter to the entire crew. I remember the night before the accident, the sea was relatively calm. but on that crucial morning, when the alarm rang at 5:00AM (I worked as cook in the officer’s canteen), sea conditions had drastically changed. Looking from the porthole in the officers' kitchen, which was located at the center-prow of the ship, I saw enormous waves, which grew larger and larger. I photographed them in my mind images of waves tall as the Vesuvio volcano, hitting against the ship. I say this, because I live at the foot of Vesuvio and it remains in my mind to our situation that morning: many mountains of water that furiously hurled against the ship, I would say "many Vesuvio are hitting the ship".
In my whole life in service on the sea (from 1927 to 1973), I never saw waves of this size. I remember that on that morning, the kitchen's Chef, seeing the conditions of the sea suggested to prepare stockfish at Genoese and omelette with artichoke, avoiding any food that could provide further seasickness.
Each time I went to take a look on the deck to check conditions of the sea and I noticed that the storm had gotten worse. It was about 9:00 AM, I returned to the kitchen to prepare the food.
My feelings as well as for my colleagues of the crew were quite normal….we’ve been through storms before.
Around 9:40 AM I was in the kitchen and I noticed that outdoor things were getting worse, the prow of the ship was encountering strong inclinations and it was becoming difficult for the ship to ascend the waves.
Both me and my co-worker had difficulties balancing while standing up, fortunately all the pots and pans had been previously secured to avoid damages.
I was right ascending again on the deck to check what was happening, because although I was a "sea wolf" with 36 years long experience, I was having a bit of fear and I was worried. I knew that we were going to rescue an English cargo ship that was having difficulty and had lost 5 crew members in the sea, because of the waves. When I arrived up, and exactly on the boat deck beside the wheel bridge, I saw an enormous wave rushing with a furious strength toward below the wheel bridge. In that moment the prow of the ship was unable to lift herself from under the waves for about 3-4 seconds. Today, told in this way it sounds very quick, but during the event they seemed never ending. In those few seconds I said to myself "Here we all die", because if another wave was to hit immediately after the last one, the prow of the ship might sink. This was my first thinking in that moment. Fortunately it didn't happen.
When I recovered from the shock and fear, I noticed the damages caused by the wave and I saw a deep recess in the wall below the wheel bridge. After the impact there was an unreal silence aboard the ship, evidently all people were shocked. Afterward I learned that 2 passengers were died and many crew members injured. I remember also that some airplanes came around the Michelangelo, maybe for check the damage or ask if we would need any help. I was told that the ship that we were on route to rescue, sank with loss of lives.
We were a few days out from New York. On arrival temporary reparations were performed to the damaged part of the ship, sufficient for proceed with the return journey to Italy, where the definitive reparations were fulfilled.
This is my statement of that unforgettable journey and I disembarked from Michelangelo on 4 December 1966".
Signed by
Venanzio Langella
(Torre del Greco - Naples, 4 August 2004)

 My Footnote
Snr .Langella says the ship was' going to the rescue of a British cargo ship, which had lost 5 men overboard,and later sank.

He's certainly right about that ship,because it was the Fyffes banana boat Chuscal...although he's wrong about her sinking ! He probably meant Michaelangelo was on her way to assist in the search and rescue of the Chuscal crew lost overboard.

12/4/66 CHUSCAL

A Plaque to the memory of the five lads of the Fyffes banana boat "Chuscal" who were lost overboard in 1966. According to a newspaper report at the time the "Chuscal was 520 miles South East of Newfoundland,on a voyage from Kingston to Avonmouth.Around midday the lads were out on deck attempting to lash down a loose horsebox when a huge wave engulfed them and swept them all overboard. A crew member described the seas as mountainous with waves over seventy foot high. Because of the atrocious weather conditions the captain (John Beaton)on his first command) was unable to turn the ship round to search for them.




Back to the Michaelangelo,I attach photos from the Michaelangelo website.

http://www.michelangelo-raffaello.com/english_site/service_michelangelo/accident_michelangelo/accident_mich.htm (http://www.michelangelo-raffaello.com/english_site/service_michelangelo/accident_michelangelo/accident_mich.htm)


happy daze john in oz
21st January 2011, 05:39 AM
Maybe the Italians learned from this as over the years they have produced a large number of cruise ships. But many will only sail in calmer waters as they would not take some of the rough seas that at times prevail.

Doc Vernon
21st January 2011, 08:27 AM
Hi Gulliver
You have posted a very intersting article,and also the Pics,i will now go to that site to read more on this incident!
Always nice to get some new info here,and i am sure this post will get some good viewing!

21st January 2011, 10:38 AM
I joined the ESSO Lancashire just after she had hit a freak wave on the 100 fathom line just off the East African coast, the second mate who was on the bridge spoke of the wall of water ahead that flooded the Bridge and Radio Room, it also stoved in the two water tight doors on the forward accommodation. There was nothing left on the Forcastle just the Anchor Windless, all the vents, hatch covers and handrails were gone.

As said, let’s just hope that some of these new liners and passenger ships designers have thought about freak waves?

21st January 2011, 01:57 PM
Great post Gulliver. I cannot remember reading about these incidents before. Looking in my discharge book I had just left the UK bound for the Med. on a small motor yacht so probably didn't hear the news.

The "Chuscal" story is so sad. I wonder if there was a horse in the box or if it was empty.

I was on the "Baltic Express" in 1970 when the Mate and Chippy were washed off the foc'sle head by a rogue wave. They didn't go over the side but hit everything on the way down the deck before finishing up at the forepart of the bridge housing. We managed to get them inside the accommodation, both were unconcious. The Mate died after about five hours and the chippy died in an American helicopter, which bravely came out to us, on the way to Aberdeen hospital. This happened in the North Sea.


Ivan Cloherty
21st January 2011, 05:54 PM
I joined the ESSO Lancashire just after she had hit a freak wave on the 100 fathom line just off the East African coast, the second mate who was on the bridge spoke of the wall of water ahead that flooded the Bridge and Radio Room, it also stoved in the two water tight doors on the forward accommodation. There was nothing left on the Forcastle just the Anchor Windless, all the vents, hatch covers and handrails were gone.

As said, let’s just hope that some of these new liners and passenger ships designers have thought about freak waves?

Now come on lads,

You know these freak waves do not exist, that was the opinion of meteorologists, scientists, naval architects in the 40's 50's 60' and 70's, apparently they were figments of our seamen's imaginations fueled by drink. There is many a time that I wished we could have had these erstwhile gentlemen on board as our ship buried its first 200 feet into a wave and hung there and you saw the next wave come along before the bow started to rise again from the wave it was currently buried in. Have been on a couple of ships were everything has been swept off the foc'le and also had lifeboats stove in amidships, so the designers never took these wave factors into their calculations when designing a ship. This attitude was still prevalent when I was a super in the 70's and 80's, the shipyards thought I had some rivets loose when I mentioned the waves in the drawing office whose design personnels experience of water was a deep puddle.

Its only since the advent of satelites that these aforementioned gentlemen have discovered that there can be as many as 100 freak waves at any one time around the globe, will they factor that into their calculations in their modern simulation tanks, I doubt it, as the extra cost involved in the construction methods and material would rule that factor out, as space and weight of steelwork etc would cut down on passenger capacity and earning revenue.

Or am I being too cynical


21st January 2011, 06:24 PM
Ivan. Cynical? You? No way! I like your 'design personnels experience of water was a deep puddle'.(!! ):D

Yes Alec,as you know we must never underestimate the power of the sea.I had a post somewhere about the lads washed overboard from the CHUSCAL.Basically it was as written as in my post, in this forum,but I attach a picture of the plaque which was later erected in the ship.(at end of post)

In 1972 I was in a fully laden cargo ship( traditional type with 3 hatches forward,2 aft) bound from Port Giles(S.A.) to Emden,W.Germany with grain.We'd bunkered at Albany(W.A. ) and had had a really sh*tty voyage so far.About 18 hours off the Cape,another storm was forecast and the Old Man changed course to avoid heavy rolling.
All went well until mid-afternoon,when the Chief Mate went on deck as usual before his watch to check that all was shipshape. He didn't tell anyone he was going.
The 2nd Mate had to make a course alteration to avoid a vessel.This sent hundreds of tons of 'green' crashing down the port side from # 1 hatch,through the midships accommodation portside alleyway and then aft to #5 hatch.
The Chief Officer went most of the way with it.He hit numerous deck obstructions,pipes,cleats,winch shelters etc. along the way,and was very fortunate in not being washed through the open-style railings.
All crew being confined to the accommodation,it was pure luck that the 2nd cook glanced aft from his galley porthole and saw a pathetic bundle weakly waving from the deck in front of #5 hatch.
He suffered a broken leg,head and internal injuries and was taken off at Capetown,the nearest port.His wife was also on board,so it was extremely distressing for her as well.
He recuperated,and went on to sail again... a very lucky man.
That wasn't a 'freak wave', just a combination of a rough sea(force 8),and a well-found 'down-to-her-marks vessel.
Experiences like that just reinforce one's respect for the sea.


Doc Vernon
21st January 2011, 09:45 PM
Hello Ivan
Just thought you may like to see what figments of our seamen's imaginations fueled by drink could look like haha!:D


figments of our seamen's imaginations fueled by drink


happy daze john in oz
22nd January 2011, 05:23 AM
Obviously these weathermen have never sailed across the Great Australian Bight, if so they would have a different opinion of the sea and what it can do. More ships lost to heavy seas there than just about anywhere. Back in the 30's a passenger ship went down there after being hit by a giant wave.

22nd January 2011, 09:54 AM
'figments of our seamen's imaginations fueled by drink'

Hmm!. Fuelled by Drink............:rolleyes:

Here's one!

Captain Kong
22nd January 2011, 03:46 PM
The 100 fathom line off the Cape is notorious for the "hole in the sea"
A Ben Ship was almost torn in half after going down one and had to be towed stern first to Durban
The warm Aghulas Current comes down from the NE and meets the cold Benguela current coming up from the SW with a Westerly wind the two meet, the Aghulas current takes a dive over the 100 fathom line and the Benguela current reares up over the top and creates a huge wall of water and a long run down to the base . A ship runs down the `hill with no chance of getting out and then hits the wall of water which then folds up over the ship. the weight of water then takes it down or at least wrecks it. as in the case of the Ben Boat around 1978 ish

When I was on the VLCCs with ESSO we had warnings on them and diagrams explaining the situation when approaching the Cape area. Many ships were badly damaged at the time with those kind of seas.

I joined the QE2 the voyage after she had hit the Wave in October 1995 on the way to New York.
Captain Warwick at the time said it was like the white cliffs of Dover approaching.
The wave was estimated at 95 feet high, a large dent was left on the foredeck.She was very strongly constructed, built for the Western ocean, some of the newer cruise vessels would have folded up in that.
The Queen Mary hit a 95 footer beam on and went over 52 degrees, doing quite a bit of damage to the accommodation.

Rodney Mills
22nd January 2011, 04:55 PM
Once again a great article Gulliver, many thanks. It brought back many memories some pleasant many not so. Back in the late seventies I was Managing Director of the Iranian subsidiary of an U.S. International catering company and I won the contract to convert both the Michelangelo and the Raffaello into hotels in Ports in Iran, then managing them both as military hotels in Bushhier and Bandar Abbas. Thus I sailed on the last voyage of the Michelangelo from Genoa to Bandar Abbas via Suez.

regards Rodney.