Collision Course

Harry A. Trask’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Andrea Doria minutes before she sank. Public domain.

20 February 2023

By Philip Kuepper

Where radar failed,
fog rose the victor,
so deadly a victor
when the Andrea Doria,
and the Stockholm Sweden
collided in the Atlantic
off the coast of Massachusetts.
I was seven years old.
And I can see as clearly, now,
as I did, then,
the aerial footage
of the Andrea Doria lying on its side,
a halo of white aureoling it,
the ocean frothing round it as it sank,
the wounded sweep of its lines
dissolving into the receptive water.
Nearby, floated the Stockholm,
its bow like the badly broken
nose of a prize-fighter,
bleeding with the detritus
of the aftermath of a landed fist.
What was it about that collision
that so galvanized my attention,
I, a landbound boy in Iowa,
Iowa, fifteen hundred miles from the Atlantic,
my subconscious my own Atlantic
receiving the dying
ship into the depths of its sudden tomb?

(10 December 2022)


  1. Philip

    Thanks for the recollection, into verse. It recalls my own recollections of this significant maritime event.

    Around the time of the collision I was a student of Naval Architecture at (then) Kings College, Newcastle, University of Durham. Our then Professor, Dr Len Burrill, was called upon to give expert assessment of the collision. This he did, after all parties had withdrawn from potential legal actions. Subsequently he addressed the NA student body with a Presidential Address. I would have been around 20 at the time.

    My recollection was that the collision was brought about by the relevant ships officers misinterpreting what was on their radars, and the intentions and obligations of the ships concerned. It was regarded as a “radar assisted collision”, with failings on the human element, not the radar itself.

    What follows are my recollections, with no current back research.

    It was established that both the ships were designed, built and operated in compliance with the then current national and international regulations.

    It was a very high energy collision, with the STOCKHOLM’s bow being severely crushed, and significant side damage occurring to the ANDREA DORIA. I think this resulted in the breaching of several watertight compartments. This extent of damage, together with the build up of a wave between the 2 collided ships, put the ANDREA DORIA into an unsurvivable condition. Those that framed the COLREGS nominated some quite extensive extents of damage that ships should survive; exceeded in this case.

    It should be noted that the weather was relatively calm for the collision and its aftermath. Following the TITANIC loss, the principle of “lifeboats for all” (with a margin of spare capacity) had been enshrined in regulation. As it turned out in this collision, the only casualties were people in the actual impact areas of both ships. The ANDREA DORIA remained afloat for long enough for all survivors of the collision to be evacuated by ship’s boats. It could have been a far worse outcome if the collision had occurred in gale conditions.

    It could be that the ship survivability and rescue equipment requirements “worked”, in that they did not contribute to further injury or loss of life beyond the initial impact.

    We were then, as an industry, left to address the consequences of water ingress to, and flooding of vehicle deck ships. Of course fire has remained a significant threat, but we have managed to avoid major marine fire disasters.

    These come as the observations of a marine professional, from and event that occurred and was reported during his student days.

    Peter Edmonds
    Naval Architect
    Perth, Western Australia

  2. Until I saw this photo I didn’t recollect ANDREA DORIA’s capsize before her actual sinking. This capsize was probably due to loss of stability from the partial flooding of a number of her watertight compartments.

    Peter Edmonds
    Naval Architect
    Perth, Western Australia

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