Michelangelo was an Italian ocean liner built in 1965 for
Italian Line by Ansaldo Shipyards, Genoa. She was one of the
last ships to be built primarily for liner service across
the North Atlantic. Her sister ship was the SS Raffaello.
Design and construction
The Italian Line had begun planning new ships in 1958.
Originally they were to be only slightly larger than SS
Leonardo da Vinci, which was still being built, but the jet
aircraft had not had a notable effect on the Mediterranean
area at the time and a pair of genuine superliners seemed
like an attractive idea, not only from a commercial point of
view but also from the point of view of providing jobs to
sailors and shipyard workers. Hence it was decided that the
new ships would be the largest to be built in Italy since
the SS Rex in 1932.
It was decided that the ships would be true liners, their
accommodations divided into three classes. For some reason
it was also decided that the three bottom-most passenger
decks would not have any portholes. It has been claimed that
this made the ship's sleek hull shape, but that seems
unlikely to be true as ships of similar length/width ratio
have been built with windows along the entire hull. Whatever
the shortcomings in their initial design, though, the new
sisters were very advanced on the technological side. The
most striking feature in the ships were their Turin
polytechnic-designed funnels, which consisted of an
intricate trellis-like pipework (instead of the traditional
even surface) to allow wind to pass through the funnel, and
a large smoke deflector fin on the top. Although much
criticised, the funnel design proved to be highly effective
in keeping smoke off the rear decks. The smoke deflectors
became popular in ship design during the 1970s and 1980s,
whereas the idea of allowing wind to pass though the funnel
was picked up again in the late 1980s and is almost the norm
in modern shipbuilding.
The Michelangelo's interiors were designed by naval
architects Nino Zoncada, Vincenzo Monaco and Amedeo
Luccichenti, who gave the ship a less adventurous, more
traditional look than the designers of her sister Raffaello.
After several delays the Michelangelo, under command of
Senior Captain Mario Crepaz, was finally ready for service
in May 1965. During the sea trials some vibrations were
detected on the stern of the ship. Michelangelo was
drydocked in December 1965 and received new propellers and
some modifications to her transmission. She clocked 31.59
knots during her post-refit trials, making her the
fifth-fastest passenger ship in the world at the time.
In April 1966 Michelangelo, under command of Senior Captain
Giuseppe Soletti, was hit by an unusually large wave during
a storm in the mid-Atlantic, which caused the forward part
of her superstructure to collapse, or to be pushed
backwards, and swept two passengers into the sea. One crew
member died a few hours later and over 50 people were
injured. When repairs were carried out after the accident,
the aluminum plating in the superstructure was replaced by
steel plates. Similar reconstruction was carried out on the
Raffaello and other contemporary ships such as SS United
States and SS France.
In May 1972, Alfred Hitchcock took a voyage on this ship
from New York to his screening of Frenzy at the Cannes Film
During the following years passenger numbers in the
Transatlantic trade declined steadily due to competition
from the air, and more and more ships were withdrawn. The
Michelangelo spent more time cruising to warmer waters, but
she made a poor cruise ship with her windowless cabins and
three-class layout. She had large lido decks that were
superior to even most purpose-built cruise ships of the
time, but that was not enough to compensate for the ship's
shortcomings, and Italian Line did not have enough funds to
rebuild the ship to make her a more usable cruiser.
Additionally, she was considered to be too large to be a
cruise ship by that time's standards.
Italy's flagship SS Michelangelo made her last Atlantic
crossing in July 1975, under command of Senior Captain
Claudio Cosulich. Afterwards she was laid up at La Spezia
alongside her sister. Several buyers (including Knut Kloster
of Norwegian Cruise Line) inspected the ships but did not
wish to buy them due to the costs required to modernise them
to cruise ship standard. There was one serious buyer, Home
Lines, who wished to buy the ships and keep them under
Italian flag for cruising in the Caribbean. The Italian Line
refused to sell the sisters, reportedly because they felt
keeping the Italian flag would have associated the
"embarrassing money-losers" with them.
In 1976 a buyer was found that agreed to the terms sought by
Italian Line. The Shah of Iran purchased the ships, to be
used as floating barracks. The ships that had cost $45
million each were now sold at the price of $2 million per
ship. The Michelangelo ended up in Bandar Abbas where she
was to spend the next fifteen years.
In 1978 plans were made to reconstruct her as the luxury
cruise ship Scià Reza il Grande (in honour of Rezā Shāh).
However, an expert team sent from Italy to inspect the ship
came to the conclusion she was too badly deteriorated to
make rebuilding a viable option. Similar plans were made
again in 1983, but they too fell short. Finally, in June
1991, an end was put to the Michelangelo's suffering when
she was scrapped in Pakistan.