Two interesting ships that began as rivals and ended up as near sisters. The Oranje was built for the Nederlandsche Stoomvaart Maatschapij (Nederland Line) in Amsterdam by the Netherlands Shipbuilding Company. She was launched by Queen Wilhelmina and named in honour of the Royal House of Orange on 8 September 1938. Her first major
service was in the war and although sailing under Australian command, Oranje remained crewed by Dutch crew, and continued to sail under the Dutch flag. Oranje was the largest hospital ship operated from Australia, serving for five years including the Middle East, Indian and Pacific Campaigns. She made 41 voyages, carrying Australian and New Zealander soldiers.
The second ship’s keel was laid in 1939 at De Schelde shipyard in Vlissingen, Netherlands, for Rotterdamsche Lloyd. She was finally launched in July 1946, as Willem Ruys, named after the grandson of the founder of the Rotterdamsche Lloyd who was taken hostage and shot during the war.
So these two ships were not sisters or in the same company as sometimes quoted, but rivals on the Far Eastern service. In January 1953 on a voyage outward bound Oranje collided in the Red Sea with the Willem Ruys homeward bound heading the opposite direction. On the abrupt and fast approach of Oranje, as the ships wanted to pass each other at close range for passenger amusement, Willem Ruys made an unexpected turn to port and the two ships collided. Oranje badly damaged her bows and due to the possibility she would be impounded for safety reasons, she was unable to call at Colombo as scheduled, and went directly to Jakarta. Willem Ruys suffered less damage. There was no loss of life involved. Later, it was determined that miscommunication on both ships had caused the collision.
I first saw the Oranje in Singapore in 1962. It was night time in Keppel Harbour and I
still remember being close to her stern and the seeing the lighting of the 4 decks.
In 1964 the Netherland Line sold their flagship, Oranje, together with the Royal Rotterdam Lloyd’s Willem Ruys (1965) to the Italian company Flotta Lauro. The ships were rebuilt and respectively renamed Angelina Lauro and Achille Lauro, after the company’s owner. During the conversion, the Angelina Lauro suffered a major fire in which 6 people died.
I had spent many happy days in Singapore, Aden and Dover looking at ships with my father and he took this photo of the Achille Lauro in Malta at Christmas 1973, a month before his sudden death. You can see how the ship has been transformed into a modern looking cruiseship.
Similarly the Oranje had undergone a major transformation. Although she had a single funnel she was the slightly larger of the two vessels which were now officially running mates.
The Achille Lauro became world famous after her hijack by members of the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985. In other incidents, she also suffered a further serious collision in 1975 with the cargo ship Youseff and four onboard fires or explosions in 1965, 1972, 1981, and 1994. In the last of these the ship caught fire and sank in the Indian Ocean off Somalia.
In 1977 Angelina Lauro was chartered to Costa Lines for three years and marketed as Angelina.
On 30 March 1979 she suffered a devastating fire whilst berthed at the US Virgin Islands. She was declared to be a total loss and was raised and refloated, to be sold for scrap in Taiwan. The burnt out hulk traversed the Panama Canal but she sank in mid-Pacific having cheated the breakers.
Two remarkable former Dutch liners that lived such parallel lives