By:William R. Dorsey, III, President

The Maritime Law Association of the United States

On the evening of July 25, 1956 the Italian passenger liner ANDREA DORIA was inbound to New York, approaching the Nantucket Light Ship off the East coast of the United States. Outbound from New York was the Swedish-America passenger liner STOCKHOLM. Sometime between approximately 11:10 p.m. and 11:13 p.m. the two ships collided causing heavy damage to both. Eleven hours after the collision the ANDREA DORIA sank.

The collision, which resulted in the loss of 51 dead from the Italian passenger ship and 5 dead from the STOCKHOLM, was one of the most sensational collision disasters of modern times and was followed by a memorable rescue effort. Algot Mattsson’s book, “Out of the Fog: The Sinking of the Andrea Doria” was first published in Sweden in 1986. Largely through the efforts of Gordon Paulsen, one of the attorneys involved in the litigation that followed the collision, the book has now been translated into English by Professor Richard E. Fisher of the University of Lund, Sweden, and edited by Mr. Paulsen. It will be published in the United States for the first time by Cornell Maritime Press in the late spring or early summer of this year. It tells the story of that collision, the horrors of its aftermath, the heroic sea rescue, the intense public interest in the disaster, the public relation responses by the owners of the two vessels, and the legal proceedings that followed.

The incident has been written about by others, notably Alvin Moscow in his admirable book, “Collision Course,” first published in 1959. But Algot Mattsson’s book brings a new dimension to the tale. He was information officer for Swedish America Line, the owner of the STOCKHOLM, and was involved in the aftermath of the collision. As such, he was “on the inside” of the public relations battle that was being fought between his company and Italian Line, the owner of the ANDREA DORIA, and privy to information on the preparation and conduct of Swedish America Line’s legal case. Further,   he had special access to Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen, the third mate who was the sole officer on the bridge of the STOCKHOLM at the time of the collision.

Indeed, the book is styled as being written “With the Assistance of Third Mate Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen” and contains many of the mate’s observations and opinions. The book describes in great detail the events leading up to the collision. When the vessels first sighted each other, each of the officers on the respective ships’ bridges came to opposite conclusions as to the developing situation. The captain and mate on the ANDREA DORIA saw the situation developing    as a starboard to starboard passing, and eventually changed course to port to widen this passage. On the other hand, Carstens-Johannsen, the young third mate on the STOCKHOLM, evaluated the situation as a port to port passing and so turned to starboard in order to widen the distance between the two vessels.

Which ship evaluated the situation correctly? Did both ships err in their calculations? Was fog a contributing factor? What happened to the log book of the ANDREA DORIA? Did the ANDREA DORIA lack proper stability, either as a result of design and construction errors or improper ballasting, or both, and did a lack of stability contribute to its sinking? Did the officers on watch correctly appraise and consider the radar information they received? Who was at fault, one or both ships? What percentage? Did the settlement  of the case reflect the views of the parties as to which one was responsible for the collision or the percentage liability of each? How did the crews of both ships respond to the catastrophe and the subsequent rescue efforts? All of these questions, and many more, are addressed in the book.

The book also relates the intense public relations battle waged by the two owners. As significant to them as the legal proceedings was the battle for public opinion. It was, of course, important for each of them to convince the public that transatlantic travel on their ships was safe. Accordingly, there were numerous press releases by each owner pointing the finger of blame at its adversary. An interesting nuance to this scenario is revealed. Swedish America Line developed evidence that the ANDREA DORIA did not have proper stability at the time of its collision, not just as a result of improper ballasting, but as a result of design and construction defects by the Italian shipbuilder. The awkward aspect of this contention was that Swedish America Line was scheduled to take delivery of its newest passenger liner, GRIPSHOLM, launched some four months prior to the collision, which had been constructed by the same Italian yard that had built ANDREA DORIA. Both the yard and Italian Line were owned by the Italian state. Indeed, the Italian state had partially   subsidized the building of the GRIPSHOLM in order to induce Swedish America Line to place its order with its shipyard. In any event, settlement of the case occurred before the allegations of faulty design and construction were detailed by Swedish America Line in the hearings. They are, however, detailed in this book for the first time, according to the author.

Of particular interest to maritime lawyers, in addition to the question of how the collision occurred and who was at fault, will be the insights that the book provides into the conduct of the litigation that followed the collision. Both owners filed petitions for limitation or exoneration, and claims for damages totaling some $160 million were filed on behalf of passengers and cargo owners. While no trial was ever held because of settlement, a lengthy discovery proceeding commenced after the collision. These discovery proceedings were open to the public and were conducted in the manner of a trial, being presided over by U.S. Masters appointed by Federal Judge Lawrence Walsh to whom the case was assigned. Some 60 lawyers participated in these proceedings representing all the various parties and claimants and as many as 50 reporters were on hand for the media.

Initially the hearings were held in the federal courthouse but were later moved to the New York City Lawyer’s Association building and then to the Seamen’s Church Institute. Expected to last six weeks, the hearings went on for four months before they were ended when settlement was reached between the owners. Representing the owners in these proceedings were two distinguished members of the maritime bar. Charles Haight, a past president of The Maritime Law Association, represented Swedish America Line, and Eugene Underwood represented Italian Line. Haight was assisted by the young Gordon Paulsen, who also later became president of the MLA, while Underwood was assisted by the young Ken Volk, who also was destined to be a president of the MLA. Haight and Underwood, two of the giants of the maritime bar at the time, were a contrast in styles. Haight was tall, courtly, dignified and polite to a fault, while Underwood was much more theatrical and often roughly sarcastic in his questioning of witnesses. Each was, of course, a superb maritime attorney.

The hearings started about two months after the collision. The first witness was Carstens-Johannsen who was on the stand for 11 trial days, most of the time under Mr. Underwood’s scathing cross-examination. He was followed by the ANDREA DORIA’s captain and mate and the STOCKHOLM’s captain. The proceedings ended when the case was settled just before the ANDREA DORIA’s engineers were scheduled to take the stand and face interrogation on their ship’s stability. Especially entertaining for the maritime attorney are the insights into the contrasting courtroom styles of Messrs. Haight and Underwood, and how they conducted the progress of the court room drama that took place under tremendous publicity. Just as fascinating are the differing personalities of the two ship’s captains and officers, the battle for public opinion, and the impact the collision had on the mariners involved. Interesting details of the settlement discussion are also disclosed, both in the main text and in an article by Captain Gustaf Ahrne of the Swedish Club, a major underwriter of the   STOCKHOLM, which is included as an appendix to the book.

A welcome addition to the book are the comments of editor Gordon Paulsen who gives a legal analysis of the collision, including the applicable law of the case, his view as to the comparative faults of the STOCKHOLM and ANDREA DORIA, and whether or not the vessels would have been able to limit liability under U.S. law. Of course, as noted above, Mr. Paulsen was one of the lawyers representing Swedish America Line, but it is obvious that he has attempted to be even handed. At any rate, the maritime lawyer reader will enjoy critiquing Mr. Paulsen’s analysis and deciding whether or not he agrees with his conclusions. Perhaps the future will bring a rebuttal from Mr. Volk. Whether it does or not and despite the fact that the book is written from the Swedish America Line point of view, the maritime lawyer reader will have no trouble coming to his own conclusions about the many issues raised by the collision.

All in all the book is a great read for anyone interested in drama, whether at sea or in the courtroom, and is specially recommended to maritime lawyers.

William R. Dorsey, III

The Maritime Law Association
of the United States