The Achille Lauro cruise ship catches fire and sinks to the bottom of the sea near Somalia on this day in 1994. The large luxury liner had a checkered history that included deaths and terrorism prior to its sinking.
The construction of the Willem Ruys by the Royal Rotterdam Lloyd Line took more than 10 years. The completed ship, which weighed in at 24,000 gross tons and was launched in 1947, was used to carry passengers and cargo back and forth from the Netherlands to the East Indies. In the 1960s, it was primarily used to carry immigrants to Australia. In 1965, the StarLauro company bought the ship to add it to its cruise line.
In 1971, the ship, re-named Achille Lauro, rammed an Italian fishing boat in the Mediterranean Sea, killing one person. Ten years later, a fire on board the ship killed two people. The most infamous incident in the history of the Achille Lauro, though, occurred in 1985, when it was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists who shot and killed an American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer.
In 1994, the Achille Lauro was carrying 1,000 passengers near the Horn of Africa when a fire broke out on board. The lifeboats were launched as the fire caused the huge ship to list to the port side. A tug boat was sent to bring it back to shore, but as the tug was trying to connect to the ship, there was a huge explosion. Two people died and the Achille Lauro sank to the bottom of the ocean.
The survivors in the lifeboats were picked up by the USS Gettysburg. The Achille Lauro's two sister ships, the Lakonia and the Angelina Lauro, also fell victim to on-board fires.