My interview and article with the New York Times

New York Times

N.Y. / Region

January 17, 2012, 6:10 PM

Cruise Ship Accident Stirs Thoughts of the Andrea Doria



Associated Press

The Andrea Doria after colliding with the Stockholm off the coast of Nantucket, July 25, 1956.


Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

The Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012.

First thing Saturday, Pierette Domenica Simpson’s boyfriend called and said, “Go online. You’ll be interested.”

She checked the headlines. Something about an Italian ocean liner in trouble. The way the ship was listing, the report that it was taking on water, the light from the cabins reflecting in the water, the passengers’ struggle to clamber into lifeboats — everything seemed so familiar. “I thought, ‘How can this be? It’s 56 years later,’ ” Ms. Simpson said.

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. Simpson, the wreck of the Costa Concordia brought back memories of one of the most famous disasters in maritime history, an accident that she survived as a 9-year-old girl: The collision on July 25, 1956, that left the Italian ship Andrea Doria, bound for New York City, listing in the Atlantic after being struck by a Swedish ocean liner, the Stockholm.

“It was unreal and surreal, the fact that they were both leaning on the starboard side,” she said. “If you put the two photographs together of the night scene of the Concordia and the night scene of the Andrea Doria with the incline on the starboard side and the lights coming from the portholes, you cannot tell the difference.”

But there was a difference: “We were in the middle of the ocean. They were near shore, which was their demise. You’d think that would be their blessing.”

Crews pulled five more bodies from the wreckage of the Costa Concordia on Tuesday, bringing the death toll from that accident to at least 11. Prosecutors and the cruise line are blaming the captain for the wreck, saying he deviated from the ship’s plotted course, bringing it too close to the shoreline.

Ms. Simpson, who is 64 and lives in Novi, Mich., was immigrating with her grandparents, as she described in the book “Alive on the Andrea Doria! The Greatest Sea Rescue in History” (Morgan James Publishing, 2008). Even before the Concordia disaster, Ms. Simpson was working on a new book: “I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s.” “It’s a novel,” she said, and one of the characters is a 9-year-old girl.



Pierette Domenica Simpson recognized herself in film footage from the Ile de France, which rescued passengers from the Andrea Doria after it was hit by the Stockholm in the Atlantic in July 1956.

Ms. Simpson’s story was that she was rescued by the S.S. Ile de France, which sped to the scene and picked up more than 750 Andrea Doria passengers.

The Andrea Doria was on the next to the last day of a 10-day trip from Genoa, Italy, when it was hit. When it sank, nearly 11 hours later, a plane carrying a CBS News camera crew circled overhead. The correspondent Douglas Edwards, his nose against the window, described the Andrea Doria as “looking like a colorful but big and dead hippopotamus.”

The collision resulted in 51 deaths, 46 from the Andrea Doria and 5 from the Stockholm. Among the casualties on the Andrea Doria was Camille M. Cianfarra, a longtime foreign correspondent for The New York Times who was based in Madrid at the time. He was apparently thrown across his cabin, which was close to the Stockholm’s point of impact.

“When I hear the passengers from the Concordia talking about how they injured their legs just to crawl upward and get out,” Ms. Simpson said, “that’s what I found from interviewing my fellow survivors on the Andrea Doria and recalling what we had to do to get outside.”

“What seems to be different is we had an announcement shortly after the collision,” she said. “The captain ordered Officer Badano,” the second officer, “to make an announcement in English and Italian. It was such a staticky connection. We could only hear words like ‘calm’ and ‘life jackets.’ There was so much hysteria, we couldn’t really hear.”

Another difference, she said, was that the captain on the Andrea Doria sent out an S.O.S. almost immediately. “He ordered the lowering of the lifeboats,” she said, but the Andrea Doria was listing so badly that the lifeboats on the port side could not go down. Some passengers on the Concordia have described scenes of panic and confusion in their efforts to evacuate.

“The ones on the right side, they were out 20-some feet from the ship, so we could not board them,” she said. “They had to be dropped in the ocean, and we had to make our own way down there.”

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