Peter Knego “Decks” the historic DOULOS PHOS with a look at the 98-year-old ship’s early career as the Mallory Lines freighter MEDINA, her 1948 transformation into the Italian emigrant ship ROMA and evolution into the celebrated cruise ship FRANCA C.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Friday, November 16, 2012
While in Singapore on a recent assignment, I spent a most extraordinary day on board the MV DOULOS PHOS, the world’s oldest ocean-going overnight passenger ship. This Decked! will begin with a brief history of this very special liner, which will be celebrating her 100th birthday in 2014.
In 1914, the shipping world had its attention focused on some rather heady events. Between the conflict in Europe and the introduction of Cunard Lines’ palatial AQUITANIA and Hamburg-Amerika Line’s VATERLAND (at the time the world’s largest passenger ship), scant attention would be paid to a modest, American-built coastal freighter that would flourish well into the following century.
The MEDINA and her sister NECHES (which sank in 1918) were commissioned for Mallory Steamship Company’s U.S. East Coast to Gulf of Mexico service. The 5,426 gross ton MEDINA was built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company with an overall length of 398 feet and a beam of 54 feet. Her triple expansion steam engine was powered by four coal-fired boilers, driving a single screw at a service speed of 14 knots.
Requisitioned for World War One, MEDINA operated on transatlantic service before returning to her New York to Galveston route. In 1922, she was given oil-fired boilers and in 1928, following Mallory’s merger with Clyde Lines, Clyde-Mallory placed the ship on New York to Tampico service and later routed her to Cuba. In World War Two, MEDINA remained in commercial service and kept sailing, by then rather well-worn, until 1947 when bought by Cia. Naviera San Miguel. In 1948, she arrived at La Spezia where she was completely rebuilt into an emigrant ship.
Now called ROMA and lengthened some 30 feet with two full decks atop her superstructure (one for accommodation and another for public rooms), she could carry 287 passengers in a spartan first class and 694 in dormitories. In 1950, ROMA returned to Genoa for outfitting and was subsequently chartered for four transatlantic crossings before undertaking a mechanically troubled voyage to Australia, after which her owners declared bankruptcy.
In 1952, following a return charter from Australia by Lloyd Triestino, ROMA arrived back in Italy where she was seized and auctioned off to Costa Lines. Costa renamed the ship FRANCA C and re engined her with a Fiat diesel that had been built for another one of their ships. Although little changed externally (other than her new livery), the FRANCA C was rebuilt with accommodation for 362 first and tourist class and 458 third class passengers, operating between Genoa and the Caribbean.
It was not until 1957 that the FRANCA took on the appearance she mostly retains today with her heightened funnel and completely restyled, elegant accommodation by the famed Nino Zoncada. In 1957, FRANCA C had become a one-class ship with accommodation for 552 and private facilities in each cabin. She was given a new lido that stretched all the way to the fantail, while her interiors were appointed with bright, Cassina-made furnishings and artwork by Zoncada’s stable of painters, sculptors and ceramists that included Enrico Paulucci, Marcello Mascherini and Emanuele Luzzati.
From top to bottom, FRANCA C’s decks ranged from Bridge Deck to Captain’s Deck, Sun Deck, Lounge Deck, Promenade Deck, Upper Deck, A Deck and B Deck.
Housing the bridge and chart room, this deck was raised a level when MEDINA was converted to ROMA.
This level housed the captain’s and chief engineer’s accommodation. Aft of the funnel, there was a small observation platform overlooking the stern.
Sun Deck began with sheltered observation space at the base of the old superstructure.
The interior portion of Sun Deck housed officer’s accommodation which was followed by open promenades inboard of her lifeboats that led aft to the al fresco Veranda Bar, a long, teak-lined lido with sunning space and a beautiful, typically MidCentury Italian pool area.
A proper Costa brochure wouldn’t exist without a generous array of pool shots for each of its ships.
Lounge Deck featured open space, followed by a narrow vestibule atop the forward stairs that extended aft into the superstructure via a shopping gallery.
The San Remo Ballroom followed, spanning the width of the ship with picture windows on either side. It was beautifully furnished with silver blue velvet Cassina chairs, spindly metal tables and featured a set of bronze panels by Marcello Mascherini which are now in the Costa Line archives in Genoa. The room also featured Nino Zoncada’s trademark recessed lighting and pronounced camber.
Adjoining the Ballroom on its aft/starboard side, the Bar was ultra chic and modern with its polished steel and formica facade and more stylish Cassina chairs, upholstered in gold.
Aft of the Ballroom, there was a small Card Room on the starboard side and a Library to port. Finite promenades led aft on this level to a sheltered deck at the fantail. Inside, Lounge Deck continued aft of the Library and Card Room with the Purser’s Lobby and accommodation, with a small chapel at the stern.
Promenade Deck began with the Rapallo Restaurant, a wonderful space that spanned the width of the ship. On the forward bulkhead, there was a circular ceramic by Emanuele Luzzati and on the aft bulkhead encasing the forward stairs, a carved panel set that appears to be the work of Tranquilio Marangoni. Over the years, the Rapallo Restaurant changed color schemes but remained a most charming space with its pronounced camber, much like the San Remo Ballroom on the deck above.
Here are a few images showing “life” in the Rapallo Dining Room.
Sheltered walkways led aft along Promenade Deck to the fantail. Aft of the galley inside this level, there were a number of staterooms in various configurations. Stateroom chairs were identical to many on board Incres Lines VICTORIA and Italia’s LEONARDO DA VINCI.
Upper Deck was divided into forward and aft accommodation blocks.
More accommodation was located on A Deck fore and aft of the machinery spaces.
A small block of accommodation was located on forward B Deck.
FRANCA C enjoyed a leisurely career throughout the 1960’s in Florida-based cruise service. She was one of the pioneering cruise ships to the Bahamas and for her time, one of the best. In the late 1960s, she was outclassed by newer, larger ships in the Costa fleet and switched to primarily European-based cruising.
In 1970, FRANCA C was re engined with yet another Fiat diesel. This kept her in sound enough mechanical shape to remain in service for Costa until 1977 when she reached the ripe old age of 63. Instead of sailing off to the breakers, the old former MEDINA had plenty of life left in her…
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."