The bridge bell of the Andrea Doria, the Italian ocean liner that famously sank in the Atlantic in 1956, rang out this week for the first time since the ship disappeared in the waters off Nantucket, Mass.
Partially buried at the ocean bottom, the 75-pound bronze bell was recovered by two divers, Carl Bayer and Ernest Rookey. They were part of a private expedition run by Tech Diving Limited, a company specializing in dives to some of the world's most famous shipwrecks.
"This is one of the most significant Andrea Doria finds. The divers were collecting ceramic tiles from the staterooms when they saw the shape of the bell sticking out of the sand," expedition leader Joel Silverstein, Vice President and COO of Tech Diving Limited, told Discovery News.
This is the second bell that has re-emerged, since the stern bell was recovered in 1985 by a group of New Jersey divers including John Moyer and Gary Gentile.
Silverstein believes that there were three — possibly four — bells on the ship.
Indeed, the bells are among the most coveted items, as they are some of the few parts with the ship's name engraved on them.
An icon of national pride for Italy and a floating art gallery, the Andrea Doria was the most beautiful ship of its time.
The ship had already crossed the Atlantic 100 times, plying the Genova-New York route, when it collided with the 13,000-ton Swedish liner Stockholm in the waters off Nantucket, some 100 nautical miles from New York Harbor.
Following the collision, it stayed afloat for 11 hours, and sank, with all its lights on, on July 26, 1956.
On board were 1,134 passengers, 572 crew members, 401 tons of cargo (including 1,000 Olivetti typewriters and 500 Necchi sewing machines), 522 pieces of baggage, 1,754 bags of mail and nine cars, including the Norseman, a special prototype car that was a joint project of Chrysler and Ghia. The car was valued at more than $100,000.
Incredibly, only 51 people died in the accident — five crew members of the Stockholm and 46 passengers of the Andrea Doria. Among them 43 died instantly when their cabins were obliterated.
In what is considered the greatest sea rescue in history, all the passengers who were alive after the collision were saved, as the Andrea Doria tilted helplessly and cold ocean water flooded into the gash at its side.
The ship has become one of the most popular wreck sites in the world, since it is dotted with relics and it is not protected, unlike other famous wrecks such as the Lusitania and the Titanic.
"It is a trophy dive. Divers can keep the artifacts they find," Silverstein said. "Although, some items are still covered under John Moyer's 1993 maritime arrest."
However, it is not easy to get Andrea Doria china cups and silverware. Lying in 250 feet of absinthe-green water, the ship is considered the "Mount Everest of wreck diving," and has so far claimed the lives of 15 divers.
The Andrea Doria presents many dangers even to experienced divers because of treacherous currents, sharks, wires and cables hanging like spiderwebs, and the risk of getting lost while entering the wreck.
"The desire to get artifacts is one of the reasons why many divers have died. We run a very controlled diving environment, because safety is our top priority. It is actually easier to dive now than it was 10 years ago, because the ship is falling apart. The artifacts are just falling out, so there is no need for new divers to enter the wreck," Silverstein said.
In 1993 Silverstein was part of the expedition where John Moyer recovered several intact massive tiled panels with ceramic sculptures by Guido Gambone, an artist heavily influenced by Picasso.
"Now the wreck is very much deteriorated, cracking and peeling in sections. The tip of the bow is only 20 feet from the sand, whereas 10 years ago it was 50 feet up," Silverstein said.
Weathered by half a century on the ocean floor, the bell, which is 16 inches tall and 16 inches wide at the rim, still rings out with wonderful tone. It is now under restoration and will likely go on display at several diving exhibitions.
Pictures: Courtesy of Joel Silverstein/Tech Diving Limited | Maurizio Eliseo.
Video courtesy of Joel
Silverstein/Tech Diving Limited.