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This Weekend in Maritime History: The Achille Lauro Tragedy, Operation Sealords, and the Rise of the Steamboat

By MarEx 2012-10-05 14:42:39

Oct 7, 1985: Palestinian Terrorists Hijack an Italian Cruise Ship

Four armed terrorists from the Popular Front for the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) boarded Italian cruise ship, Achille Lauro, in an effort to hijack the luxury liner. The ship had just departed from Egypt and was an easy target as there were no security personnel onboard.

Abu Abbas, a leader in the terrorist organization, ordered the ship’s hijacking, but set no specific goals or demands for the mission.

The terrorists initially demanded that Israel release imprisoned PLF members and sought entry to a Syrian port. Syria subsequently denied the request, prompting the attackers to gather the American tourists onboard. The terrorists then randomly chose to kill a 69-year-old wheelchair-bound American man by shooting him in the head and throwing him overboard.

A global outburst of outrage forced the terrorist organization to end the operation. Two days later, Abbas ordered his team not to kill any more passengers, and arranged for the ship to dock in Egypt.

In the meantime, the elite U.S. Navy SEALs were dispatched to storm the Achille Lauro. However, upon their arrival, the terrorists had already evacuated the cruise ship in Egypt and boarded a plane to Libya. All involved were eventually brought into custody and convicted to prison time, except Abbas. He was eventually captured by U.S. Special Forces in Baghdad in 2003 and died in American custody in 2004.

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Oct 7, 1816: First Double-decked Steamboat, the Washington, Arrives in New Orleans

Henry Shreve, master shipbuilder, had launched the historic steamboat on the Monongahela River a few months earlier in 1816. It featured all of the common characteristics that classic Mississippi riverboats are now known for including: a two-story deck, a stern-mounted paddle wheel powered by a high-pressure steam engine, a shallow, flat-bottomed hull, and a pilothouse framed by two tall chimneys.

The Washington made its inaugural expedition the following spring. Steaming upriver against the current with full cargo, it only took the steamboat 25 days to reach Louisville, Kentucky. This demonstrated to early mariners that the new generation of steamboats could master the unruly currents of the western rivers. Soon the Washington began to offer regular passenger and cargo service between New Orleans and Louisville, steaming upstream at about 16mph and downstream at as much as 25mph.

With the Washington’s success, other similarly designed steamboats followed. By 1850, 740 steamboats regularly moved up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, carrying three million passengers annually. This documented rapid transportation technology aided in the fast-paced settlement of the western U.S. Many settlers often saved time by booking passage on a steamboat. Gold chasers heading for Montana after 1867 could even take steamboats all the way up the Missouri cutting months off the usual travel time.

By the late 19th century, however, the golden age of the steamboat was over, as diesel-powered towboats and barges became the new wave of shipbuilding. But in its era, the steamboat played an important role in the widespread settlement of the U.S.

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Oct 8, 1968: U.S. and South Vietnamese Navies Commence Operation Sealords

Operation Sealords was launched in the Mekong Delta by U.S. and South Vietnamese forces. This operation was ordered by Commander Naval Forces Vietnam, Vice-Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., who established Task Force 194 to operate along the canals and emptier waterways of the Mekong Delta to interdict Viet Cong infiltration routes from Cambodia.

U.S. and South Vietnamese naval forces worked together to secure the waterways of the Mekong Delta. When the Vietnamization program began in 1969, the U.S. Navy instituted ACTOV (Accelerated Turnover to Vietnam), the Navy's Vietnamization plan, and by April 1971, all Sealords operations had been turned over to the South Vietnamese Navy.