On October 7, 1984, the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked by four Palestinian gunmen as the vessel sailed off the coast of Egypt. To mark the anniversary of that terrorist attack, we've put together a few trivia questions about the event...
What Was the Itinerary of the Cruise Ship? Only a few days before the hijacking, the Achille Lauro had departed from its home port of Genoa on an 11-day Mediterranean cruise that would take it, in turn, to the ports of Naples, Italy; Alexandria and Port Said, Egypt; Ashdod, Israel; Limassol, Cyprus; Rhodes and Piraeus, Greece; Capri, Italy; and back to Genoa. On board were 755 passengers, including several from the United Kingdom and United States. Among the U.S. passengers were 11 longtime friends from the New York metropolitan area, who often vacationed together at the New Jersey shore. The group had been persuaded to take this Mediterranean cruise by Manhattanite Marilyn Klinghoffer, who only weeks before had celebrated the 36th anniversary of her marriage to Leon Klinghoffer. Her husband was wheelchair-bound after suffering two strokes over the preceding three years but had joined his wife and friends on the voyage in celebration of their recent anniversary.
How Did the Hijackers Gain Access to the Ship? The four Palestinians, all members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, boarded the cruise ship in Genoa along with all the rest of the cruise passengers. They took pains, however, to keep a very low profile during the early days of the cruise. For the most part, they kept to themselves and avoided contact with their fellow passengers. It was later reported in Time magazine that when an Achille Lauro hostess had inquired as to their nationality, one of the four mumbled a barely intelligible "Norwegian" in reply.
When Did They Seize Control of the Ship? On the fifth day of the cruise, the Achille Lauro arrived in the Egyptian port of Alexandria. The following morning, more than 660 of the passengers debarked to spend a day of shopping and sightseeing in Cairo. The Klinghoffers were among the less than 100 passengers who remained on board. Meanwhile, the cruise ship was to sail from Alexandria to Port Said, where those who debarked at Alexandria would rejoin the cruise. Although the hijackers originally planned to strike upon reaching the Israeli port of Ashdod, a crew member spotted them with weapons, forcing them to act immediately. Brandishing guns and hand grenades, they seized the ship four hours into its voyage toward Port Said and directed that it be sailed to the Syrian port of Tartus, bypassing the scheduled pick-up of passengers.
What Were the Hijackers' Demands? Their original plans foiled, the hijackers ordered all remaining passengers to come to the ship's dining room. The Palestinians then separated all American and British passengers from those of other nationalities and announced that these passengers would be killed if the hijackers' demands were not met. Their primary demand was the immediate release of 50 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel. As the ship approached the Syrian port on October 8, the hijackers became more desperate in their threats and demands. When told that Syrian authorities would not grant the ship permission to dock, it is believed that the gunmen shot Leon Klinghoffer and pushed him and his wheelchair into the sea.
What Happened to the Hijackers?
Unable to dock at Tartus, the ship sailed back to Port Said. Although they were unsuccessful in winning freedom for the Israeli-held prisoners, the hijackers did manage to negotiate an agreement to surrender the ship and its passengers in exchange for a guarantee of safe passage. They were eventually put aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner bound for Tunisia. However, U.S. fighter jets forced the jet to land at a NATO airbase in Sicily, where the hijackers were arrested. The four were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of varying length.
Photo credits: Captain Martini, Pietro Ferreira