This Day in History: Crew of the American Star Rescued From the Ocean by Helicopter

This Day in History: Crew of the American Star Rescued From the Ocean by Helicopter

by M.C. Millman 

On January 17, 1994, the American Star cruise ship crew was rescued by helicopter right before the ship ran aground in the Canary Islands. 

Designed in 1940 by the renowned naval architect William Francis Gibbs, the ship was originally equipped to carry over 1,200 passengers and 600 crew members. The ship served many purposes over its 54-year history, including carrying 7,000 servicemen on board and an estimated 350,000 troops during its lifetime.

After the war, the ship was the largest cruise ship in the merchant marine until 1952 with the launch of the United States cruise ship.

The ship provided round-the-world cruises for a few years before becoming a floating hotel off Liberia. It was then purchased by the Intercommerce Corporation, who planned to turn the ship into a floating prison off Beirut. 

In December 1993, the American Star left  Greece under tow by a Ukrainian tugboat aiming to pull the ship to its next location. The tow lines snapped as the pair moved out into the Atlantic during a thunderstorm. Try as it might, the tugboat could not reattach any tow lines, which left the American Star adrift with the crew still onboard.

On January 17, 1994, the entire crew was evacuated during a helicopter rescue mission. A few short hours later, during the early morning of January 18, the ship ran aground onto the Canary Islands on Garcey Beach, where its remains can still be seen. 

Two days later, the power of the surf broke the cruise ship, laying to rest those who had hoped in vain to make the American Star live up to its name. 

Photo: Wreck of American Star, by Alcanizero (1995).


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