Achille Lauro Returns Home URGENT
GENOA, Italy (AP) _ The Achille Lauro ended its cruise of terror Wednesday, returning to its home port to the applause of hundreds of relatives and friends of its crew and 19 remaining passengers.
Many aboard the liner blew kisses from the deck as its band played ″The Blue Ship″ - an Italian sailor’s hymn. The decks were filled with people who leaned against its railings, waving streamers of pink, yellow and green.
Four Palestinians hijacked the Achille Lauro off the Egyptian coast on Oct. 7, and held it for two days before surrendering. They are accused of murdering one passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, 69, of New York City.
The ship docked at its usual cement pier, Dock 3 of the Ponte De Mille, in Genoa’s flood-lit port shortly before midnight.
Wives and familes of the 313 crew members and the passengers hurried up the gangplank, many crying, others jumping in joy. Some handed out sparkling wine in paper cups.
Some were angry at a horde of newsmen who raced up the gangplank for a news conference held by the captain and a local prosecutor, giving details of the investigation into the crimes committed aboard the ship.
A crew member, in a live televised interview with the state-run RAI broadcast network, said nobody witnessed the killing of Klinghoffer.
″None of us saw it,″ said the unidentified crewman.
A nurse from the ship said she was in the infirmary when the hijackers seized the vessel. ″I was afraid, but they treated us well. ... They were friendly,″ she told a RAI interviewer.
After a brief reunion, most of the crew and passengers disembarked.
″We thank you all for all you have done in these dramatic days, helping passengers in a perfect way...,″ an official of Flotta Lauro, the ship’s owner, shouted from a tugboat to captain Gerardo De Rosa shortly before the ship docked. The official, Flavio De Luca, then boarded the liner.
The ship’s two photographers, escorted by police, transferred to the tugboat with all the film they had taken during the voyage to be turned over to investigators, port officials said.
De Luca told four magistrates who had boarded the ship that he hoped De Rosa would be allowed to command the next Mediterranean cruise scheduled to start Thursday.
″Flotta Lauro wants the Achille Lauro to be a messenger of peace... And so it is our firm intention that the ship does not skip (on its next voyage) any traditional stops of the Mediterranean cruise, including Port Said,″ port officials quoted De Luca as saying.
Giorgio Saba, a Flotta Lauro spokesman, said earlier that De Rosa was scheduled to command the cruise ″provided the magistrates have finished with him.″ He said 15 crew members and about 100 of the nearly 800 passengers who booked the 12-day cruise had canceled.
″We are studying some new (security) measures - boarding procedures will be tighter - but security is not up to us, it’s up to the port (authorities).″
Saba said the remaining passengers include 11 South Africans and two people each from Italy, France, Britain and West Germany.
Two magistrates from Genoa, where the cruise originated, and two from Siracusa, Sicily, where the hijackers were turned over to Italian authorities, boarded the ship Tuesday as it rounded Sicily.
They questioned crew members Wednesday about the hijacking and the murder. Crewmen saidthe investigation concentrated on Chery Herrington, a British stewardess, and four Italians: barman Mario Ercolano; barber Ferruccio Alberti; and musicians Michele Cafiero and Antonio Stringo.
Asked if the five witnessed the murder, Saba said: ″I don’t know what they saw.″