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SUN VISTA, GALILEO GALILEI, GALILEO, MERIDIAN
by Peter Knego

S.S. GALILEO GALILEI, Martin Cox collection

SUN VISTA (ex-GALILEO GALILEI, GALILEO, MERIDIAN) sank May 20, 1999

Built at Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico, Monfalcone, Italy as GALILEO GALILEI for Lloyd Triestino SpA di Navigazione, Genoa
Yard #1862
27,888 GRT
701 x 93.8 feet
Twin Screw, geared De Laval turbines from builders
25.5 knots
44,000 shaft horsepower
156 First Class, 1,594 Tourist Class passengers

The first of two magnificent liners built for Lloyd Triestino's Italy to Australia emigrant service, the GALILEO GALILEI was launched on July 2, 1961. Completed in March of 1963, her maiden voyage from Genoa to Sydney commenced on 22 April. She was joined by the identical GUGLIEMO MARCONI on 18 November of the same year. Both ships resembled smaller, more streamlined versions of Italian Line's famous LEONARDO DA VINCI of 1960, although they sported the distinctive flared "Cantieri bows" that would later be emulated by Home Line's OCEANIC of 1965, Costa's EUGENIO C of 1966, and scores of ferries and smaller Mediterranean cruise ships.

In under three weeks, their itineraries would include Naples, Messina, Port Said, Aden, Fremantle, Melbourne, and Sydney. Later in their career, the return leg was made via Panama and billed as a "world voyage." The usual factors of union labor strife, competition from the jumbo jet, and high fuel costs contributed to their early demise, and in 1977 both ships were laid up at Genoa, terminating Lloyd Triestino's 140 years of passenger service.

GALILEO GALILEI arrived at Cantieri Navali Riuniti's Palermo yard for conversion to a one class cruise ship on October 21, 1977. With her tonnage revised to 28,083 and her name shortened to GALILEO, she arrived at Genoa on 24 March 1979 for Mediterranean cruising under the Italian Line Cruises International banner. Her new career was short-lived, however, and she was laid up at Genoa on the following 29 September. With on and off charters keeping her intermittently employed, the GALILEO was finally sold to Chandris Lines on 22 October 1983.

A white "X" (Greek for "CH") was emblazoned on her now black-topped blue funnel (by the way, it's dome was telescopic!), and GALILEO was reregistered in Panama. Another refit at Genoa, saw the installation of additional accommodation by expanding her forward superstructure, but curiously her tonnage was "remeasured" at 17,634, reflecting a difference in international measuring standards more than an actual physical change in size. With a new capacity of 1,262, GALILEO entered Caribbean cruise service from New York in 1984 and ultimately became a popular liner in the Chandris-owned Fantasy Cruises' fleet.

With the demise of the Greek-owned, Italian-operated Home Lines in the late 1980s, the powers at Chandris decided to experiment in the premium cruise market and formed their more upscale Celebrity Cruises division. The GALILEO became their guinea pig, and she was sent to Bremerhaven in October of 1989 for a complete $45 million rebuilding by Lloyd Werft. Her charming 1960s "retro" linoleum, Formica, and wooden Italian interiors would be replaced with stunning and vibrant fittings under the direction of AMK, the famous Greek Katzourakis design team responsible for the CROWN ODYSSEY, and later ROYAL MAJESTY (among scores of other contemporary cruise ships). She was delivered to Celebrity Cruises on 22 February 1990 with a new capacity of 1,428 and a more realistic gross tonnage of 30,440.

As the stylish MERIDIAN, she departed Bremerhaven on a positioning voyage to the Caribbean on 1 March. Following a series of gala inaugural ceremonies, her first cruise from Port Everglades departed on 1 April. The MERIDIAN was enough of a success to incite a series of newbuilds, beginning with the HORIZON and ZENITH, and culminating in the spectacular CENTURY trio. Celebrity Cruises was eventually sold to Royal Caribbean International, and in an effort to keep the most modern fleet, the popular but outclassed MERIDIAN was sold to Sun Cruises of Singapore for the remarkably high sum of $65 million at the end of her fall 1997 cruise season out of New York.

With the new name SUN VISTA, she proceeded to Norfolk for a quick refit which saw the removal of one of her last unchanged GALILEO features, the intimate Chapel, which sported elegant stained glass panels. The collapse of the Asian economy followed shortly thereafter, and SUN VISTA and the huge new fleet of ships owned by competitor Star Cruises were faced with operating challenges. Sadly, while enroute from Phuket, Thailand to Singapore, the still handsome liner suffered an engine room fire on 21 May 1999, capsized, and sank 45 nautical miles west of Penang Island in the Andaman Sea. All 1090 passengers and crew were safely evacuated. An investigation is under way to determine the cause of the sinking and whether the sunken ship is presently a hazard to naviagation.

UPDATE: Jan 5, 2001 -- A press report states: The master of Sun Vista acted correctly and appropriately in all stages involved in the evacuation of passengers from the sinking cruise ship and was right in not allowing passengers to get back to their cabins to recover their belongings. The report had criticised Sven Hartzell for his role in the handling of the fire and resultant sinking of the Singapore-bound vessel in the Malacca Straits in 1999. He was cleared of any mishandling of passenger safety by the investigating flag state agency, the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA). The report of the investigation by the BMA into the fire and sinking noted: "The circumstances under which the evacuation of passengers and crew took place were somewhat unusual due to the failure of main, auxiliary and emergency power supplies, and the prior assembly of passengers and crew on the upper decks." In its analysis of the entire incident, the BMA report went on to note that the captain in his handling of the passenger's welfare, acted appropriately under each particular circumstance as they arose. The report notes that the first announcement to passengers that something was wrong was made approximately 30 minutes after the power failure at 1505 hrs. The report acknowledges that at the time of the power failure the extent of the fire was not known. Some 10 minutes after the first announcement passengers were advised to remain on the open decks. "This was a sensible precaution, particularly as there was no electric lighting and the lower deck spaces would have been in complete darkness," noted the report. This resulted however, in passengers being unable to retrieve clothing and personnel effects including medication as well as their life-jackets, although other life-jacket stores supplied an adequate number for the passengers and crew. But the report underscores that the captain acted correctly in ensuring the safety of his passengers: "To allow passengers to return to their cabins in these circumstances would have exposed them to unacceptable risks. "Although the decision to abandon ship was not taken until 1750 hrs, the decision to marshal passengers and crew on the upper decks proved to be well founded," said the report. END UPDATE.

References: THE CHANDRIS LINERS by Bill Miller, GREAT PASSENGER SHIPS OF THE WORLD TODAY by Arnold Kludas, THE WORLD's PASSENGER FLEET CD-rom, Peter Knego.

The following is a look at this ship in her original guise as Lloyd Triestino's crack express liner GALILEO GALILEI.

Her profile was the ultimate in 1960's sleekness, before the era of boxy superstructures and squared-off sterns became the vogue. Peter Knego collection.

The First Class Lounge was located on forward Promenade Deck with windows that overlooked the bow, and was bordered on either side by glass-enclosed winter gardens, in a traditional liner style. What was not traditional was the GALILEI's decor, which was ultra-modern 60's chic, featuring a series of stained glass metal panels, shiny linoleum decking, and "funky" furnishings. Peter Knego collection.

The GALILEO GALILEI's First Class Dining Room was a haven of 1960's stylings, from the texturized ceramic bulkhead centerpiece with a bird relief in its center, to dark wooden pillars and paneling, marbelized linoleum decking, and geometric ceiling panels. Tones of Kelly Green, mustard, and chocolate gave this room an "earthy" feel. Peter Knego collection.

Just aft of the First Class Lounge (previously shown) and the adjoining Drawing Rooms on forward Promenade Deck, the GALILEI's Tourist Class public areas began with the Boboli Room. Formica frescoes of classic Italian cityscapes, maroon linoleum, angled ceilings, and vivid fluorescent lighting are complemented by lime and cantaloupe colored "Jetsons"-style seating. These are perhaps not cherished decorative elements in today's era, where "simulated" art deco is the norm, but this salon is warm and homey in a uniquely 60's Italian way. Peter Knego collection.

Following her refurbishments in the late 70's and early 80's, the GALILEO nonetheless retained a great deal of her original layout and decor. She is shown here departing New York on 13 July, 1986, with a full complement of passengers on one of Fantasy Cruises' Bermuda sailings. While still a remarkably sleek ship, her forward superstructure is noticeably enlarged. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The view facing aft along GALILEO's starboard/midships Captain's Deck was to change greatly after the MERIDIAN refit. From her debut until she became MERIDIAN, the ship's outer areas (from the bridge to her stern) were little altered. Beautifully sculpted and finned funnels were an Italian specialty in the late 1950's throughout the 1960's and early 1970's. Emblazoned with logos of such fine companies as Home Lines, Costa, Sitmar, and Flotta Lauro, they gave the impression of speed and grace at sea. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

With a foreground of empty deck chairs and a hazy New York skyline as a backdrop, this view is facing forward along GALILEO's aft Promenade Deck. The pool in view is the former Tourist Class, while another one two decks above used to serve the First Class in the ship's Lloyd Triestino days. This entire scene would give way to a brand new show lounge in the MERIDIAN conversion. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

Upon first glance, MERIDIAN's squared off funnel extension and built-up stern were somewhat disconcerting, but with time the rebuilt ship began to take on a beauty of her own. She still had an almost traditional profile, gorgeous bow, and rounded stern. Even the funnel, while not as graceful, was powerful and impressive in an era full of paint cans and/or slatted boxes. This view captures MERIDIAN just after passing under the Verrazano Narrows on 26 June 1994 at the end of one of her summer cruises. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The view facing aft along the ship's starboard/midships Captain's Deck was foreshortened by the addition of suites aft of the officers' accommodation (see GALILEO shot). MERIDIAN was a beautifully-maintained and well-run ship and a tribute to her owners and crew. The decking and bulkheads glisten in this view taken shortly before her sale on 30 July 1997. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The Captain's Deck was expanded considerably aft and fitted out with a large jacuzzi lido and bar. This forward-facing view from the whirlpool platform shows the huge funnel addition in a less-flattering light. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

Our look at MERIDIAN's outer areas continues with this view over the Lido Deck from aft Captain's Deck. All of this was reclaimed from the air space that once hovered over GALILEO's gracefully terraced stern. Nonetheless, this is still a handsome and inviting lido, placed just aft of the Marina Cafe, another MERIDIAN addition. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

On either side of Horizon Deck, MERIDIAN's now finite sheltered promenades remained as a clue to her "blue water" liner origins. The forward glass-enclosed portions were once the First Class winter gardens, while the expanse of teak-lined space that followed was reserved for the more populous Tourist Class. It continued aft to the Lido area before the stern was rebuilt at Lloyd Werft to Celebrity's specifications. This view is facing aft along the starboard side. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The view aft from MERIDIAN's fo'c'sle is virtually identical to that of the GALILEO in Chandris Fantasy years. The extended deckhousing below the wheelhouse is the accommodation added in 1984. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The MERIDIAN's uppermost public room was the 460 seat Marina Cafe on midships/aft Lido Deck. Just aft of the officers' accommodation, and adjoining the swimming pool, it served as the ship's informal buffet-style dining area. This view is facing forward in the center portion of the L-shaped room. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

Two levels below the Marina Cafe, the vast majority of MERIDIAN's public rooms were located on Horizon Deck, formerly the GALILEO's Promenade Deck. Once the First Class Lounge with its whimsical linoleum and "spindly 60's" look, the 190 seat Zodiac Club, was in the Celebrity Cruises' era, a showcase of 1990's style with a marble dance floor, reflective paneling, and pastel seating. This view is facing aft. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

An elegant oval-shaped foyer followed aft of the Zodiac Club, as seen in this starboard-facing view. Shortly after this photo was taken, staff members were stationed here to direct passengers to their muster stations during the lifeboat drill (which was a mandatory procedure as the ship prepared to sail). One can only imagine what this area was like during the SUN VISTA's final hours. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The 80 seat Interlude Bar was located just aft of the foyer just shown, with large windows on either side that looked out to the Palm Court along either side. It served as a watering hole for the Casino, just aft. This is a port-facing view. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The MERIDIAN's Monte Carlo Casino could accommodate 200 gamblers within its nondescript reflective confines. Shown in a forward-facing view, its amenities included slots, roulette, and black jack. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

One either side aft of the Casino on Horizon Deck, passages led to MERIDIAN's aftermost public rooms. While the starboard side was lined with boutiques, the port side contained the ship's 36 seat Card Room/Library. In a similar fashion to corresponding spaces aboard other Katzourakis-designed ships such as the NORWEGIAN MAJESTY (former ROYAL MAJESTY), ZENITH, and HORIZON, the inboard bulkhead is glass. This view is facing aft. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

One would continue aft of the Card Room/Library and past the Photo Gallery on the port side to reach the well-appointed 150 seat Rendezvous Lounge. The first of what has since become a tradition of rooms aboard Celebrity ships, the Rendezvous Lounge was a cabaret-style showroom and elegant gathering place. It is shown in a port/forward-facing view in this image from 21 July 1996. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The GALILEO's Tourist Class Lido became the MERIDIAN's 580 seat Celebrity Showroom. Within its single deck expanse, sightlines were obscurred by support beams, as seen in this view facing forward. Fixed arcs of banquette seating emanated from the stage, alternating with rows of swivel chairs. While ambitious for its day, it was later eclipsed by the spectacular show rooms of the current, purpose-built Celebrity ships. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

On the next lower level, Bermuda Deck, the MERIDIAN's Chapel was located forward of the Main Entrance. Left intact as originally designed for the GALILEO GALILEI, it was torn out at Norfolk when the ship was being converted to the SUN VISTA in 1997. One wonders what became of the glass panels and beautiful woodwork, although their fate would have been sealed when the ship went up in flames, anyway. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

Situated just below and very reminiscent of the Horizon Deck Foyer previously shown, the Main Entrance housed the Guest Relations, Shore Excursion, and Bank offices. This is a port-facing view. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

The Four Seasons Restaurant was located farther aft on Bermuda Deck and could accommodate 644 passengers in each of its two seatings. Carved from the remnants of the GALILEO GALILEI's Tourist Class Dining Room, it's reflective chrome surfaces were tempered somewhat by beige bulkheads and burgundy carpet and seating. This is a forward-facing view from the center of the room. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

Our deck-by-deck, top-to-bottom tour of the ill-fated SUN VISTA during her heyday as the MERIDIAN concludes with the dual-level Cinema on Caribbean and Europa Decks. The balconied space could accommodate 210 in its largely unchanged surroundings. While the color scheme had evolved and the linoleum decking was concealed beneath new carpeting, the layout and textured bulkheads date to the GALILEO GALILEI. This forward-facing view was taken from the balcony level on Caribbean Deck. Photo by and copyright Peter Knego.

Sun Cruises certainly did little to change the outward appearance of SUN VISTA, retaining the MERIDIAN's deep blue hull band and funnel color. Only the white Celebrity stripes and the large "X" disappeared in exchange for the new owner's funnel livery of a solid midnight blue base and golden sunburst logo. This stunning shot was taken by Jonathan Boonzaier in June of 1998 as SUN VISTA lay off Malacca. Copyright Jonathan Boonzaier.

SUN VISTA is shown here at the Singapore Cruise terminal on 18 October 1998 in yet another detailed study, courtesy of Jonathan Boonzaier. Her graceful Cantieri bow is marred by a newly-added housing of some sort and the pipe atop her funnel is now silver. Photo copyright Jonathan Boonzaier. The GALILEO GALILEI's sister, the GUGLIEMO MARCONI survived as Costa Cruises' vastly rebuit COSTA RIVIERA. She was sold for scrap in 2002.


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