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‘World’s most beautiful ship’ heading to Malta

The Italian Navy’s training ship Amerigo Vespucci left the port of Livorno on Tuesday and after embarking naval academy cadets for their training course continued on its way to Malta.

What has been described as “the world’s most beautiful ship” is expected to arrive on Monday and then, if the weather holds, she will drop anchor off Gozo.

In 1935, together with her twin naval training ship Cristoforo Colombo, which was irreparably damaged after the war, the Vespucci had called at Grand Harbour for the first time.

After the defeat and break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I and the disappearance of its navy it seemed that Italian naval policy in the Mediterranean had been made simpler. The Italian Navy was prepared to confront a single enemy, France, while a de facto alignment with Britain was taken for granted.

This was, at least, the thinking of the Italian Navy High Command, which now clashed with the policy of the fascist regime that was ready to overturn the system of alliances on which, historically, it had relied. The change in alliances became very evident in the decade starting with Benito Mussolini’s declared intention of occupying the British fortress of Malta, helped along by his conviction that the European democracies were weak and decadent and that they would never go to war to defend other countries. He dreamt of Italian colonial domination in the Mediterranean.

The political climate between Italy and Great Britain was certainly not at its best when, at 9.15 a.m. on February 19, 1935, the Vespucci arrived at Malta. Shortly after berthing, she fired a 17-gun salute to the Commander-in-Chief of the British Naval squadron stationed in the Mediterranean.

The local government was not happy at the enthusiastic reception the Italian community in Malta gave to the crew of the school ship but relations between the crews of the two navies were quietly marked by mutual esteem.

Admiral Sir William Words­worth Fisher, who had to take part in his squadron’s naval manoeuvres, declined an invitation to lunch on board the Vespucci and instead sent Commander Bertram Ramsay of the Royal Sovereign, who, in turn, reciprocated by inviting his Italian counterpart on board his ship the next day. And in the afternoon of the same day, Lady Fisher, wife of the Commander-in-Chief, invited the captain and some officers from the Vespucci to her residence for tea.

“Admiral Fisher, who ever since our visit had expressed to me his wish to visit the Vespucci, came aboard in a private capacity. He watched proceedings from the general steering post”, the Vespucci’s commanding officer wrote in his report. He added that “the same admiral had already been on board” at Villefranche during the last visit to the Italian ship since HMS Queen Elizabeth happened to be there at the same time.

The commanding officer in-cluded in his report the following telegram that was sent to him in Italian: “I cannot allow you to leave Malta without expressing my deepest admiration for the beauty of your vessel, of the skill with which the entry into harbour and the departure were carried out. Clearly, your vessel rightly carries the name of a great explorer. Sir, I am very pleased to congratulate you on the excellence of your navigation. (Signed) Admiral Fisher”.

The unusual form of the communication is testimony to the excellent relations between the officers, petty officers and men of the two navies and the crew of the Vespucci.

A friendly football match had also been held between a team from the Vespucci and a team from the Queen Elizabeth, with the British team winning 2-1. Even though Italy had recently won the World Cup, the British once again felt they were better at football and, at the end of the game, there were shouts of “Hip! Hip! Hooray!” rather than the fascist “Eja! Eja! alalà”!

The Vespucci left Grand Harbour in full sail at 10 a.m. on February 23, 1935 as the British warships saluted the Italian vessel and played the Marcia Reale rather than the fascist hymn Giovinezza, as was the custom in Italy.

1931 launch

The Amerigo Vespucci last visited Malta in 1993.

The sailing ship, which is 101 metres long and equipped with an engine and three vertical masts, was built at the Regio Cantiere Navale of Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples, where it was launched on February 22, 1931, on the 50th anniversary of the naval academy’s foundation.

Amerigo Vespucci is the naval training ship par excellence, having been in service for 80 years to train future officers of the Italian Navy.

The ship also carries out the role of ambassador for culture and Italian naval tradition as it takes part in several important activities and events all over the world. Its motto is Non chi comincia ma quel che persevere (Not those who begin, but those who persevere), a sentence attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

The ship is expected to be open to the public on Monday between 3 and 7 p.m. and on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 3 to 6.30 p.m.

For further information visit the websites of the Italian Embassy (www.amblavalletta.eteri.it) or of the Italian Cultural Institute (www.iicvalletta.esteri.it).

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