Portents

The Principessa Mafalda was on its 90th round trip to Argentina when it sailed from Genoa on the 11th of October 1927. Normally, the trip to Bs As took 17 days with intermediate stops in Barcelona, San Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands, Rio de Janeiro, Santos and Montevideo. Retrospectively, the shipping company announced that this 90th voyage would have been the Mafalda’s last on this route and that it was to be moved to the Genoa-Alexandria route. It would be replaced by the Augustus.

The wife of Captain Guli later reported that her husband had felt that the voyage would end badly and that he had asked to be transferred off the ship. The Italian press claimed that the ship had been in bad condition and that this was known in London shipping insurance circles. The shipping company denied this stating that its clearance from the Italian Emigration authorities was valid until 1929.

However, the last trip of the Mafalda would bear out the view of the critics. The problems on board became apparent as soon as the ship left the Mediterranean. One passenger had witnessed the loading of a spare connecting rod (una biela) in Genoa which he interpreted as being a sign that problems were already evident. The ship left Genoa at 1700 hours, 5 hours behind schedule.

It left Barcelona many hours after its scheduled departure time (though the explanation for this delay is not revealed). The ship stopped various times on the high seas. At one stage the ship was motionless for 30 hours. The ship was very far behind schedule, with the arrival in Rio supposed to have been on the morning of the 25th. At that point the Mafalda was still way off the northern coast of Brazil. There had been various other problems on route including the pumps not functioning, no water in bathrooms and toilets and a failure of the refrigeration system that resulted in tonnes of food being dumped overboard. The third class passengers were already spooked by the commentaries of the crew. The situation worsened on the 23rd when some passengers concluded that the ship was taking water and a boatdrill was called by the captain. The next day, there was another boatdrill and the ship had a list of 7º to 10º to the port side.
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