Founded in 1908 and to-day the biggest and most modern yard in the Fincantieri group, the Monfalcone facility is, at an international level, one of the most renowned builders of mega-cruise ships.
It began more than a century ago thanks to the Cosulich family, important shipowners who had originated on the Adriatic island of Lussino but had moved to Trieste at the end of the 19th century. They provided the main impulse behind the development of the cargo and passenger liner trades between the upper Adriatic and North and South America.
A mixture of events, among which were the devaluation of the Austrian florin against the pound sterling, the passing of a law by the government in Vienna giving subsidies for the construction of merchant ships and an agreement with the Italian government allowing their ships to embark emigrants from Italian ports, caused the Cosulich brothers to decide in 1907 to build their own shipyard.
At that time, the parts of the city of Trieste which would have been suitable for their purpose were already occupied by the San Marco yard and the Arsenal. However, the friendship between Alberto Cosulich and his former schoolfriend Alberto Rebulla, now the mayor of Monfalcone, made possible the purchase of a marshy area at Panzano, situated between the land and the sea. On this site there rapidly emerged the shipyard which to-day is the most important builder of huge cruise ships for American owners and a source of national pride, bringing large amounts of money to Italy and providing work for thousands, both direct employees and sub-contractors.
The foresight of the Cosulich family in their choice of Monfalcone for their facility has contributed to the present success of the yard, situated as it is close to important arteries of road and rail traffic but at the same time sufficiently far from large centres of population to avoid the fate of the San Marco yard in down-town Trieste which has had to be closed to make way for urban expansion. Instead, the vast open spaces around the Monfalcone yard have, over the years, made it possible to extend.
The yard was officially opened on the 3rd April 1908 with the first board meeting under the registered name of Cantiere Navale Triestino, testifying to the strong relationship of the yard with what was at the time the principal city of the province.
The first technical managers of the yard had been recruited from Scotland, at the Russell & Co. yard of Port Glasgow which had built the majority of the family’s ships in recent years, including their flagship Martha Washington.
The first yard director was James Stewart, who oversaw the construction of Monfalcone’s first ship, the steamer Trieste, delivered to the Dalmatia Steamship Company of Ragusa (the present day Dubrovnik). It was merely a year later that, on the 15th April 1910, the keel was laid of what would be the first large liner to be built at Monfalcone for the Unione Austriaca di Navigazione, which would later become the Cosulich Line. The vessel slid down the ways on the 9th September 1911 with the prestigious name Kaiser Franz Joseph I.
The Great War caused the virtual destruction of the yard and prevented the completion of three large liners which were in various stages of construction at the commencement of hostilities. The most glamorous of the trio was hull no. 39 (most probably the chosen name would have been Kaiserin Elisabeth), a three-stacker with luxurious first class quarters which was a development of the previous Kaiser Franz Joseph I. The large vessel, which should be completed and should enter service in March 1916, was almost ready to be launched when the War broke out. The hull was on the front line and was bombed by the opposing forces; the extent of the damage and the new political situation made it unreasonable to consider the recovery of the ship which, in the desperate circumstances, became a temporary office block until the yard buildings had been re-erected.
The sheer determination of the Cosulich brothers caused the yard to rise, Phoenix-like, from its ashes in a remarkably short time. It was now even larger and more modern than before. Wisely, it was now that they diversified their production to such an extent that Monfalcone became known as ‘the Great Factory’. Flying boats (some of which were for the family’s own airline), trains, trucks, buses, bridges, electrical appliances, furniture, house fittings and even pots and pans of high quality left this remarkable complex.
Despite the difficult conditions of the post-War period, the Cosulich family and the yard managers spared no effort in creating a modern ‘company town’ which was an enlightened example of understanding and co-operation between entrepreneurs and workers, pursuing common aims. Among the facilities provided were a theatre, sports grounds, kindergartens, medical facilities and shops. Farms provided much-needed food for the workers and their relatives in those difficult times, making the community self-sufficient. There was even a professional football team playing in the Serie B.
During the inter-War period, the yard experienced notable development and became well-known internationally. As a publication from the Cosulich group of the time stated: «One of the indications of the technical and organisational perfection achieved by a shipyard is its ability to win orders from abroad. It is, indeed, in the international market that the greatest battles are fought between the main shipyards of the World. Victory will only go to those who, in addition to offering a competitive price, can also guarantee vast experience and deep technical and constructional ability.»
Indeed, already in those years Monfalcone built significant liners for Spain, Portugal, the Soviet Union, Holland, Sweden and Brazil; also cargo vessels for countless countries including Britain and the United States. The most famous of the ships from Monfalcone in the inter-War days were the Saturnia and Vulcania, very notable motor liners built for the Cosulich Line, which attracted international attention to a propulsion system alternative to the traditional steam-powered plant.
Saturnia and Vulcania were ordered in 1924 to allow the Cosulich Line to remain competitive with the new buildings of Genoa-based rival companies Navigazione Generale Italiana and Lloyd Sabaudo.
For the first time, the two sister motor vessels boasted a full deck of cabins with private balconies. Their oil engines occupied half the space of a steam plant, needed half the number of engineers, offered a much prompter and easier manoeuvrability and, above all, consumed only one third of the fuel which steam turbines would have required to produce the same horse power.
Saturnia and Vulcania also anticipated the typical appearance of the new generation of liners of the 'Fifties: a single central funnel, large and low, in place of the traditional tall and slim “chimneys” of the steamers, which made the “smoke-less ships” immediately recognisable to the public.
Differently from many other leading shipyards, Monfalcone had numerous orders for passenger liners until the outbreak of the Second World War. After the completion of the first transatlantic liners built for Polland in the mid-'Thirties (Batory and Pilsudski), the yard won the international competition for the new Swedish flagship, the Stockholm, got the order for a new Ausonia for the Venice-based Adriatica and was ready to start the construction of the so-called “Super Victoria” for the Lloyd Triestino. The latter was never built, while the Ausonia, sunk at the fitting out quay during a 1944 bombing, was recovered at the end of the hostilities and completed as the Esperia. The beautiful Stockholm, which had to be almost entirely rebuilt as a consequence of a disastrous fire, was completed only in July 1941. She too was bombed in July 1944 and was set on fire. After the War, she was refloated and dismantled at the San Marco shipyard at Trieste.
THE RENAISSANCE AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Razed once more to the ground during the Second World War, the shipyard revived, concentrating above all on the construction of large passenger vessels. The motorship Guilio Cesare, launched in 1950, was the first post-War Italian liner. She was soon followed by the Africa, on of the standard combi-liners intended to re-create the fleet of the Lloyd Triestino, others smaller for foreign countries (as War reparation), until the construction, in the 'Sixties, of their two largest and fastest liners in the long history of the famous company, the twins Galileo Galilei and Guglielmo Marconi. These, eventually, would prove to be the last passenger ships in the Lloyd's history.
With the disappearance of regular passenger liner services in the 1970s as a result of the growth of air travel, Monfalcone developed vessels which were the prototypes of the modern cruise ship: the Oceanic, which entered service in 1965, sailed until 2012, a testimony to the exceptional quality of the products of Monfalcone.
During a twenty year hiatus in the construction of “white ships”, because of the oil crisis and the international political situation, the yard became part of the Italcantieri group and survived on a limited amount of work, principally building gigantic bulk carriers whose construction required the substitution of an enormous dry dock, still in use, for the former slipways.
In December, 1985, with the yard now part of the Fincantieri group which was developing an expertise in building large cruise ships, a letter of intent was signed for the construction of two ultra-modern vessels of 70,000 tons and 600 cabins. The shipowners, the Italian Sitmar Line, part of the Vlasov group, had previously built vessels in France but now showed their trust in Monfalcone by awarding it the order for their new “white ships”.
The two sister flagships entered service in 1990 and 1991 under the names of Crown Princess and Regal Princess. In fact, in 1988 the famous Anglo-American company Princess Cruises had taken over Sitmar Cruises together with their entire fleet and organisation. Although the yard still received a small number of naval and mercantile orders, these two masterpieces indicated the road which Monfalcone would follow to this day, giving it a rich future.
On the 11th January 1993, with the signing of a contract to build the Carnival Destiny, a fertile collaboration was started between Fincantieri and Carnival Cruise Lines of Miami which would keep Monfalcone in the international limelight. This ship was the first passenger vessel in the World to break through the 100,000 ton mark. The future of both companies now became deeply entwined and the successful completion of the huge ship led to the construction of a many other near-sisters, one of the biggest classes of cruise ships ever built. As a result, Carnival became the major worldwide operator in the cruise market; and Fincantieri the biggest builder.
In December 2008, on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the yard, Fincantieri embarked on a programme of restructuring and modernisation, In only eight months, the yard’s capacity for hull prefabrication was doubled with the commissioning of a couple of gantry cranes with a lifting capacity of 1,000 tons each. Subsequently, a second fitting out dock was restored record after record, ship after ship, the centenary yard is still nowadays often in the news for its latest glamorous vessels: a new Queen Elizabeth for the Cunard Line (September 2010), the twins Royal Princess and Regal Princess (May 2013 and May 2014), the Britannia (February 2015), the largest passenger ship ever to wear the P&O livery. The largest and most modern unit in the Carnival Cruise Lines fleet, the Carnival Vista, is going to be delivered in April 2016 and, besides a new sister vessel to the recent Regal Princess, Monfalcone was awarded the construction of two giants of about 154,000 tons for MSC. The first of the pair, the MSC Seaside, when delivered in November 2017 will be the largest ever built so far at the Monfalcone shipyard.
NOTEWORTHY SHIPS (preview)
Saturnia e Vulcania
Neptunia e Oceania
Pilsudski e Batory
Galileo Galilei e Guglielmo Marconi
KAISER FRANZ JOSEPH I
First liner built in Monfalcone, when she was launched on the 9th September 1911, the Kaiser Franz Joseph I was also the largest passenger ship yet built in a Mediterranean shipyard. She had an overall length of 152,4 m (500 ft), a gross tonnage of 12,578 t, a service speed of 19 knots obtained from two quadruple expansion steam engines built in Scotland; she could carry 1984 passengers in three classes...