Steam tug Pietro Micca, 1895
Pier Paolo Giua
I got to know Pietro Micca through the pages of a famous Italian nautical magazine where an Italian student, Gianluca Spinelli, had published an appeal hoping that the oldest commercial work boat in Italy, where his grandfather and father had been employed for over 50 years, would not be demolished.
It was 1996 and I immediately fell in love for the last tug boat with Italian flag. With a group of friends we created the “Associazione Amici delle Navi a Vapore” (Steam Boat’s Friends Association), raised funds for this operation, and all the energies of my family and my Shipyard were then dedicated to this new undertaking.
The history of Pietro Micca, a boat from the last millennium, was not over. We brought the tug from Naples to Fiumicino, to our Shipyard Tecnomar, and we started the refurbishing works, as well as some historical research on the past of this magnificent boat.
The tug was launched in 1895 with the name of Dilwara, together with a twin tug, in the Rennoldson and Sons Shipyards in Southshields, Newcastle. The same Shipyard built also the steam machine, a vertical triple–expansion piston engine with slide- valve distribution, that still operates perfectly today and serves the ship’s needs. After the launch, the tug worked in various harbours in Great Britain until 1905, when it was bought by “Società Fagliotti-Merlino e figli”, that registered it as a steam-powered tug, Schooner Class, in the Coastal Sector Register in Naples. Its new name was “Pietro Micca”, celebrating the Italian hero that, in 1705, saved the town of Turin, at that time besieged by the French army, with the sacrifice of his own life.
In the Tyrrhenian Sea the Pietro Micca worked towing pontoons for the construction of wharves quays for many Mediterranean ports (Sorrento and Capri, Ischia, Procida, Massalubrense, Torre del Greco and Naples).
Later, during the years of World Wars, it had its role in the war: with a new grey-painting makeup, a machine gun installed at prow, was used in war operations with the Italian Army; serving also as a mine-sweeper .
As the wars were over the boat was on duty again as a tug; in this period the original machine was modified. In 1952 two new furnaces were installed.
In 1975 Pietro Micca was bought by “Società Sargenavi”. At this point its duty changed again: it would produce steam power to the U.S. Navy fleet in Naples, helping to keep the machines at work. During maintenance work on the boilers of these vessels, something had to keep all their other services active: the galleys, the engine room and all ancillary systems such as pumps, central heating, etc… And what could supply their requirements – and provide itself with much-needed employment – better than a STEAMER!
With this new activity the steam tug earned his living for another 20 years. When this task was over, Pietro Micca was finally unemployed: it was 1993. This is when all the efforts to avoid its demolition started, and the publication of the article by Gianluca Spinelli took place. Gianluca, who tragically lost his life in an accident, unfortunately did not have time to see his dream fulfilled.
The tug boat was then faithful refurbished here at Tecnomar (www.tecnomar.net) with a special attention in maintaining all the original machines and gears: nowadays everything works, like over a century ago. In summer Pietro Micca works for an important environmental association for the monitoring of pollution in the waters of the seas around Italy; and in winter, besides works of towage, it is open to visits for schools and the public here at his home-quay Tecnomar.
It is our aim to promote and develop, in the future, the activity of Pietro Micca as a point of reference for historical knowledge and nautical culture in central Italy, and to gain recognition by the institutions for its high historical value.