Walking around the port you will see an extraordinary bas-relief along the castle walls. These artistic stones tell the story of a tragic event which made headlines around the world. The tragic journey of the Greek ferry boat “Heleanna” and the rescue mission by the fishermen of Monopoli. The Heleanna was originally an oil tanker converted into a ferry boat for touristic needs. On 28th August 1971, 15 miles off the coast of Monopoli the tragedy occurred.
The Heleanna had left Patras (Greece) bound for Ancona with 1174 passengers (620 was the accepted limit) of various nationalities. A fire started in the kitchens due to a gas leak. The alarm was raised an hour later, the crew were unprepared, many poorly maintained life boats failed to descend, the life jackets were insufficient, panic and disorganisation ensued. The captain and his wife saved themselves in one of the lifeboats. The brave fishermen of Monopoli rushed to help after seeing the smoke and signals. The disaster resulted in 24 dead, 16 missing, 1089 survivors including 271 injured, 60 seriously. On 19th April 1972 the town of Monopoli, in recognition of their help and assistance during the tragedy of the Heleanna, was awarded the Medaglia Argento al Merito Civile (Silver Medal of Civil Merit) proposed to the President of Italy Giuseppe Saragat, conceded by the then president Giovanni Leone.
The citation read “The city with the highest level of civil duty and humane solidarity offered help and assistance with a true spirit of generosity for many days to the survivors”.