The URSUS crane pontoon
The project for the construction of a mobile and floating structure suitable for lifting large weights had already started in 1906 from the request of the Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino for suitable lifting equipment in anticipation of important orders for the construction of large tonnage civil and military ships. In April 1913 the keel was laid and started the new construction which was launched on January 28, 1914 with the completion of the floating platform, however, without the lifting structures. A pontoon weighing 2008 tons for a length of 53.67 meters and a width of 23.93 meters. He was given the name Ursus the “good giant” taken from the novel “Quo Vadis?” by Henrik Sienkiewicz. During the war it was used for the storage of materials and blocks of the imposing military ship under construction. In 1931, with the resumption of maritime traffic and shipbuilding, the Azienda dei Magazzini Generali resumed the project to equip the pontoon with a rotating tower 75 meters high with a lifting capacity of 150 tons . The contract was awarded to the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico (CRDA).
The lifting system was entirely designed and built at the Officine Ponti e Gru, part of the same Group.
The Ursus thus became the most modern pontoon crane with swing arm in the Mediterranean and one of the most powerful in the world. The working baptism of the pontoon took place in December 1931 for the construction of the prestigious passenger ship Conte di Savoia.
In the years between the two wars there was an intense and continuous use shared equally between port and shipbuilding operations, including the positioning of the metal structure covering the internal square of the seadrome, now the headquarters of the Port Authority. During the Second World War the pontoon was used to complete the battleships Vittorio Veneto and Roma. An anecdote from the period tells of the attempted theft of the Ursus by the Yugoslav army foiled, some miles off the coast of Trieste, by the intervention of a unit of the English navy. In the post-war period, the Ursus contributed significantly to the removal of anti-submarine nets and numerous wrecks of large ships sunk along the quays and in the Gulf of Trieste. It also contributed to the reconstruction of other infrastructures in the port (cranes, warehouses, dams) seriously damaged by aerial bombardments in the last years of the conflict.
The availability of a pontoon with the characteristics and lifting capacity of the Ursus allowed between the 50s and 70s the acquisition of a specialized traffic of heavy and exceptional loads destined for the countries of South America: railway wagons, locomotives, large engines , etc.
On December 31, 1994 the Ursus carried out its last lifting with grounding in the Muggia shipyard of the Monostub “Marconi” of the Adriatic Navigation Company.
On January 1, 1995 it was disarmed and the 16 people who made up the crew were disembarked.
In 1997 the definitive dismissal of the Ursus was formalized and it was left moored in the Arsenal in a complete state of abandonment.
With his departure from the scene, the Port of Trieste was losing an important resource that would never be recovered. In fact, a few years later, the Ente Porto, to remedy the lack of a suitable lifting means, had proceeded to purchase in Australia a 250-ton self-propelled pontoon-crane called ALPE ADRIA. The new pontoon, however, proved to be a complete failure due to the poor potential shown (lifting height max 27m) minimally comparable with those of the Ursus. In 2003, Fincantieri decided to activate the demolition procedure with the identification of the company in charge of its execution. In 2004, the Auxiliary Coast Guard, including the importance and historical value of Ursus for our region, began negotiations with Fincantieri for its rescue.
On september 15, 2004 it was donated to the Auxiliary Coast Guard FVG.
Thus began the process for its safety with containment, cleaning and restructuring interventions.
In 2010, in just three months, 5000 signatures were collected for its rescue and on February 9. 2011 the Superintendence for Architectural and Landscape Heritage of the FVG Region included Ursus among the assets of cultural interest pursuant to art. 12 of Legislative Decree No. 42 of 22.01.2004 with the following wording:
“Ursus recognized as an important testimony of industrial archeology and an important element for the history of the Port and the City of Trieste.”
The episode of the Ursus “escape” on March 2, 2011, during a violent storm, has remained in the recent history of the city, when it broke the mooring lines and moved offshore, only being recovered thanks to a daring operation of tugs of the Harbor Master’s Office
In 2019 the official handover of the Ursus, from the Auxiliary Coast Guard to the property of the Port System Authority.