SS Maria Elena exploded and sank near Nantucket Island, Massachusets after being torpedoed by the HMS Sanderson Berckeley September 5, 1940.
Following the end of World War I, many shipping companies were waiting to have enough money to build new liners. Italiano Liners & Crociere Internazionale ordered two new 30,000 gross tons transatlantic ocean liners to Ansaldo shipyard. The first ship was launched in 1927 and christened Maria Elena. Her interior was decorated in Baroque style.
The Maria Elena was equipped with geared steam turbines, unlike SS Victoria Graza, her sister ship, which was powered by Diesel engines. She had an entirely steel hull, while the engine apparatus, including eight turbines connected in couples to four axes, and whose steam was provided by 13 boilers, allowed her a speed of 22 knots. The ship could house 1,705 passengers (405 first, 300 second, 300 intermediate, 700 third class).
Her two funnels were repainted into the Italian Line's colors after her company merged with Lloyd Sabaudo and Cosulich Line to form the new Italian Liners & Crociere Internazionale. In 1933 the intermediate class was replaced by the touristic one. The main deck was covered with teak.