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The world’s worst cruise ship disasters

20 February 2014




Tragedies aboard cruise ships live on in infamy as the sinking of RMS Titanic, the biggest cruise disaster in history, bears witness. Ship-technology.com lists the worst ever cruise ship disasters.


SS Andrea Doria

RMS Titanic

The sinking of RMS Titanic in April 1912 remains the worst, and the most infamous, cruise ship disaster in history. The sinking of the biggest passenger ship ever built at the time resulted in the death of more than 1,500 of the 2,208 people onboard.

The accident occurred when the ship hit an iceberg while cruising at its maximum speed of 23k on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. The massive loss of life in the North Atlantic Ocean resulted mainly from hypothermia.

RMS Titanic was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by White Star Line. It was constructed by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast in three years and was designed by the naval architect Thomas Andrews.

RMS Titanic measured 269.11m in length, 28.042m in breadth, had a gross tonnage of 46,328t and comprised nine decks. The cruise ship was equipped with 20 lifeboats for 1,178 people.

The steamship's three propellers were driven by two four-cylinder, triple-expansion, inverted reciprocating steam engines and one four-blade low-pressure Parsons turbine.

RMS Lusitania

The sinking of RMS Lusitania in May 1915, after being hit by the German military submarine U-20, caused 1,201 deaths during a voyage from New York to Liverpool. She was considered the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship in the world at the time of her launch in June 1906.

The Lusitania disaster resulted in the death of many Americans and became one of the major reasons behind the US entering World War I.

The German submarine targeted the submarine as a naval ship, as it was also carrying war weapons for the British.

RMS Lusitania was built by John Brown and Co. of Scotland and completed its maiden voyage in September 1907. The steamship was owned and operated by Cunard Company; a rival of White Star Line, which owned the Titanic.

RMS Lusitania had an overall length of 239.8m, beam of 26.7m, draft of 10.2m, depth of 18.4m, gross tonnage of 31,550t and ten decks. It was designed to accmmodate 2,165 passengers and 827 crew members. It was equipped with four 375kW generator sets and possessed a service speed of 25k and a maximum speed of 26.35k.

RMS Empress of Ireland

RMS Empress of Ireland, which sank in the Saint Lawrence River in May 1914, claimed the lives of 1,012 people out of the 1,477 people onboard. It was the second major cruise ship disaster after the Titanic disaster. The Ocean Liner operated on the North Atlantic route between Quebec and Liverpool in England.

"The passenger steamship collided with the 6,000t Norwegian collier, the Storstad, following a thick fog which engulfed the river."

The passenger steamship collided with the 6,000t Norwegian collier, the Storstad, following a thick fog which engulfed the river. Just five of the 42 lifeboats could be launched into the water due to the listing of the vessel on her starboard side. The accident was aggravated by the cold conditions, failure to close the ship's watertight doors and failure to close all portholes aboard.

RMS Empress of Ireland was owned by Canadian Pacific Steamship Company. It was designed by Francis Elgar and built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering. The ocean liner was launched in January 1906 and completed her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Montreal in June 1906.

The cruise ship was 168m long, its beam measured 20m and gross tonnage was 14,191t. The ship was equipped with two steam engines and two quadruple expansion propellers, which provided a maximum operating speed of 20k.

MS Estonia

MS Estonia, formerly known as Viking Sally, Silja Star and Wasa King during different periods from 1980 to 1993, sank in September 1994 during its voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm, resulting in 852 deaths, while 137 people were saved through rescue operations.

The cruise ferry accident was caused by rough sea conditions in the Baltic Sea, when wind speeds ranged from 35mph to 45mph. The bad sea conditions forced the ship to initially list on the starboard side and later sink completely.

The ferry was constructed by Meyer Werft at its shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, in 1980. The ferry, initially named Viking Sally, was delivered in June 1980 to its first owner Rederi Ab Sally. The vessel was operated by EstLine from 1993 to 1994.

MS Estonia measured 155.43m in length, 24.21m in breadth, had a draught of 5.55m, a gross tonnage of 15,598t and featured nine decks and ten lifeboats. The vessel was equipped with four 4,400kW diesel engines connected to two propeller shafts, and had an operational speed of 21k. The cruise ferry had capacity to accommodate 2,000 passengers and 460 cars.

SS Eastland

The SS Eastland disaster in July 1915 claimed more than 844 lives out of the 2,500 people onboard. The disaster occurred when the ship listed while being still tied to a dock in the Chicago River during preparations to cruise to Michigan City.

The probable causes of the disaster are believed to be the flaws in its design and construction, inadequacy of its ballast tanks and overloading. The accident occurred when the passengers embarked the ship. The ship initially listed to the starboard side and further to portside, throwing off passengers and trapping some in the interior cabins.

SS Eastland was owned by Michigan Transportation Company and operated by Chicago-South Haven Line. It was constructed by Jenks Ship Building Company, which specialised in constructing freighters but had no prior experience in construction of passenger vessels. The vessel was launched in May 1903.

The cruise ship had an overall length of 275m, width of 38m and gross tonnage of 1,961t. It was equipped with two triple expansion steam engines, four scotch boilers and two shafts. The vessel was designed for a top speed of 16.5k. It was equipped with 11 life boats and 37 life rafts.

Saint-Philibert Cruise Ship

Saint-Philibert was a twin screw-propelled small cruise ship that met with disaster in June 1931 resulting in the loss of about 500 lives, sparing just eight passengers while on its homeward run on the Loire Estuary in France.

"The ship, which carried approximately 500 people during the voyage, exceeded the normal carrying capacity by about 80%."

The disaster was induced by harsh storms driving the passengers to take shelter behind the machinery casings, which caused the ship to list over. It was further struck by a wave causing her to sink. The ship, which carried approximately 500 people during the voyage, exceeded the normal carrying capacity by about 80%.

The inadequacy of the ship's speed to face such waves, lack of coverings for shelter and absence of communication equipment further aggravated the situation. Besides, the captain and crew were considered unqualified.

Saint-Philibert cruise ship measured 32m in length and 6.4m in breadth, and had a draft of 2.74m and gross tonnage of 189t.

SS Admiral Nakhimov

The SS Admiral Nakhimov disaster in August 1986 resulted in the death of 423 people, mostly Ukranians, out of the 1,234 people onboard. The accident occurred in the Tsemes Bay near the port of Novorossiysk enroute Sochi.

The cruise ship collided with the large bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev at a speed of five knots, causing it to sink within a few minutes. The accident was caused by negligence of the captains of the two ships. The captain of Pyotr Vasev failed to heed the warning announced from SS Admiral Nakhimov, while the captain of Admiral Nakhimov was absent on the bridge at the time of the tragedy.

The passenger liner was originally named SS Berlin III and operated on the Crimean-Caucasian line. It was owned by Norddeutscher Lloyd and constructed by Bremer Vulkan.

SS Admiral Nakhimov had an overall length of 174m, beam of 21.02m and gross tonnage of 17,053t. It had a capacity to accommodate 1,125 passengers and 354 crew, and a cruise speed of 16k.

Aleksandr Suvorov

Aleksandr Suvorov, a river cruise ship of the Valerian Kuybyshev-class, met with disaster in June 1983 resulting in the death of 176 people out of the 415 people onboard, while cruising on the Volga-Don basin in Russia. The blame for the accident was placed on the captain who failed to prevent the accident and had not provided a proper order.

Just prior to the accident, an auction to be held at the cinema hall was announced, leading the passengers to the upper deck of the ship. The ship, which was cruising at a speed of about 13.5k at the time, crashed onto a bridge, failing to pass through the second span of the bridge. A freight train passing through the bridge was also affected by the crash, causing some cars to derail and fall on the ship.

Volga-Don Shipping Company was the operator of the ship at the time. Slovenské Lodenice constructed the vessel in Komárno, Czechoslovakia. The ship was restored after the accident and is currently operated by Vodohod.

Aleksander Suvorov has an overall length of 135.75m and width of 16.8m, and is comprised of four decks. It can accommodate 400 passengers and 83 crew, and runs on a 6CHRN36/45 (EG70 -5) diesel engine.

SS Morro Castle

The SS Morro Castle disaster in September 1934 resulted in the loss of more than 137 passengers and crew out of the 318 passengers and 240 crew onboard. The cruise ship was on its 174th return voyage to New York City from Havana.

"The disaster was caused by a fire, which emanated from the cruise ship's library and engulfed the entire ship."

The disaster was caused by a fire, which emanated from the cruise ship's library and engulfed the entire ship. The fire was worsened by bad weather, inadequate crew and the ship's design, which incorporated easily flammable interior materials. Just 12 lifeboats were launched out of the many lifeboats capable of rescuing 408 people.

The ship was owned by Agwi Navigation Co. and operated by Ward Line. It was constructed in 1930 at a cost of approximately $5m by Newport News Shipbuilding. The vessel completed her maiden voyage in August 1930 and served Ward Line along with its sister vessel SS Oriente for four years.

SS Morro Castle was 155m long, 21.6m wide and 11.9m deep, and had a capacity to carry 489 passengers and 240 crew. The steam turbo-electric liner was propelled by two turbines and sailed at a speed of 20k.

SS Andrea Doria

The SS Andrea Doria collided with the eastbound Swedish passenger liner Stockholm due to poor visibility caused by a thick fog. The disaster took place in July 1956 near the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, while cruising towards New York City resulting in the death of 52 people, while 1,660 people were rescued.

It is considered the world's first major radar-assisted collision at sea, as the cause of the accident is assumed to be from the misreading of the radar. It was struck just aft and below the starboard bridge, and sank after 11 hours.

The ocean liner was owned by Italian Line and constructed by Ansaldo Shipyards of Genoa, Italy, at a cost of approximately $30m. It was launched in June 1951 and set out on its maiden voyage in January 1953.

SS Andrea Doria measured 212m in length, had a beam of 27m and a gross tonnage of 29,100t. It featured ten decks and was equipped with two steam turbines providing a top speed of 23k.

The lessons learnt from the sinking of RMS Titanic led to major improvements in maritime safety.
RMS Lusitania, which sank in 1915, was fitted with four triple blade propellers.
A scale model of the Ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland which sank in May 1914.
EstLine's MS Estonia, constructed by Meyer Werft, sank in September 1994 during its voyage from Tallinn to Stockholm.
SS Eastland listed while tied to a dock in the Chicago River, killing 844 people in July 1915. Image courtesy of UpNorth Memories – Donald (Don Harrison).
Saint-Philibert was a small cruise ship that met with disaster in June 1931 killing about 500 people.
SS Admiral Nakhimov (originally named SS Berlin III) killed 423 people when it collided with the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev.
Aleksandr Suvorov, a river cruise ship, took the lives of 176 people in June 1983, when it met with disaster caused by human error.
The SS Morro Castle caught fire in September 1934 killing more than 137 people.
The sinking of SS Andrea Doria in July 1956 resulted in the loss of 52 lives.