10 of the worst maritime catastrophes

By Rhonwyn Newson

The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leaning on its starboard side after running aground. Photo / File / AP
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leaning on its starboard side after running aground. Photo / File / AP

Italy's Costa Concordia cruise ship has floated for the first time since it crashed in 2012. The luxury liner sank after hitting rocks in a tragedy which left 32 people dead.

Watch: Costa Concordia prepares for towing

Video

Today we take a look at 10 of the most disastrous maritime catastrophes in history.

10. Mary Rose

Death toll: 400

An English Tudor carrack warship and one of the first to be able to fire a full broadside of cannons, The Mary Rose was one of the earliest purpose-built warships to serve in the Royal Navy.

In 1545 King Francis I of France launched an invasion of England with 30,000 soldiers in more than 200 ships. The English had about 80 ships and 12,000 soldiers, with the Mary Rose the flagship of Vice Admiral Sir George Carew. On July 19th, 1545, the two sides fought a fairly inconsequential battle (the Battle of Solent) with little damage being done to either side. However, the next day a breeze sprang up and Mary Rose capsized and sank. All but 35 members of crew lost their lives.

9. HMS Birkenhead

Death toll: 460

HMS Birkenhead was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy. On 26 February 1852, while transporting troops primarily of the 73rd Regiment of Foot to Algoa Bay, she was wrecked at Gansbaai near Cape Town, South Africa. There were not enough serviceable lifeboats on board for all the passengers. The soldiers famously stood firm allowing the women and children to board the boats safely. Only 193 of the 643 people survived and the soldiers' chivalry gave rise to the "women and children first" protocol during the procedure of abandoning ship.

8. SS Eastland

Death toll: 845

It was a passenger ship based in Chicago and used for tours. On July 24, 1915, the Eastland and two other Great Lakes passenger steamers, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Petoskey, were chartered to take employees from Chicago's Western Electric Company to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. The ship was packed to capacity and lurched sharply to port shortly after passengers had boarded. She rolled completely onto her side, coming to rest on the river bottom, which was only 6 metres below the surface. Many passengers became trapped inside by the water and the sudden rollover; others were crushed by heavy furniture, including pianos, bookcases, and tables. Although the ship was only 6 metres from the wharf, and in spite of the quick response by the crew of a nearby vessel, a total of 841 passengers and four crew members died in the disaster.

7. MS Estonia

Death toll: 852

The Estonia, a passenger cruise ferry built in 1979, was crossing the Baltic Sea, en route from Tallinn, Estonia, to Stockholm, Sweden, on 28 September 1994. She was carrying 989 passengers and crew. A general lifeboat alarm was given, but soon after the vessel lurched some 30 to 40 degrees to starboard, making it practically impossible to move about safely inside the ship. Doors and hallways became deadly pits. Those who were going to survive were already on-deck by then. A Mayday was communicated by the ship's crew but did not follow international formats. Due to loss of power, she could not give her position, which delayed rescue operations somewhat. Out of a total of 989 passengers and crew on board 137 were saved.

6. RMS Empress of Ireland

Death toll: 1012

An ocean liner built in 1905-1906 by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering for Canadian Pacific Steamships. The Empress of Ireland departed Quebec City for Liverpool on 28 May, 1914 with 1,477 passengers and crew. Henry George Kendall had just been promoted to captain and it was his first trip down the Saint Lawrence River in command of the vessel. The following day, in dense fog, the Norwegian collier Storstad crashed into the side of the Empress of Ireland. The Storstad did not sink, but Empress of Ireland, with severe damage to her starboard side, rapidly shipping water, rolled over and sank within 14 minutes, claiming 1012 passengers and crewmen.

5. RMS Titanic

Death toll: 1517

On the night of 14 April 1912, during her maiden voyage, the "unsinkable" Titanic struck an iceberg, and sank two hours and forty minutes later, early on 15 April 1912. At the time of her launching in 1912, she was the largest passenger steamship in the world. The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1517 people, ranking it as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the most infamous.

4. Sultana

Death toll: 1800

The steamboat Sultana was a Mississippi River paddlewheeler destroyed in an explosion on 27 April 1865. It was the greatest maritime disaster in US history. Around 1800 of the 2400 passengers were killed when one of the ship's four boilers exploded and the Sultana sank not far from Memphis, Tennessee. However, the disaster received somewhat diminished attention as it took place soon after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and during the closing weeks of the Civil War.

3. MV Joola

Death toll: 1863

In more recent years, a Senegalese government-owned ferry capsized off the coast of Gambia on 26 September 2002. The disaster resulted in the deaths of at least 1863 people. The ferry Joola set sail from Ziguinchor in the Casamance region on one of its frequent trips between southern Senegal and the country's capital, Dakar. The ship was designed to carry approximately 580 passengers however, detailed reports claim almost 2000 passengers were on-board.

2. Halifax Explosion

Death toll: 1950

The Halifax Explosion occurred on 6 December 1917, when the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, was devastated by the huge detonation of a French cargo ship, fully loaded with wartime explosives. The ship had accidentally collided with a Norwegian ship in "The Narrows" section of the Halifax Harbour. Almost 2000 people were killed by debris, fires, or collapsed buildings and it is estimated that more than 9000 people were injured. This is still one of the world's largest man-made, conventional explosions to date.

1. MV Doña Paz

Death toll: 4375

The Doña Paz was a passenger ferry that sank after colliding with the oil tanker Vector on 20 December, 1987. The Doña Paz was en route from Catbalogan, on Samar Island, Philippines, to Manila when, while it was in the Tablas Strait it collided with the Vector, which was carrying 8,800 barrels of petroleum products. The Vector's cargo ignited and caused a fire that rapidly spread onto the Doña Paz, which sank within minutes. Two of the 13 crewmembers aboard the Vector survived but all 58 crew of the Doña Paz died. The official death toll on the ferry is 1565 although some reports claim that the ferry was overcrowded and that the true death toll was at least 4341.

- nzherald.co.nz

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