Top Five Maritime Disasters Other Than The Titanic

posted on 4/11/13


When James Cameron began principal photography on his billion-dollar film Titanic, he basically promised the world that teenagers would forever be versed in the story of the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage. The R.M.S Titanic earned notoriety for being one of the largest ships of its time and for its high standards of luxury. Oh, and there was that whole unsinkable-ship-loses-bet-with-fate-and-an-iceberg thing. But in the history of boats, there have been plenty of other maritime disasters that have happened without the ominous “unsinkable” tag, a phrase in it’s utter arrogant pride seems to highlight man’s eternal folly in the struggle of mastery of the sea

1. P.S. General Slocum

In its short thirteen-year tenure of patrolling civilians around New York City’s waters, the PS General Slocum gave ample credit to the old Murphy’s Law adage. The steamboat accrued a litany of mishaps before culminating in a disaster so tragic that it held the record for greatest loss of life in the New York area prior to September 11th. First, the General Slocum struck a sandbar with a force so great that it shut down the boat’s entire electric generator. Next, she ran aground off Coney Island during a storm. Naturally, the accident caused such a panic among passengers that crew members fought to calm them. After that, the steamboat collided with a tugboat, causing the General Slocum to drift aimlessly in the river before being rescued. Ignoring the other collisions and technical failures, some “intoxicated anarchists” rioted and tried to take control of the ship. At that point, the boat’s owners probably should have broken it down and sold it for scrap. But they didn’t, which brings me to June 15th, 1904. The General Slocum had been chartered by a church to bring passengers, mostly women and children, up the East River and to a picnic on Long Island. Around 10 a.m., a fire broke out in the lamp room. The boat’s captain decided to continue the course rather than run the ship aground and evacuate passengers. His decision helped fan the flames and spread the blaze. Clearly this boat’s history is fraught with bad luck, poor choices, and misery. The story gets worse. Just about every piece of safety equipment on the boat was worthless. The ship’s fire hoses were so old they were rendered useless by rot and the crew had never even practiced a fire drill even if they had a working hose to use. Life preservers had been filled with iron bars or heavy cork to meet weight requirements. Some passengers even claimed lifeboats were tied up or painted in place. By the time the General Slocum finally sank, 1,021 people had either burned to death or drowned. After an indictment by a Federal grand jury, the captain of the ship was found guilty of criminal negligence from failing to maintain proper fire drills and fire extinguishers.

2. U.S.S. Indianapolis

I could tell you the story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis but I think shark hunter Quint from Jaws can tell it better:


3. M.V. Wilhelm Gustloff

Amidst the chaos of World War II, the largest loss of life in a single ship sinking occurred off the coast of Poland. The story begins with Operation Hannibal. As the Red Army advanced, Hitler called for the evacuation of German troops and civilians in East Prussia. The evacuation was to be carried out by sea and included the use of the cruise-liner turned warship, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Hitler originally envisioned the grand cruise liner to be a vacation spot for german people, or, a floating present to the faithful followers of the Third Reich. But then the war started going south for Hitler, and the Wilhelm Gustloff–a ship that was cleared to carry 1,800 passengers safely–was soon equipped with anti-aircraft guns. On January 30, 1945, the ship had been loaded with 6,050 German refugees, according to the ship’s passenger list. But that figure did not include people who snuck on the ship without permission. Today, the accepted estimate of the actual number of passengers totals roughly 10,500. The ship left port with a tiny, one-torpedo boat escort to sail across water full of red submarines. The Wilhelm Gustloff was quickly spotted by a soviet submarine, which fired three torpedoes at its port. As the ship blew up and started to sink, an unimaginable panic breaks out on board. Since it was about six times over capacity, many refugees were trampled or avoided being trampled by jumping into the icy Baltic water. About forty minutes after being struck, the Wilhelm Gustloff had sunk and roughly 9,300 men, women, and children had lost their lives. Perhaps because the ship had been named after a Nazi commander or because it lacked the high-profile passengers that the Titanic had, the tragedy of the Wilhelm Gustloff simply became a footnote in history.

4. S.S. Mont-Blanc

In 1917, the world was embroiled in the Great War. The war helped pull Halifax out of an economic downturn when the Canadian government realized that the city could be used as an assembly and departure point for transatlantic convoys. Suddenly, the city was booming. But on the morning of December 6th, a catastrophic miscommunication between two ships resulted in the death of over 2,000 people and 9,000 injuries. At 7:30 a.m., the French ship S.S. Mont-Blanc left port to join a convoy. Along with 200 tons of TNT, the Mont-Blanc carried 10 tons of gun cotton, 35 tons of benzol, and 2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid. All you need to know about these materials is that they are highly explosive and make up the bulk of my nightmares. At the same time, the Norwegian vessel S.S. Imo was headed to New York to pick up supplies. After several poor decisions and bad maneuvers, the Imo struck the Mont-Blanc. The collision itself was not severe; however, the fire that broke out on the Mont-Blanc was devastating. The Captain and crew immediately evacuated to the Dartmouth shore and watched the ship burn and drift in the water. The ship finally crashed into a pier, where it drew crowds of spectators. Only a few officers knew what was on the ship but had no time to warn spectators. Two hours after the ship left port, the Mont-Blanc exploded, sending fiery fragments of the ship and explosives into the air. Literally everything that was remotely close to the explosion was destroyed: churches, schools, factories, docks, and people. The list is seemingly endless. As if a ship full of dynamite exploding near a town isn’t quite bad enough, the explosion created a tsunami which helped wipe out much of Halifax and their neighbor, Dartmouth.

5. The Carnival Poop Cruise

On February 10, 2013, the world learned that not all maritime disasters result in the loss of life. Early that morning, a fire broke out in the engine room of the Carnival cruise liner Triumph. Although the fire was put out automatically, the ship’s power and propulsion went down. Thankfully, no passengers or crew members were hurt or lost. However, they were left to deal with another mess. The shipwide power failure knocked out the sewage system, heat, and air conditioning. What did that mean for passengers? Hot days, cold nights, and the unmistakable stench of, well, poop. A fleet of tugboats finally pulled the ship to shore but on April 3, the Triumph broke from its mooring and went drifting down an Alabama river.

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One thought on “Top Five Maritime Disasters Other Than The Titanic
  1. ManningAgencyInManila

    As I read this article, I found out that lots of ship incidents can kill people lives. What happened in the titanic movie can was not the worst ship incident. For me, the biggest incident was when the ship explodes ’cause it loads aircraft guns. It also causes the tsunami that even kill other people lives too. The shipping companies must be very careful when they’re ship were going to sail. They should think first the safety of their passengers. They should double check their ships to lessen those kinds of incidents.

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