We are right up on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the most famous shipwreck in the history of Hollywood. But few realise that the Titanic wasn’t the worst shipwreck in history — only the highest grossing. To commemorate the occasion — here are the 13 deadliest known shipwrecks of all time.
13. MS Estonia
Date: September 24, 1994
Location: Baltic Sea
Official death toll: 852
The MS Estonia was in choppy water when passengers began hearing loud metallic bangs — the sound of waves hitting the cargo doors. In a matter of minutes, they had separated, allowing water to pour into the lower deck, before the ship’s four engines cut out completely. Massive flooding kept those on the lower deck from making it out; only those on the upper deck were able to escape.
12. MV Bukoba
Date: May 21, 1996
Location: Lake Victoria, Tanzania
Official death toll: 894
The MV Bukoba was a passenger ferry known to disregard safety regulations. It had no life jackets, life rings, life vests or proper firefighting gear; it forwent regular vessel and equipment inspections. The Bukoba began to sway, causing large kitchen equipment, dishes, pots and pans to crash to one side of the ship. The loud bangs sent the passengers into a panic, and when they rushed to the deck, the ship capsized. A former captain of the Kenyan Navy called its sinking “an accident waiting to happen”.
Image via Times Live
11. HMT Royal Edward
Date: August 13, 1915
Location: 11km off Kandeliusa, Aegean Sea
Official death toll: 935
Royal Edward was a passenger ship used to transport Commonwealth troops, mostly reinforcements for the British 29th infantry during the First World War. About 10am, the ship was hit by two German torpedoes and quickly sent out an SOS before losing power. She sank stern first in just six minutes. The ship had finished conducting a boat drill and most of the men were still below decks, which accounts for the tragically high number of fatalities.
Image via Wdict
10. SS Hong Moh
Date: March 3, 1921
Location: South China Sea
Official death toll: 1000
In 1921, the passenger steamer SS Hong Moh, travelling from Singapore to Amoy (China), went down after coming into contact with the White Rocks on Lamock Island, in the South China Sea. The ship broke in half and by the time the first rescue ship arrived three days later, most of the passengers and crew had died.
Image via WreckSite
9. RMS Empress of Ireland
Date: May 29, 1914
Location: Saint Lawrence River, Pointe-au-Père, Quebec
Official death toll: 1012
The Empress of Ireland, a Canadian ocean liner, was travelling down the Saint Lawrence River in thick fog when she collided with a Norwegian collier. The collier didn’t sink, but the Empress of Ireland listed rapidly. Water poured in through the portholes, quickly drowning those below deck. It remains the worst disaster in Canadian maritime history. Her wreck lies in a shallow 40m of water, making it accessible divers, many of whom have retrieved relics from the vessel.
8. MS al-Salam Boccaccio 98
Date: February 3, 2006
Location: Red Sea
Official death toll: 1018
The al-Salam Boccaccio left port, already listing, in poor weather conditions, en-route from Duba, Saudia Arabia, to Safaga in southern Egypt. A fire broke out in the engine room, which continued to burn for some time, as the crew used buckets of seawater to extinguish the flames. The fire was temporarily put out; when it started again the captain tried to return to port, but because the drainage pumps weren’t working, water had collected in the hull, offsetting the balance and capsizing the boat. Strong winds and poor weather complicated rescue efforts, leaving dozens of dead bodies floating in the Red Sea.
Image via Disboards
7. SS General Slocum
Date: June 15, 1904
Location: East River, NYC
Official death toll: 1021
The SS General Slocum was a passenger steamboat built in Brooklyn, NY. She was carrying members of St Mark’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church to a picnic, travelling up the East River to the Long Island Sound, when a fire broke out in the lamp room. The flames grew rapidly, fuelled by lamp oil, rags, a nearby paint locker and a cabin filled with gasoline. The ship’s safety equipment was not maintained or checked — when the crew attempted to put out the flames they found a rotten fire hose, which crumbled in their hands.
The life jackets fell apart, too, and the lifeboats were inaccessible, wired in place. Ultimately, the passengers — many of whom, like most Americans at the time, did not know how to swim — jumped into the river and were weighed down by their heavy wool clothes.
6. RMS Lusitania
Date: May 7, 1915
Location: Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland
Official death toll: 1198
The Lusitania steamed out of New York, carrying a hidden cargo of munitions and contraband for the British war effort, as well as civilian passengers. She sank in a quick 18 minutes, after falling victim to a torpedo attack, which ignited the hull full of gunpowder. The event provoked an argument on both sides of the war over whether a passenger ship could be considered a legitimate military target.
5. RMS Titanic
Date: April 14, 1912
Location: North Atlantic Ocean
Official death toll: 1517
When she first set sail, the Titanic was the largest ship afloat. As we all know, she hit a giant iceberg and sank in the middle of the ocean, en-route from Southampton, England, to New York City. ‘Twas her first and last voyage.
4. SS Sultana
Date: April 27, 1865
Location: In the Mississippi River, near Memphis, Tennessee.
Official death toll: 1547
The SS Sultana was a Mississippi River steam-powered paddlewheeler that sank near Memphis, Tennessee after three of her four boilers exploded. Thought of as the greatest maritime disaster in US history, it got little attention at the time of its sinking — the assassination of John Wilkes Booth and the end of the American Civil War occurred just days before.
3. MV Joola
Date: September 26, 2002
Location: Off the coast of Gambia
Official death toll: 1863
The Joola, a Senegalese government-owned ferry designed to carry a maximum of 580 passengers had at least 2000 on board when it capsized in rough waters during a dangerous storm in late 2002. It was down in under five minutes, its passengers and luggage tossed into the sea.
2. SS Kiangya
Date: December 4, 1948
Location: the mouth of the Huangpu River, about 50 miles north of Shanghai.
Estimated death toll: 2750-3920
The Kiangya, a passenger steamship packed with refugees from the Chinese Civil War fleeing the advancing communist parties, blew up and sank after hitting what most believe was a mine leftover by the Japanese Imperial Navy. Several hours passed before rescue boats arrived.
1. MV Doña Paz
Date: December 20, 1987
Location: Tablas Strait, Philippines
Official death toll: 1565
Most of the passengers aboard the MV Doña Paz were asleep when the ship collided with the MT Vector, an oil tanker carrying 8800 barrels of gasoline and petroleum. The collision ignited a fire aboard the Vector that spread to the Doña Paz, leaving desperate passengers with no other choice but to jump into the the shark-infested waters and swim among the charred bodies. Estimates of casualties vary because of overloading and stowaways and could be as high as 4000, making this the deadliest peacetime shipping disaster, ever.