Row, Row, Row Your Lifeboat Gently to the Shore…

With the big hub-bub of Costa Concordia sinking off the Italian Coast, the unexpected and needless loss of life, and the bungling of the Captain/Crew many parallels are being drawn between this catastrophe and that of the Titanic.

From NationalGeographic.Com

The captain is certainly under fire along with some of the officers for how they handled the escape and rescue efforts.

Here is a link to the CNN post with the recorded statements from the Port Authority and the Italian Coast Guard Captain De Falco commanding the Captain Schettino of Costa Concordia to get back on the boat and to coordinate escape efforts.  Don’t bother with the comments at the bottom of the article, unless you want a good laugh at people’s maritime ignorance.

My favorite bit of ‘communication’:

De Falco: “Look Schettino, you might have been saved from the sea, but I will make sure you go through a very rough time…I will make sure you go through a lot of trouble. Get on board, damn it.”

… then later in the communication…

Schettino: “How many dead bodies are there?”

Port authority: “I don’t know. I know of one. I’ve heard of one. You are the one to tell me how many there are. Christ!”

Schettino:  “Are you aware that it is dark here and we cannot see anything?”

Port authority: “So? Do you want to go home Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home? Climb the ladder and get on the stem.”


Yes, I dare say, Capt. Schettino really, really wanted to go home. Honestly, I’m in love with the people telling this guy to buck up and get his ass in gear.  Besides, the name De Falco has to belong to a sexy man.

Do you not agree?

[Editor’s Note:  here is a link to an update of Captain Schettino having to remain under house arrest while his trial approaches]

[Editor’s Note (7/17/13): here is an additional update from the associated press as the trial has begun and Captain Schettino is the only defendant.]


While there is no doubt that any loss of life is tragic in this type of situation, I think it is a little unfair to compare the Costa Concordia partially sinking less than a mile off the coast to the worst (and ironic) recorded maritime disaster in the history of passenger ships.

For your educational pleasure, and partially inspired by a friend who pondered- ‘When has there been a similar ship wreck besides the Titanic?’ I bring you the following…

A list of cruise ships or ocean liners that sank during their normal operations with passengers aboard.

  • I will not be including wrecks like the Lusitania because she was torpedoed during a wartime footing and there are many that argue there were munitions on board.
  • I will not include such things as ferries (frighteningly ferries sink a LOT), barges, yachts, fishing, merchant or military vessels (that would be a huge list).
  • I’m also not bragging this is comprehensive in any way; this is a blog, not a thesis and trying to cinch down which ships reported as wrecks would qualify as ‘Cruise Ships’ or ‘Ocean Liners’ that sank during normal operations with passengers was not easy. For example, many ships are reported to have sunk, but after they were decommissioned and on their way to the ‘breakers’ as scrap.  Also it is hard to distinguish from lists on-line which were cruise ships/ocean liners and not yachts or sail boats etc. as I had to look up each name individually.

Let me get the ‘credits’ out of the way first:  I have used Wikipedia,,, (by the way CruiseBruise has a list of nearly everything that would scare the crap out of you regarding voyages– from bed bugs to pirate attacks) and even to compile my list of cruise ships and ocean liners and their sinking stories.

Passenger Ships Lost at Sea…

Achille Lauro, was a cruise ship based in Naples, Italy. Built between 1939 and 1947 as MS Willem Ruys, a passenger liner for the Rotterdamsche Lloyd. This ship experienced a lot of bad luck. Collision with the Oranje, On January 6, 1953, Willem Ruys collided in the Red Sea with running mate MS Oranje, heading in the opposite direction. At that time, it was common that passenger ships pass each other at close range (1 to 1.5 nautical miles) to entertain their passengers. During the (later heavily criticized) abrupt and fast approach of Oranje, Willem Ruys made an unexpected swing to the left, resulting in a collision. It was a near-miss disaster. Oranje badly damaged her bows. Due to the possibility she would be impounded for safety reasons, she was unable to call at Colombo as scheduled, and went directly to Jakarta. Willem Ruys suffered less damage. There was no loss of life involved. Later, it was determined that miscommunication on both ships had caused the collision. It is most remembered for its 1985 hijacking. On October 7, 1985, four PLF militants men hijacked the Achille Lauro liner off Egypt. The hijackers had been surprised by a crew member and acted prematurely. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons. The next day, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock at Tartus, the hijackers singled out Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish retired businessman who was in a wheelchair, for murder, shooting him in the forehead and chest as he sat in his wheelchair. They then forced the ship’s barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. Marilyn Klinghoffer, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. PLO Foreign Secretary Farouq Qaddumi said that perhaps the terminally ill Marilyn Klinghoffer had killed her husband for insurance money; however, the PLO later accepted responsibility, apologized, and reached a financial settlement with the Klinghoffer family. Later the ship was reflagged in 1987 when the Lauro Line was taken over by the Mediterranean Shipping Company to become StarLauro. On November 30, 1994, she caught fire off the coast of Somalia while enroute to South Africa. At that time, the cause of the fire was suggested by Italian officials to be a discarded cigarette. But in reality the fire started in the engine room by an explosion of one of the engines. Because of the lack of supervision, the fire burned out of control before discovery. The crew attempted to battle the fire for several hours but was unsuccessful. Abandoned, the vessel sank on December 2.

Admiral Nakhimov, launched in March 1925 and originally named SS Berlin III, was a passenger liner of the German Weimar Republic later converted to a hospital ship, then a Soviet passenger ship. On 31 August 1986, Admiral Nakhimov collided with the large bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev in the Tsemes Bay, near the port of Novorossiysk, Russian SFSR, and quickly sank. In total, 423 of the 1,234 people on board died.

Birka Princess, sold to Louis Hellenic Cruise Lines as Sea Diamond. The ship sank on April 5, 2007, after running aground near the Greek island of Santorini the previous day, leaving two passengers missing and presumed dead.

Club Royale, The captain and two crewmen of the Palm Beach County, Florida, casino-gambling ship Club Royale were lost at sea on August 2, 1995, when the 234-foot vessel sank before dawn in rough seas churned up by Hurricane Erin, about 90-miles east of Port Canaveral, Florida.

Explorer, more than 150 passengers and crew (91 passengers, 9 expedition staff, 54 crew) on an Antarctica cruise abandoned ship near the South Shetland Islands, 120 km north of the Antarctica peninsula, after the ship hit an unidentified object (likely ice) which put a 5 – 6 hole through both hulls, took on water and listed 25 – 30 degrees and started sinking. A distress call was issued at about 5AM GMT and passengers boarded lifeboats 90 minutes later in the dark. After 4 or 5 hours in open lifeboats in active seas, passengers were transferred from life boats to Hurtigruten’s Nordnorge which was in the area (it rescued passengers 10 months earlier when another ship went grounded in Antarctica January 30, 2007) .

Fort Victoria, sank on 18 December 1929 after being hit amidships by SS Algonquin: On 18 December 1929, Fort Victoria sailed from New York Harbor for Hamilton with just over 200 passenger on board. The weather at the time was dense fog, and Fort Victoria stopped to await an improvement in conditions. While anchored, she was hit by the Clyde-Mallory Line’s SS Algonquin, a liner which was on a voyage from Galveston, Texas to New York. Algonquin cut into the port side of Fort Victoria. Distress calls were made by both ships, which were answered by the United States Coast Guard and other ships in the area. All on board Fort Victoria were rescued before the ship sank later that day.

Jupiter, cruise liner/school ship; Greek registry; built 1961; Sunk: October 21, 1988 near Piraeus (Greece). The ship was struck by car carrier Adige in the engine room, heeled quickly and lost power. Lifeboats were unusable due to list. Ship sank in 40 minutes. Most passengers and crew transferred to small craft as water level came up to upper decks, but 25 children floated off when ship sank and were immediately picked up. 4 fatalities – one crew member had a heart attack, another struck his head on a rescue tugboat, and two were missing.”

Meridian, 1990 Former ocean liner Galileo Galilei. Sold and renamed Sun Vista (1997–1999), On 20 May 1999, the vessel suffered an engine room fire, which cut all power and caused her to sink on 21 May 1999 at 0121 hrs. All 1,090 passengers and crew were safely evacuated.

Mikhail Lermontov, On 16 February 1986 she ran aground on rocks near Port Gore in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand, and sank, resulting in the death of one crew member.

Oceanos, sank off South Africa’s eastern coast on 4 August 1991. All 571 people on board were saved, however: Realizing the fate of the ship, the crew fled in panic, neglecting to close the lower deck portholes, which is standard policy during emergency procedures. No alarm was raised. Passengers remained ignorant of the events taking place until they themselves witnessed the first signs of flooding in the lower decks. At this stage, eyewitness accounts reveal that many of the crew, including Captain Avranas, were already packed and ready to depart, seemingly unconcerned with the safety of the passengers.

Ocean Princess, sank March 1993 in the Amazon one mile downstream from Belem (Brazil). The Ocean Princess struck a submerged wreck, causing a rupture 9m x 0.12m in hull, flooding engine room and 2 decks of passenger cabins. Ship beached and passengers went ashore. No casualties.

Polar Star, 70 passengers were transferred to other IAATO vessels in the South Shetland Islands– safely returned to Ushuaia, Argentina February 6. The transfer of passenger followed an incident on January 31 in which the outer hull of the Polar Star was breached. This is not the first time the ship has floundered, in 2008, Wednesday afternoon that the Governor of Svalbard was notified that the cruise vessel Polar Star had run aground off Hornsund Wednesday afternoon. The ship had 67 passengers and a crew of 46 aboard. None of the passengers or crew came to harm.

Prinsendam, a Holland-America liner built at Shipyard de Merwede in the Netherlands in 1973, was 427 feet long and typically carried about 350 passengers and 200 crew members. The liner was sailing through the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 120 miles south of Yakutat, Alaska, at midnight on October 4, 1980, when a fire broke out in the engine room. The vessel’s master, Cornelis Dirk Wabeke (April 13th 1928 – August 16th 2011), declared the fire out of control one hour later and the Prinsendam sent a radio call requesting immediate assistance. The United States Coast Guard at Communications Station Kodiak, Alaska requested that the MS Prinsendam send out an SOS, but the captain declined. Chief Radio Officer Jack van der Zee sent one out anyway about a half hour later, which alerted nearby vessels. United States Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard helicopters and the cutters USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719), USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717), and USCGC Woodrush (WLB-407) responded in concert with other vessels in the area. The passenger vessel later capsized and sank. The rescue is particularly important because of the distance traveled by the rescuers, the coordination of independent organizations, and the fact that all 520 passengers and crew were rescued without loss of life or serious injury.

Royal Pacific, constructed in 1965, formerly named Empress of Australia collided with a fishing trawler in the Straits of Malacca with 530 aboard. Passengers had only a few minutes to get off the sinking ship in the middle of the night. The ship sank two hours after being rammed. Of the 530 aboard, 70 were injured and 30 died, some bodies never found.

Sundancer, also known as Svea Corona she was originally built as a car-passenger ferry in 1975 by Dubegion-Normandie S.A., Nantes, France for Rederi AB Svea, Sweden for Silja Line traffic. She was later rebuilt as a cruise ship and known under names MS Sundancer and MS Pegasus. On her third cruise on the US/Canadian west coast, the ship was declared a total constructive loss after hitting rocks off Maud Island, just north of Vancouver Island and being driven ashore in Duncan Bay by the captain. The ship sank (partially submerged) and was evacuated with no loss of life, though lifeboats were useless and there was considerable confusion and terror. Human error is blamed for the accident. According to Canadian investigators, following the grounding the ship anchored in Menzies Bay (16 km north of Campbell River) to assess damage. With uncontrollable flooding below decks, it headed back to open sea, limping an hour later — at 1 AM — into Duncan Bay (8 km south) where passengers were evacuated. The crew was disorganized and evacuation was largely coordinated by passengers themselves.

Wilderness Adventurer, in 2004 the ship was evacuated after striking ice and taking on water in Tracy Arm in southeastern Alaska. The ice punctured a 3 inch hole into the hull. There were no injuries and all passengers and crew were safely evacuated to another ship. The ship didn’t fully sink. Click here to read one passenger’s account.


How does Costa Concordia or any of these compare to Titanic?

RMS Titanic [from Wiki] struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, and sank on 15 April 1912, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

The largest passenger steamship in the world at the time, the Olympic-class Royal Mail Ship RMS Titanic was owned by the White Star Line and constructed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, UK. After setting sail for New York City on 10 April 1912 with 2,223 people on board, she hit an iceberg four days into the crossing, at 11:40 pm on 14 April 1912, and sank at 2:20 am on the morning of 15 April. The high casualty rate resulting from the sinking was due in part to the fact that, although complying with the regulations of the time, the ship carried lifeboats for only 1,178 people.

Titanic was designed by experienced engineers, using some of the most advanced technologies and extensive safety features of the time. The sinking of a passenger liner on her maiden voyage, the high loss of life and media frenzy over Titanic‘s famous victims, the legends about the sinking, the resulting changes in maritime law, and the discovery of the wreck have all contributed to the enduring interest in Titanic.

Many have theories about what ultimately caused the Titanic to sink, from poor engineering of the steering/propulsion to the type of metal used for the bolts and steel plating being too brittle for the impact with the iceberg.

According to Chris Radomile’s article for

The Titanic had three steam-driven propellers, with the outer two driven by piston engines and the center screw driven by a steam turbine. Steam turbines have the advantage of generally being smaller and more efficient than their piston counterparts, but have the drawback of being one-way; that is, the steam can only flow forward and the shaft can only turn in one direction.

So when First Officer Murdoch slammed the big girl into full reverse in order to avoid the iceberg, the outer two screws started turning the other way, while the center one just stopped (correctly portrayed in the movie). It sort of makes sense; if you’re trying to go backward, you don’t want one of your propellers still pushing you forward.

However, the center screw was directly in front of the rudder, and shutting it down meant less water was washing over the rudder, which crippled the ship’s handling.

Had the center prop been designed in such a way that it kept turning in the event of a reversal (or if they hadn’t reversed at all), it’s pretty likely the ship would have missed the iceberg completely, saving the lives of 1,514 people and eight dogs.

From a publication in the Associated Press by Richard Pyle

Garzke is co-author of a report on the sinking that was presented recently at the centennial meeting of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

Whether the Titanic could have stayed afloat in the North Atlantic after the collision, even if it had been made of higher-grade steel, is “problematical,” said William Garzke, a New York naval architect.

Garzke said it was impossible to know what would have kept the ship afloat without studying its hull, which is partly buried in the seabed under 12,000 feet of water. Although it has been examined closely by undersea robots, there’s no prospect of the damaged bow section ever being raised, he said.

In their report, Garzke and his four co-authors said the ship’s steel plating suffered “brittle fracture” in the 31-degree water. They said a better grade of steel might have held up longer.

The report is the latest revisionist history concerning the century’s greatest peacetime sea disaster. The Titanic’s hulk was found in 1985 by undersea explorer Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Research minisubs and robots have explored it four times since then.

Those surveys revealed much about the disaster, including the fact that the ship broke into two main pieces, and that the iceberg did not rip a 300-foot gash in the hull as originally reported.

He said the problem of brittle fracture, which lay in the composition of steel, was solved during World War II.

With the Titanic there were numerous problems; such as with hubris (setting speed records and thinking the ship was invincible), engineering and manufacturing flaws (the design of the propellers/how the steel was manufactured), not enough life-boats (though meeting the minimum regulations, which goes to show businesses will do as little as possible unless required),  a general failure on behalf of humanity to do what was right …… (the California was closer than the Carpathia; when the crew alerted the captain to strange lights in the sky (the flares!) he issued no orders, and the California’s radio operator had gone to bed) and survivors in the freezing water (28 °F (−2 °C) ) being left to die by those in the life-boats who were afraid to return and rescue them, which cultivated in the world’s worst disaster for a passenger vessel.

If only they could have predicted this would happen…

In 1898 a novel by my Morgan Robertson was published that ‘foretold’ the sinking of the Titanic 14 years before the disaster occurred.

Robertson describes his fictional ship as having a displacement of 70,000 tons; the Titanic’s displacement was only 4,000 tons less. The two ships had similar passenger capacities (about 3,000 passengers), top speed (25 knots), length (800 ft vs. 882.5 feet), and they shared numerous other features, including the lack of sufficient number of lifeboats.

In the novel, Robertson’s ship, which has a passenger list filled with wealthy and powerful people, is on its maiden voyage when it strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic on an April night and sinks.

The name of Robertson’s fictional ship?…. The TITAN.

[Excerpt from It’s a Weird World, edited by Paul Stirling Hagerman]

Now, here is a treat: My father has had this newspaper framed in his office before I was born.  I’ve grown up thinking the story of the Titanic was an astounding tale with the ship considered unsinkable and then to fail on its maiden voyage was always a little mind-boggling for me as a kid; to know so many people died thinking they were so safe.

A little piece of history that will be a century old this April 2012!!!

Click to Enlarge for Easier Reading

Click to Enlarge for Easier Reading

[Update: I found this link that takes you to the Senate Committee’s interview of the surviving wireless operator so you can see their full testimony of the ships communications. You can read it if you enlarge the images above (click on it twice), but some of the paper is folded over the story.]


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