Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cruise Ship Disasters: Introduction

Boy selling newspapers with headline about the sinking of the Titanic, April 16, 1912, London (© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis)
Traveling by ship is safer than ever. Twenty-eight people died worldwide aboard cruise ships between 2002 and 2011, according to a GP Wild International study commissioned by the cruise ship industry. That report preceded the January 2012 capsizing of the Costa Concordia, but even its casualties were few compared with a century ago, when the Titanic was just one of four shipwrecks, over a three-year period, that involved more than 1,000 fatalities. 

Titanic, April 15, 1912

Illustration of the Titanic striking an iceberg south of Newfoundland, 1912 (© Heritage Images/Corbis)
Titanic’s1,517 casualties don’t make it America’s deadliest marine disaster. That distinction belongs to the Sultana, a Mississippi River steamer whose boiler exploded near Memphis, Tenn., in 1865, killing more than 1,700, according to National Geographic. But the Titanic continues to haunt us a century later, and not just because of the big-budget movie. It sank on its maiden voyage, and its opulent guest list, filled with members of New York’s high society, gave it an air of glamour. Technological advances were supposed to have made it unsinkable, and the mental image of the enormous ship — and many of its passengers — plunging 2 1/2 miles, bow first, to the bottom of the Atlantic is unforgettable.

Costa Concordia, Jan. 13, 2012

Wreck of the Costa Concordia, near Giglio, Italy (© Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
Thirty-two people died when Concordia hit the rocks off the Mediterranean island of Giglio. Capt. Francesco Schettino was accused of abandoning ship before all of the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew members were evacuated and the vessel listed to one side. Six weeks later, an engine room fire left its sister ship Costa Allegra adrift in pirate-infested waters for three days before it limped into port in the Seychelles islands.  

Andrea Doria, July 25, 1956

Andrea Doria sinking off Cape Cod, 1956 (© Bettmann/Corbis)
The pride of the Italian fleet at the time, the Andrea Doria was the country’s largest, fastest and safest passenger ship. But after crashing into the Stockholm about 45 miles south of Nantucket, Mass., the vessel teetered to one side before sinking 11 hours later. A well-coordinated rescue effort prevented the accident from becoming a titanic tragedy: 1,660 passengers were saved, while 51 people died — 46 from the Andrea Doria and five from the Stockholm. 

Príncipe de Asturias, March 5, 1916

Principe de Asturia passenger liner (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
The Spanish-flagged passenger liner Príncipe de Asturias plied the waters between Barcelona, Spain, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The ship crashed into a reef off the coast of Santos, a city in southeastern Brazil, tearing a massive hole in its hull. Water quickly filled the hole, causing the boiler to explode, and the ship sank in minutes, taking more than 400 people with it. 

Achille Lauro

Achille Lauro the day after it caught fire in the Indian Ocean near Somalia, 1994 (© Ricardo Mazalan/AP)

Four terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front commandeered this Italian ill-fated cruise ship on Oct. 7, 1985, taking more than 400 passengers and crew members hostage. When the Syrian government wouldn’t let the ship dock in the port of Tartus, the terrorists killed passenger Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled American passenger, and threw his body overboard. The hijackers were ultimately caught and convicted, but the Achille Lauro sank off Somalia on Nov. 30, 1994, after an engine room fire surged out of control, forcing nearly 1,000 passengers to abandon ship and killing two. 

Lusitania, May 7, 1915

Cunard Line poster advertising transatlantic service on the Lusitania & Mauretania ships, 1907 (© Heritage Images/Corbis)
The most luxurious ship of its time featured original artwork and mahogany paneling. The Lusitania’s swift top speed — 26 knots — was supposed to protect it against German submarine attacks during World War I, but fog slowed it as it neared Ireland’s County Cork coast. A German U-boat torpedo sank the Lusitania 18 minutes, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. A monument recalls the incident in the town of Cobh, which was also the Titanic’s last port of call.  

The Empress of Ireland, May 29, 1914

Crowds gather outside the Canadian Pacific Railway office for news of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, 1914 (© Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Canada’s deadliest maritime disaster isn’t memorialized by any Gordon Lightfoot ballads, but it claimed 1,012 lives, or 35 times as many as the Edmund Fitzgerald. The 1,477-passenger Empress of Ireland was bound for Liverpool, England, from Quebec City. While steaming down the St. Lawrence River it collided with the Storstad, a Norwegian coal cargo ship. For 14 minutes, the Empress lay to one side, making starboard lifeboats inaccessible, before sinking. Many of the dead were buried in a cemetery in nearby Métis-sur-Mer, Quebec, which features a monument to the tragedy.

Norge, June 28, 1904

SS Norge passenger liner at sea (Courtesy of Library of Congress/Via Wikimedia Commons)
Before the Titanic, this was the deadliest civilian maritime disaster on record. Danish passenger ship Norge left Copenhagen for New York City, but crashed into a reef near Rockall, an uninhabited island northwest of Scotland. Because its lifeboats could hold only a fraction of the nearly 800 passengers on board, more than 600 died. The 160 who did make it into lifeboats were afloat for a week before being rescued.   

Utopia, March 17, 1891

Sketch of the sinking of SS Utopia by Georgina Smith (Courtesy of the Gibraltar Museum/Via Wikimedia Commons)
The Utopia, carrying 880 passengers from Italy to New York, was attempting to anchor in Gibraltar when a wave thrust the ship across the bow of the British ironclad battleship Anson. The collision pierced the Utopia’s hull, causing it to sink in less than 20 minutes. Rough weather hampered rescue efforts; the 562 casualties included two sailors from another ship who died while trying to help.

Admiral Nakhimov, Aug. 31, 1986

SS Admiral Nakhimov sailing under her original name, Berlin III, 1925 (© Courtesy of Library of Congress/Via Wikimedia Commons)
The Admiral Nakhimov was a 1925 German ship that had seen duty as a Nazi hospital. In 1949, the Soviets made it the flagship of their Black Sea passenger fleet. Between Novorossiysk and Sochi, it was struck by the cargo ship Pyotr Vasev, filled with Canadian oats and barley. The 61-year-old Admiral Nakhimov sank in just seven minutes, taking the lives of 425 passengers and crew. 
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