25 Greatest Maritime Disasters In History

Posted by , Updated on March 24, 2024

Ever since people realized that wood floats, history has been filled with an immeasurable number of shipwrecks. Although people have tried in vain to build unsinkable ships, the ocean will not be tamed. In this list we’re going to go back and take a look at the 25 Greatest Maritime Disasters In History (and yes the Titanic is on there).
Please note this list does not include wartime disasters.

HMS Sussex

HMS Sussexhttp://www.andalucia.com/history/hmssussex.htm

The HMS Sussex was trapped in a severe windstorm, also known as a levante, on 1 March 1694 off Gibraltar. The captain and crew did attempt to escape the storm, but once water began to fill their gun ports, it was a swift ending. Out of a crew of 500 people, there were only two survivors.



Ottoman frigate Ertuğrul


The Ottoman frigate Ertuğrul sank on September 18th, 1890 after striking a reef while in a typhoon off of Kushimoto, Japan. The crew had only set sail home three days prior, after a three month stay in Yokohoma. The maritime accident resulted in the loss of 587 sailors, including Admiral Ali Osman Pasha. There were 69 survivors.


RMS Atlantic

RMS Atlantic wreckhttps://www.maritime-executive.com/features/the-sinking-of-rms-atlantic

On March 31st, 1873 at 3:12am, the RMS Atlantic Crashed into a rock off of Marr’s Head in Nova Scotia. All of the side boats were washed away at sea, causing a massive death toll. Out of approximately 950 people, 562 people perished, including all of the women on board. Only one child survived.

This event was the second worst ship crash for White Star Shipping Line, whose first worst crash was the Titanic.


SS Grandcamp

ss grandcamp

On 16 April 1947, the French registered ex-liberty ship caught fire and exploded dockside, while being loaded with ammonium nitrate at Texas City, Texas. In what came to be called the “Texas City Disaster,” an estimated 581 people were killed, including 28 firefighters. There were also 5,000 people injured.


SS Princess Alice

princess alice

On 3 September 1878, the Princess Alice was on the River Thames, when it sunk in a collision with the collier Bywell Castle. Over 650 people died, making it the greatest loss of life in any Thames shipping disaster.


SS Norge

ss norge

On 28 June 1904, the Norge ran aground close to Rockall on St. Helen’s Reef. The collision caused the ship to sink, with the final death toll at 635 with 160 survivors, who spent up to eight days in open lifeboats before rescue.


MV Princess of the Stars

princess of the starshttps://newsinfo.inquirer.net/383095/what-went-before-sinking-of-mv-princess-of-the-stars

On 21 June 2008, the ferry Princess of the Stars capsized and sank in Typhoon Fengshen off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon, in the Philippines.  The sinking occurred after the ship entered into the eye of Typhoon Frank. Of an estimated 800 people aboard, only approximately 57 survived.


SS Camorta

SS Camorta

On 6 May 1902, the Camorta was caught in a cyclone when she sank en route from Madras, India, to Rangoon, Burma, while crossing a section of sea called the Baragua Flats.  This resulted in the loss of all 655 passengers and 82 crew. 


HMS Bulwark

hms bulwark explodinghttp://www.wessexwfa.org.uk/articles/hms-bulwark.htm

On 26 November 1914, a powerful internal explosion ripped the Bulwark apart in the River Medway estuary. All 51 of her officers were lost, and out of 750 sailors, only 14 sailors survived. Five would later die of their wounds, leaving only 9 survivors total. There is no definite explanation as to what caused this explosion.


HMS Royal George

royal george

While moored at Portsmouth in August 1782, the ship heeled too far and began taking water in through the gun ports before sinking. More than 800 lives were lost.


HMS Vanguard

hms vanguard

Just before midnight on 9 July 1917 at Scapa Flow, HMS Vanguard suffered an explosion and sank almost instantly, killing an estimated 843 men and leaving only two survivors. The cause of the explosion is believed to have been due to a faulty cordite.


SS Eastland

ss eastlandhttps://allthatsinteresting.com/ss-eastland-disaster

On 24 July 1915, while moored to the dock in the Chicago River, The SS Eastland rolled over completely onto its side, crashing into the River. The ship had reached its capacity load of passengers which was over 2,500 people, causing the ship to roll over, killing 845 passengers and crew.



MS Estonia

ss estonia modelhttps://owlcation.com/humanities/The-Sinking-of-the-MS-Estonia

The MS Estonia sank in heavy Baltic seas on 28 September 1994, claiming 852 lives. The front section of the ship, known as the “visor,” which opened to allow vehicles on and off, had been damaged by the pounding of the waves. This damage caused a hinge to fail, resulting in the visor separating, flooding the ship with water.


PS General Slocum

ps general slocumhttps://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-spectacle-of-horror-the-burning-of-the-general-slocum-104712974/

The General Slocum caught fire and sank in New York’s East River on 15 June 1904. The crew attempted to put the fire out, but the hoses had burst due to being rotten. This resulted in the death of over 1,000 people, making it New York City’s worst loss-of-life incident until the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.


MS Al-Salam Boccaccio 98

MS Al-Salam Boccaccio 98https://www.redseawreckproject.com/2013/08/18/al-salam-boccaccio-98/

On 3 February 2006, the passenger ferry Al Salam Boccaccio 98, carrying 1,312 passengers and 96 crew members, sank in the Red Sea. The ship had reportedly caught on fire somewhere below deck, causing water to fill below deck. At the same time, high winds and large waves eventually caused the ship to capsize. Approximately only 400 people survived out of the 1400 passengers on board.


RMS Empress of Ireland

RMS Empress of Irelandhttps://www.pbs.org/lostliners/empress.html

On 29 May 1914, the Empress of Ireland sank after colliding with SS Storstad on the Saint Lawrence River. The main culprit as to what caused this crash was the dense fog, which made sight nearly impossible to both ship crews. Of the 1,477 passengers on board, 1,012 people died.


Tōya Maru

toya maruhttps://www.britannica.com/event/Toya-Maru-ferry-disaster

This Japanese passenger ferry sank during Typhoon Marie in the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu on 26 September 1954. The voyage had originally been canceled due to the whether; however, the captain decided to depart once they believed the weather had improved. This fatal error lead to an estimated 1,500 deaths.


Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707

Scilly Naval Disaster of 1707http://maritimehistorypodcast.com/scilly-naval-disaster-22-october-1707-o-s/

On an October night in 1707, a Royal Navy fleet made several fatal miscalculations, such as their latitude position, leading them to sail through dangerous reefs west of the Isles of Scilly. Overall, four ships sank, leaving nearly 2,000 sailors dead.


RMS Titanic


Possibly the most well known maritime accident in history, the RMS Titanic was supposedly unsinkable, but after striking an iceberg en route to New York City, it left 1,523 people dead. This cruise ship disaster has been the inspiration for hundreds (if not thousands) of books, news articles, and of course, movies.


Tek Sing

tek sing

Referred to as the “Titanic of the East,” this Chinese junk ship struck a reef near Indonesia and sank on 6 February 1822. The ship was carrying 1,200 passengers and 200 crew members, of which only 190 people survived.


SS Sultana


The SS Sultana was a steamboat paddlewheeler returning Union soldiers home from Confedarate prison camps, weeks after the Civil War. On April 27, 1865, the boat exploded due to the boilers exploding. It’s been called the greatest American maritime disaster in history, with over 1,600 lives lost.


MV Le Joola

MV Le Joolahttps://answersafrica.com/le-joola-disaster.html

This Senegalese government-owned ferry capsized off the coast of Gambia on September 26, 2002. The Capsizing occurred when the ship went too far away from the coast and right into a storm. There were only 64 survivors who were not rescued until the next morning, leading to a death toll of nearly 4,000.


SS Mont-Blanc

halifax explosion

Responsible for the infamous Halifax Explosion of 1917, this French ammunition freighter exploded in Halifax Harbor, Nova Scotia, after colliding with another ship. The blast killed over 2,000 people and injured 9,000 more.


SS Kiangya

SS Kiangya

This Chinese steamship exploded upon striking a mine (probably left by the Japanese navy) on the Huangpu River in 1948. It was packed with refugees from the Chinese Civil War, so the exact death toll is not known, but some estimates put it near 4,000.


MV Doña Paz

dona paz

Called the greatest peacetime maritime disaster in history, in 1987 the sinking of the MV Doña Paz led to 4,341 deaths with only 24 survivors. The ferry was en route to the capital of the Philippines when it collided with an oil tanker, leaving both ships and the surrounding ocean to light up in flames.

Photo: Featured Image - (Public Domain), 1. lindsaybridge, Doña Paz at Tacloban, CC BY-SA 2.0 , 2. (Public Domain), 3. (Public Domain), 5. (Public Domain), 6. alchetron.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, 7. (Public Domain), 8. (Public Domain), 9. (Public Domain), 10. (Public Domain), 11. Carlo Martinelli, "Al-Salam Boccacio 98" - Genoa, 2001, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 12. (Public Domain), 13. Stan Shebs, MS Estonia model, CC BY-SA 3.0 , 14. (Public Domain), 15. (Public Domain), 16. (Public Domain), 17. (Public Domain), 18. (Public Domain), 19. (Public Domain), 20. (Public Domain), 21. (Public Domain), 22. http://mfame.guru/ (Fair Use: Illustrative Purposes Only), 23. (Public Domain), 24. By Commodore Osman Nuri (1839-1906) - , photographed at Istanbul Navy Museum, Public Domain, Link, 25. (Public Domain)