Merchant ships are a critical piece of worldwide movement of goods and materials around the world, and on occasion, they run into problems. The following shipwrecks range from small-scale tragedies to unforgettable catastrophes, capturing headlines worldwide when they occurred.
Longtime residents of New Orleans still discuss the plight of the White Alder, a former Navy YF-257-class lighter assigned to tend river aids-to-navigation and various other Coast Guard duties. The ship met its demise in the early evening of December, when it collided with a 455-foot Taiwanese freighter in the Mississippi River near White Castle, Louisiana, killing 17 of the 20 crew members. Just three of the dead were recovered due to the thick river sediment that quickly buried the cutter. More than 40 years later, 14 crewmen remain at the bottom of the Mississippi.
Perhaps America’s most famous modern shipwreck, the Edmund Fitzgeraldis still a fresh wound for the families of the 29 crew members who perished that night. When it was launched, it was the biggest ship on the Great Lakes, and its large hauls made it extremely valuable during its 17-year run. En route to a steel mill near Detroit from Superior, Wisconsin, the freighter encountered a winter storm with hurricane-force winds that created 35-foot waves. With a bad list, broken radars and water engulfing the deck, it sank 17 miles from Whitefish Bay. No distress signals were sent out, and Captain Ernest McSorley, who planned to retire at the end of shipping season, last reported “We are holding our own.”
A former UK Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food trawler, the Rainbow Warrior was operated by Greenpeace to curtail whaling, seal hunting and nuclear testing, most notably evacuating 300 Marshall Islanders from Rongelap Atoll, a former US nuclear testing area. Docked in a harbor in New Zealand, it suffered two large, crippling explosions that sent it under water — photographer Fernando Pereira was killed when he returned to the ship to collect his equipment as the second explosion occurred. Two French secret service agents were arrested, and the nation denied involvement until a British newspaper revealed French President Francois Mitterrand authorized the plan. The scandal resulted in several high-profile resignations in the French government.
During the early stages of its trip across the English Channel from Zebrugge to Dover, the Herald of Free Enterprise began taking on water, listing and then capsized in just 90 seconds. The sudden turn of events ended with the deaths of 193 people, many of whom were overcome by hypothermia in the 3-degree Celsius waters. One man disappeared after he made himself into a human bridge to save his wife, daughter, and other passengers. Failure to close the bow doors resulted in the worst peacetime maritime disaster for a British-registered ship since the Titanic disaster 75 years earlier.
Never before has there been a worse ferry disaster. The Dona Paz, en route from Tacloban City to Manila in the Philippines amid choppy seas, collided with the MT Vector, an oil tanker carrying 8,800 barrels of gasoline. Most of the passengers were asleep, so few had time to react as a fire aboard the Vector spread rapidly to the Dona Paz. With life jackets locked away and a confused crew, the passengers’ chances of survival were slim. Philippine maritime authorities heard about the accident eight hours later, taking an additional eight hours to conduct search and rescue operations. Just 26 survived from both ships; the estimated number of passengers who died varies, ranging from just more than 1,500 to 4,000.
As the largest ship belonging to the recently liberated Estonia, the MS Estonia served as an object of pride for the nation. It also caused horrible despair. Destined for Stockholm from Estonia, it struggled through a storm with 35 to 45 mph winds and 10-to 13-foot waves, weather typical for the Baltic Sea in the fall. When water flooded the vehicle deck, the ship rolled to 90 degrees, prompting the ship’s crew to communicate a mayday. Ferries and helicopters arrived at the scene during the next couple hours, rescuing 138 people — including one who died at the hospital. Drowning and hypothermia caused 852 deaths, the largest peacetime shipwreck disaster in the history of the Baltic Sea.
Fortunately, no lives were lost during the grounding of the New Carissa, but it did have an adverse impact on Oregon’s coastline. Approaching Port of Coos Bay, it was forced to anchor due to poor weather conditions and thus delay its arrival. A short chain and high winds, however, dragged the ship toward the shore, and by the time the crew had figured it out, it was too late. The vessel ran aground and two of its fuel tanks spilled 70,000 gallons of fuel oil and diesel, eventually killing 3,000 shorebirds and seabirds. Attempts to burn off the oil caused the ship to break into two, and it was later dismantled in 2008 despite becoming somewhat of a tourist attraction.
The German-based cruise ship was constructed with a double hull to prevent damage from minor collisions around the Antarctic Peninsula, a feature that made it seem perfectly safe. Even still, it wasn’t strong enough to withstand a large rock or reef in Sandfly Passage, Solomon Islands. After the passengers were successfully evacuated and the ship began to list, the captain was forced to ground it in Roderick Bay, where it has since remained with a 46-degree list. Like the New Carissa during its prolonged grounding, the World Discoverer serves as an offbeat attraction for tourists.
Only the Dona Paz disaster is considered to have been more costly than the Joola disaster, which ended with 1,863 deaths. Owned by the Senegalese government, the ship made frequent trips from Southern Senegal to Dakar with more passengers than its intended 580. As it embarked on the usual journey prior to its sinking, it held about 2,000 passengers, enough to make the ship vulnerable to a storm off the coast of Gambia. Designed only to navigate coastal waters, it quickly succumbed to the strong winds and heavy waves, sinking in fewer than five minutes. Overcrowding and a long history of technical problems were primary factors leading to its demise. Only 64 passengers survived, including only one woman who was pregnant
Tragedy struck twice aboard the Levina 1. Just six hours after the ferry departed from Jakarta, it caught fire, forcing hundreds of passengers to jump into the Java Sea. At least 51 people were killed and more than 290 were rescued, many of whom were picked up by the Levina II, the ferry’s sister ship. Remarkably, 60 passengers were able to swim to a nearby island to wait for help. The next day, four investigators and 12 journalists were transported to the ship, where several boarded without lifevests. Not long after, it listed and quickly began to sink, causing a panic among the party aboard. Two police forensic officers and a cameraman went missing, and another cameraman died in the hospital.
This post originally appeard on the E-Advisor Blog, a leading resource for higher education offered online.
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