Top 10 Worst Shipwrecks of the Century
10. Eastern Star
On June 1, 2015, China experienced its worst maritime disaster in 60 years when the Eastern Star capsized in the Yangtze River. The conservative death toll is 396. Only 14 people survived the wreck, puzzling Chinese officials as to what could have caused the disaster in the first place.
The official account is that the Eastern Star was lost in a storm, and most survivors describe a horrific few minutes where the ship was upright and then suddenly capsized.
Most of the survivors jumped, and many of the dead were recovered from within the ship itself, where they probably found pockets of air that sustained them briefly as she succumbed to the water. Although the official records blame terrible weather, several of the top officials from the Eastern Star were detained on the grounds of negligence immediately following the sinking.
9. Costa Concordia Carnival Cruise
Line treasure Costa Concordia famously breached and rolled in the Tyrrhenian Sea, near Italy, as a grim capstone to the revelry her passengers were enjoying just hours before. As one of the Dream-class cruise ships, the Costa Concordia was a massive vessel measuring 951 feet.
The fun and games ended on the luxury ship when she traveled too close to land and hit a rock, tearing a gaping 160-foot gash in her starboard hull. The engine room flooded, the power snapped off, and the ship jerked onto her starboard side, killing 32 people of the 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew members.
Although the death toll was comparably low, the Costa Concordia stands out as one of the worst maritime disasters of the century because her demise was completely preventable.
Captain Francesco Schettino was charged with manslaugher and abandoning the ship. The evacuation was totally bungled, taking up to six hours and undoubtedly costing lives.
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8. SuperFerry 14
The Filipino SuperFerry 14 sank on February 27, 2004; not due to any weather events or captain error, but a terrorist attack. When the passenger ferry departed for Cagayan de Oro City, her 899 passengers and crew surely had no idea what horror they were about to experience; a fiery explosion that would rip their boat apart and turned it into a blazing inferno, forcing them to jump into the sea for dear life.
116 people died in the attack, which was initially labeled a tragic accident until multiple terror groups, including Abu Sayyaf, claimed responsibility. The salvaged ship collaborated their stories.
7. Princess of the Stars
On June 21, 2008, the Philippine ship Princess of the Stars ran afoul of Typhoon Fengshen, and the mighty storm decimated the ship, ripping a huge hole in her hull. Although Filipino authorities knew that Typhoon Fengshen was coming, they misjudged its course and the Princess of the Stars’ might.
Unfortunately for the victims, the ship was seen as too large to fail, which anyone who is familiar with the story of the Titanic knows is sheer folly. Unfortunately, the poor princess was not big enough to take on Typhoon Fengshen, and 814 people perished as a result.
Like many major maritime disasters, the Princess of the Stars suffered from another weakness; she was overloaded. The initial numbers put her passenger toll between 646-747 people, but the reality is that she was carrying at least 870; maybe more. The ship also sank quickly, and many of the passengers and crew were totally unprepared.
Only a handful were wearing lifejackets, and many had to leap into the unforgiving giant waves of the sea, which crushed and drowned them.
6. Al Salam Boccaccio 98
Al Salam Boccaccio 98, a Red Sea passenger ferry operating between Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Safaga, Egypt, on February 3, 2006, and it was one of the worst peacetime marine accidents of this century.
Of the 1,400 people on board, 1,020 perished in the water after a combination of negligence and bad luck caused their ship to flounder and sink. Initially, the ill-fated Al Salam Boccaccio 98’s disastrous downfall was ascribed to seawater getting into the hull, but that’s only part of the story.
Earlier that gristly day, there had been a fire in her engine-room, but the owners of the ship ordered the captain and crew to make the journey anyway. Unfortunately, this doomed craft fell victim to two very common maritime mistakes; lousy luck and putting profits before people.
5. MV Spice Islander
Although between 1,500 to 2,764 people perished in the MV Spice Islander disaster, the government of Zanzibar initially only reported that 200 had died, which is just the beginning of the tragic and twisted tale surrounding what happened to this ship. On September 10, 2011, the passenger ferry departed from the coast of Zanzibar, heading for Tanzania. What happened between her two destinations is anyone’s guess, but most people think that the big ferry lost power and capsized in the Zanzibar Channel of the Indian Ocean.
She was sailing at far over capacity. The MV Spice Islander was only built for 646 passengers and 45 crew members, which could be why Zanzibar’s first numbers were incorrect. She could have been carrying upwards of 3,586 passengers, or as few as 2,470.
Years later, both governments are still sorting through the gristly mess and trying to tally the dead, missing, and survivors.
4. Le Joola
Overcrowding and violent weather spelled doom for the Le Joola, a Senegalese ferry that capsized near Gambia on September 26, 2002. On that fateful day, the ship was crammed to at least three times her capacity, with about 2,000 people on board.
The extra weight on deck combined with a freak weather event was enough for the Le Joola to succumb to the waves. In total, 1,863 people perished, and only 64 survived. The ferry capsized within a matter of minutes, giving passengers and crew little warning and virtually nowhere to go once the hull crashed down.
Tragically, rescue crews didn’t arrive for hours, so many of Le Joola’s passengers likely drowned. The drowning victims were among the luckiest, though, as many of Le Joola’s dead were trapped inside the ship itself as it slowly submerged below the waves. Negligence, poor planning, and terrible weather were all blamed for the incident.
Bangladesh’s Nazreen-1 sank on July 8, 2003, and remains one of the country’s worst ferry accidents to date. The passenger ferry was traveling through the Meghna River at night, and a series of unfortunate incidents ultimately led to its sinking; and the death of at least 530 people, although the number could be closer to 800.
The Meghna River was bloated with floodwaters and unpredictable, and the inky nighttime conditions made the familiar route hard to navigate. To add to the confusion, the ferry itself was way over capacity, setting the stage for a horrible disaster that would claim the vast majority of those on board.
The ferry was only built for 294 passengers, but that fateful night she was carrying up to 1,000 passengers, plus rice and vegetables.
Since nobody knows how many people were on Nazreen-1 when she sank, it’s tough to nail down the exact death toll. The survivors managed to escape during the panic and swim to safety, but countless others were not so lucky.
2. The MV Prestige
In November 2002, a routine trip between Ventspils, Latvia to Gibraltar turned catastrophic when the MV Prestige ran afoul of nasty weather. Monster waves off Costa de la Muerte ripped a 50-foot hole through the ship’s starboard side.
Although the whole crew was evacuated, the MV Prestige was carrying 84,877 tons of fuel. That’s more than 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools of environmentally destructive fuel. Shockingly, the wounded ship drifted for days because neither France, Portugal, nor Spain would let it dock.
They didn’t want their pristine coastlines ruined. Instead, the ship floundered for four days and eventually sank on November 19th, gushing toxic cargo as it went down. Although estimates vary, it’s possible that over 80 percent of its total load went into the water.
The environmental effects were dire, and the sticky oil killed at least 22,000 birds, untold miles of reef, and plenty of fish. Conservatively, the Spanish sea will still be reeling from the effects of this tragedy for at least 10 years.
The real tragedy of the Sewol lies in who her passengers were; students on a school trip to Jeju island. On April 16, 2014 the Sewol passenger ferry slowly slipped beneath the waves while grief-stricken relatives watched from the shore.
A total of 250 students drowned that horrible day, many of them sending their loved ones farewell video messages as the ship sank.
The Sewol disaster was purely preventable; and the product of sheer, unadulterated greed.
It was heavily overloaded, and the cargo that was aboard was misweighed purposely to sneak on as much as possible.
Additionally, Sewol’s evacuation strategy cost lives. The students were told to stay in their rooms while many of the crew fled to safety. Countless bodies were recovered from the wreck, and it remains a great source of shame for South Koreans to this day.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that the Sewol catastrophe sparked more shipping accountability and transparency, as well as a total revamp of maritime laws.
Thanks for watching! Would you rather face off with Typhoon Fengshen with the crew of the Princess of the Stars or fight your way through the Meghna River on the Nazreen-1? Let us know in the comments section below.