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Passenger Ship Disasters - Part 4

From SN Guides

Chiyo Maru wrecked on Tam Kan Island, Hong Kong
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Chiyo Maru wrecked on Tam Kan Island, Hong Kong

Contents

Introduction


This series of articles provides a listing of all major passenger ships that have been lost in service. For comparison, there are also articles covering some the most significant losses of smaller passenger vessels and ferries. The articles also provide commentary on some of the most significant incidents.

For practical and technical reasons, the Articles are presented in the following parts: -

  • Part 1. Definitions and the Development of International Passenger Ship Regulations
  • Part 2. Fire
  • Part 3. Collision,
  • Part 4. Other Navigational Error
  • Part 5. Structural Failure and Foundered
  • Part 6. Hostilities – World War 1 and the Spanish Civil War
  • Part 7. Hostilities – World War 2
  • Part 8. Ship Safety Analysis – Passenger vessels over 10,000 GRT
  • Part 9 Some smaller passenger vessel losses
  • Part 10. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in European Waters
  • Part 11. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in USA, Canada & Australasia
  • Part 12. Some losses of ferries below 10,000 GRT in South East Asia & Africa



This article covers all passenger vessels above 10,000 GRT that have been lost, or have become a constructive total loss as a result of navigational errors other than collision.


Other Navigational Error


This category includes all passenger ships over 10,000 GRT that have been lost as a result of running aground or collision with objects other than other vessels. It results in the second longest list of lost vessels. In most cases however, the ships eventually broke up, rather than sank, so that often there were no casualties. The major exception is the mid-Atlantic loss of Titanic after collision with an iceberg. This single disaster is responsible for this category suffering the second highest number of peacetime casualties. Sadly the downward trend in fatalities was arrested in 2012 when Costa Concordia collided with Isola le Scole as a result of the reckless bravado of Captain Schettino


Large Passenger Ships lost through navigational error

Lost Name when Lost Name when Built Owner when Lost Built GRT Casualties
1905 Bavarian Bavarian Allen 1899 10,376 0
1907 Dakota Dakota Great Northern 1905 20,714 0
1909 Slavonia Yumana Cunard 1903 10,606 0
1910 Pericles Pericles Aberdeen 1907 10,925 0
1912 Titanic Titanic White Star 1912 46,329 1,503
1916 Chiyo Maru Chiyo Maru Tokyo Kisen KK 1908 13,426 0
1917 Rangatira Rangatira Shaw, Savill & Albion 1910 10,188 0
1917 Kristianiafjord Kristianiafjord Norwegian America 1913 10,669 0
1922 Wiltshire Wiltshire Federal 1912 10,390 0
1923 Marvale Corsican Canadian Pacific 1907 11,436 0
1928 Celtic Celtic White Star 1901 20,904 0
1930 Monte Cervantes Monte Cervantes Hamburg-South America 1928 13,903 1
1930 Highland Hope Highland Hope Nelson 1930 14,129 0
1934 Dresden Zeppelin North German Lloyd 1915 14,690 4
1936 Cristobal Colon Cristobal Colon Cia Transatlantica 1923 10,833 0
1937 President Hoover President Hoover Dollar 1931 21,936 0
1940 President Quezon Bay State Philippine Mail 1920 14,187 0
1942 Haruna Maru Haruna Maru Nippon Yusan KK 1922 10,421 0
1944 Beaverhill Beaverhill Canadian Pacific 1928 10,041 0
1949 Magdalena Magdalena Royal Mail 1949 17,547 0
1952 Champollion Champollion Messageries Maritimes 1925 12,564 15
1953 Klipfontein Klipfontein United Netherlands 1939 10,544 0
1957 Neptunia Johan de Witt Greek Line 1920 10,509 0
1966 Hanseatic Empress of Japan Hamburg-Atlantic 1930 30,030 0
1972 Caribia Vulcania Sicula Oceanica 1928 24,496 0
1977 Fairsky HMS Attacker Sitmar 1941 12,464 0
1984 Columbus C Kungsholm Costa 1953 16,317 0
1986 Mikhail Lermontov Mikhail Lemontov Baltic Shipping 1972 20,352 1
2007 Sea Diamond Birka Princess Louis Cruise 1986 22,412 2
2012 Costa Concordia Costa Concordia Costa Crociere 2006 114,147 32




Some Passenger Ships lost through navigational errors



Bavarian


Captain Alexander Allan began operating sailing ships from the Clyde to Canada in 1819 and in 1854 his family established the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company, which became a major UK – Canada passenger shipping line. In 1897 the business was transformed from a partnership into the limited liability company Allan Line Steamship Co Ltd. The loss of its 1899 built steamer Bavarian in 1905 is typical of many of the ship losses listed in the above table. The ship has however the sad distinction of being the first ever loss of a passenger ship over 10,000 GRT.

Image:ONE1_Bavarian.jpg

Photo 1: Bavarian was built on the Clyde by Denny, Dumbarton; one of the prolific liner builders to suffer as the size of passenger liners became greater than the shipyard could accommodate. She measured 10,376 GRT; 520 feet long; 59 feet 3 inches beam. Twin screw, powered by 2 three-cylinder triple expansion engines, producing 8,000 IHP, providing a service speed of 16 knots. She had accommodation for 240 first class, 220 second class and 1,000 steerage passengers.

On 3 November 1905 Bavarian became stranded on Wye Rock, off Montreal. The passengers were in no danger and an orderly evacuation of all on board was accomplished. Before Bavarian could be salvaged however, she broke into two; the split being just ahead of her funnel. The two sections of the ship were eventually refloated a year later and were towed to Quebec for scrapping.


Titanic


In 1869 the shipowner Thomas Henry Ismay was a guest for dinner in the home of Gustav Christian Schwabe, a prominent Liverpool financier. Over an after-dinner game of billiards, Schwabe agreed to support his guest’s ambition to establish a fleet of the finest transatlantic steamers, provided they were designed and built by the fledgling Harland & Wolff (H&W) that he was also financing. As a result the Oceanic Steam Navigation Co Ltd was founded on 6 September 1869. The company was invariably known as the White Star Line, because of the design of its house-flag.

The new company quickly became a leading transatlantic operator and its ships were frequently Blue Riband record holders. In 1891 Thomas Ismay handed over the management of the business to his sons, although remaining as Chairman. In the same year, White Star decided to bow out of speed record attempts and concentrated on large, more comfortable ships capable of reliable six day crossings. Thomas Ismay died in 1899 and the management of White Star passed to his sons Bruce and James, who continued the Line’s comfort and dependability image by building “The Big Four” class. In 1902 they sold Oceanic Steam Navigation Co to J P Morgan’s International Mercantile Marine Co in a complex deal orchestrated by William James Pirrie of H&W as explained in Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Kylsant Empire Part 1 This article also explains why IMMC failed to meet its objectives, leaving both Oceanic and H&W financially weakened.

In a major re-organisation in 1903, White Star was allocated the Liverpool – New York; Liverpool – Boston and the USA – Mediterranean routes and the best ships in the combined fleets were allocated to these trades. The main Liverpool – New York route was served by the Big Four – Celtic (1901); Cedric (1903); Baltic (1904) and Adriatic (1907). Celtic was the first ship in the world to exceed 20,000 GRT, but by the time the much delayed Adriatic entered service in 1907, the German lines were operating 25,000 ton ships. Even more seriously Cunard introduced their record breaking 31,000 ton Lusitania and Mauretania onto the Liverpool – New York route. White Star was becoming outclassed.

Bruce Ismay, who had become President and Managing Director of IMMC in 1904, formulated a plan to revive White Star’s leading transatlantic passenger role. The Big Four’s home base was moved from Liverpool to Southampton. European – American traffic was becoming much more important and the route from Southampton enabled White Star to call at Cherbourg, to collect central European emigrants who had travelled to the French port in special trains. The new route still enabled White Star to collect Irish emigrants from Queenstown. In 1908 Ismay successfully raised £2.5 million additional capital through a debenture loan stock issue and proceeded to order two new transatlantic giants from Harland & Wolff.

This new order presented a major challenge to H&W. The difficulties experienced in financing the creation of IMMC, resulted in H&W being saddled with a £1,000,000 investment in IMMC. This seriously reduced H&W’s ability to self-finance work in progress for its clients and made it dangerously dependent upon debt finance. White Star’s decision to move its main UK terminus, resulted in H&W being called upon to establish repair facilities in Southampton. White Star’s requirement for two gigantic 46,000 ton liners necessitated the construction of two larger building berths at Belfast.

With all of these capital commitments, H&W could not afford to invest in turbine manufacturing plant. To partially resolve these financial problems, Lord Pirie of H&W arranged a merger with John Brown, the Sheffield steelmakers and forgemasters, who had recently taken over the J&G Thomson shipyard at Clydebank. John Brown provided assistance and technical know-how to enable H&W to begin turbine manufacture. Nevertheless H&Ws lack of turbine expertise led to the new White Star giants being powered by two outdated triple-expansion steam reciprocating engines, plus a low pressure exhaust turbine coupled to the central shaft of a triple screw machinery arrangement. This machinery installation predicated that the service speed of the new ships would be a modest 21 knots. Critically the central shaft was not capable of being reversed, thereby reducing the stopping effect of going full astern.

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Photo 2: Titanic measured 46,329 GRT; 883 feet LOA, 852 feet 5 inches BP, with a beam of 92 feet 6 inches. Triple screw, powered by 2 four-cylinder triple expansion steam engines, plus 1 Parson’s low pressure turbine on the centre shaft, producing 51,0000 IHP, providing a service speed of 21 knots. She had accommodation for 905 first class, 564 second class and 1,134 third class passengers, plus 900 crew.

The new ships were named Olympic and Titanic. When Olympic was delivered in 1911, White Star were so delighted with the ship that they placed an order with H&W for a third sister, Britannic, with work to commence after the delivery of Titanic.

Titanic began her maiden voyage from Southampton on Wednesday, 10 April 1912, under the command of Captain Edward J Smith. As she left her berth, the suction caused by the bulk of Titanic caused America Line’s New York to break away from her moorings and to be drawn dangerously close, before a tug towed New York clear. Titanic called at Cherbourg and at Queenstown to board additional passengers, before sailing for New York. There is considerable dispute about the number of people onboard; the British Inquiry believed Titanic carried 1,316 passengers and 885 crew; while the American Inquiry arrived at 1,324 passengers and 899 crew. There is even some dispute about the maximum number of people she could carry, but it is believed to be 2,603 passengers and 900 crew. Thankfully the maiden voyage of the ship was not popular with the travelling public.

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Photo 3: Titanic sails from Southampton on her maiden transatlantic voyage, as tugs struggle to take control of New York

In response to iceberg warnings received via wireless during the voyage, Captain Smith altered Titanic's course slightly to the south of that recommended for the time of year. At 13:45 on Sunday, 14 April 1912, a message from the steamer Amerika warned that large icebergs lay in Titanic's path, but as the wireless radio operators, were employed by Marconi and paid to relay messages to and from the passengers, they were not focused on relaying such "non-essential" ice messages to the bridge. Later that evening, other reports of numerous large icebergs, also failed to reach the bridge.

That night the temperature dropped to near freezing and the ocean was calm. The moon was not visible but the sky was clear. At 23:40, while sailing about 400 miles south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, Titanic’s lookouts spotted a large iceberg directly ahead of the ship. They sounded the ship's bell three times and telephoned the bridge warning, "Iceberg, right ahead!" First Officer Murdoch gave the then traditional tiller order "hard-a-starboard", for an abrupt turn to port, and signalled for engines to change to full astern. A collision was inevitable and the iceberg brushed the ship's starboard side, buckling the hull in several places and popping out rivets below the waterline over a length of 299 feet. Seawater flooded through the breaks in the hull and the watertight doors were closed to contain it within the damaged area. However, while the ship could stay afloat with four flooded compartments, five were filling with water. The five water-filled compartments weighed down the ship, so that the tops of the forward watertight bulkheads sank below the ship's waterline, allowing water to pour into additional compartments. Captain Smith, alerted by the jolt of the impact, arrived on the bridge and ordered the engines to full stop. Shortly after midnight on 15 April, following an inspection by the ship's officers and Thomas Andrews from H&W, the lifeboats were ordered to be readied and a distress call was sent out. Several ships responded to Titanic’s CQD international radio distress signal including Mount Temple, Frankfurt and Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, but none was close enough to arrive in time. The closest ship to respond was Cunard Line's Carpathia 58 miles away, which could arrive in an estimated four hours—too late to rescue all of Titanic's passengers. The only land–based location that received the distress call from Titanic was a wireless station at Cape Race’ Newfoundland.

From the bridge of Titanic, the lights of a ship could be seen off the port side. The identity of this ship remains a mystery but there have been theories suggesting that it was probably either the Leyland liner Californian, or a sealer called Sampson. As it was not responding to wireless, Titanic’s bridge team attempted signalling the ship with a Morse lamp and later with distress rockets (which were white instead of the regulation red or blue), but the ship never appeared to respond. The Californian, which was nearby and stopped for the night because of ice, also saw lights in the distance. The Californian's wireless was turned off, and the wireless operator had gone off watch for the night. Just before he closed down at around 23:00 the Californian's radio operator attempted to warn the Titanic that there was ice ahead, but he was cut off by the harassed Marconi men, who fired back the angry response, "Shut up, shut up, I am busy; I am working Cape Race", referring to the Newfoundland wireless station. When the Californian's officers first saw the ship, they tried signalling her with their Morse lamp, but also never appeared to receive a response. Later, they noticed the white rockets over the lights and informed Captain Stanley Lord. Even though there was much discussion about the mysterious ship, which to the officers on duty appeared to be moving away, the Californian did not wake her wireless operator until morning.

The British Inquiry found that the first lifeboat launched was on the starboard side at around 00:40 with only 28 people on board out of a capacity of 65. Two other lifeboats were launched ten minutes later, one from either side of the ship. Titanic carried 14 lifeboats, each with a capacity of 65 persons, two 40 person cutters and four 47 person Englehardt collapsible boats, giving a total lifesaving capacity of 1,178 people. While not enough to hold all of the passengers and crew, this was greater than the provision required by the British Board of Trade Regulations at the time. This factor has been rightly castigated, but the major factor leading to the severe loss of life was the absence of any thought out evacuation plan and the failure to organise and co-ordinate the evacuation. Many of the crew did not join the ship until a few hours before sailing, and the only drill while the vessel lay at Southampton, or on the voyage consisted in lowering two lifeboats on the starboard side into the water, which boats were again hoisted to the boat deck within a half hour. No boat list, designating the stations of members of the crew was posted until several days after sailing from Southampton, boatmen being left in ignorance of their proper stations until the following Friday morning.

Initially Titanic showed no outward signs of being in imminent danger and passengers were reluctant to leave the apparent safety of the ship to board small lifeboats. As a result, most of the boats were launched partially empty; one cutter meant to hold 40 people left the Titanic with only 12 people on board it. With "Women and children first” the imperative for loading lifeboats, Second Officer Lightoller, who was loading boats on the port side, only allowed men to board if oarsmen were needed, even if there was room. First Officer Murdoch, who was loading boats on the starboard side, let men on board if women were absent. As the ship increasingly began to settle by the head, people started to become more nervous and some lifeboats began leaving fully loaded. By 02:05, the entire bow was under water, but two of the lifeboats had still not been launched.

Around 02:10, the stern rose out of the water exposing the propellers and by 02:17 the waterline had reached the boat deck. The last two lifeboats floated off the deck, one upside down, the other half-filled with water. Shortly afterwards, the forward funnel collapsed, crushing part of the bridge and people in the water. On deck, people were scrambling towards the stern or jumping overboard in hopes of reaching a lifeboat. The ship's stern slowly rose into the air, and everything unsecured crashed towards the water. When the stern rose, the electrical system finally failed and the lights went out. See Titanic - What happened in the Engine and Boiler rooms. Shortly afterwards, the stress on the hull caused Titanic to break apart between the last two funnels, and the bow went completely under. The stern righted itself slightly and then rose vertically. After a few moments, at 02:20, this too sank into the ocean.

Only two of the 18 launched lifeboats rescued people after the ship sank. Lifeboat 4 was close by and picked up five people, two of whom later died. About an hour later, lifeboat 14 went back and rescued four people, one of whom died afterwards. Other people managed to climb onto the lifeboats that floated off the deck. There were some arguments in some of the other lifeboats about going back, but many survivors were afraid of being swamped by people trying to climb into the lifeboat, or of the boat being pulled down by the suction from the sinking Titanic.

After heroically steaming through the ice field at maximum speed, Carpathia arrived in the area and at 04:10 began rescuing survivors. By 08:30 she picked up the last lifeboat with survivors and left the area at 08:50 bound for New York. The British Inquiry concluded that out of a total of 2,201 people aboard the Titanic, 711 survived the disaster and 1,490 perished, while the American Inquiry concluded that 706 survived out of 2,223 and 1,517 were lost. The majority of deaths were caused by hypothermia in the 28 °F (−2 °C) water.

Image:ONE4_Titanic_lifeboat.jpg

Photo 4: One of Titanic’s Englehardt collapsible lifeboats approaching Carpathia. Note the cumbersome life-jackets of the period.

The worldwide reaction to the Titanic disaster led to the first SOLAS Convention, thereby setting the foundations upon which subsequent and greatly enhanced safety regulations have been built. The horrific scale of the Titanic fatalities also resulted in the entire tragedy becoming firmly embedded in the public’s imagination.


Celtic


Celtic was one of White Star’s Big Four, mentioned above in the preamble to the Titanic disaster. On 10 December 1928, as she approached Cobh, the ship stopped to pick up a pilot in gale force conditions and drifted onto Roches Point, at the entrance to the harbour. Full astern was ordered and Celtic came off but went aground again on Calf Rocks and became a total loss, thankfully without loss of life. To add to the drama, she was carrying the British survivors of the foundering of the Lamport & Holt liner Vestris. Passenger Ship Disasters - Part 5

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Photo 5: Celtic aground on Calf Rocks, Cobh


Monte Cervantes


Monte Cervantes was delivered by Blohm + Voss on 3 January 1928 to the Hamburg South American Steam Ship Company KG, to operate from Hamburg to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Soon the sailing schedule was modified to allow passengers to continue their journey on a cruise at either end of the line voyage. For these cruises the maximum passenger capacity was reduced from 2,492 to about 1,750.

In early 1930 Monte Cervantes was on a South America cruise, under the command of Captain Theodor Dreyer. On 21 January 1930 she entered the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego and reached Ushuaia around 19:00 hours. On the morning of 22 January, Monte Cervantes weighed anchor and continued westward.

About 12:40, the lookout on the bridge spotted a submerged rock directly ahead and the captain instructed an immediate change of course, but at 12:43 the ship ran onto an uncharted rock and her hull was ripped open. The watertight doors were closed, but Monte Cervantes began to list to port, slipped a little then slid back into the sea. More water poured into the interior and flooded the cargo hold. Immediately after slipping from the rock, the command was given to lower away the lifeboats. All 1,117 passengers and 255 members of the crew were successfully evacuated and began rowing against the wind toward Ushuaia in a rising sea.

At the time of the grounding the wireless operator had immediately sent out an SOS. The signal was received by numerous stations on both sides of the Atlantic. The Argentine freighter Vincente Fidel Lopez was in of Ushuaia and heard the call, she despatched her launch and prepared to follow. With some difficulty, all passengers and accompanying crew were collected from the lifeboats still at sea, while the occupants of those boats that had reached the shore trekked overland to the town of Ushuaia, which at the time only had a population of about 800. Every available building, including the prison, was used to provide shelter for the victims.

The ship’s engine room had not flooded, enabling the captain and the remaining 70 man crew to attempt to beach the Monte Cervantes on Les Eclaireur Reef; however she became fast with only the port side of her stern resting on the reef. With the remainder of the ship floating freely she began to develop an increasing list and the captain ordered all remaining crew to abandon ship, using the final lifeboat. The senior officers spent the night of 22 January on a near-by rock islet.

The following day the officers and crew re-boarded Monte Cervantes and a number of small vessels, arrived to collect the passengers’ luggage. An unsuccessful attempt was made to tow the ship to Ushuaia and as evening approached Captain Dreyer sent the remaining crew ashore. He remained on the ship, which he believed would hold its position. Two other officers climbed back on board to retrieve some items.

Shortly thereafter the ship gave a strong tremor and she began to settle by the head and roll over. The two officers jumped into the water and were saved by the waiting launch, but Captain Dreyer slipped and fell down a companionway and was trapped. He drowned as the ship capsized, thus becoming the only victim of the shipwreck.

Image:ONE6_Monte_Cervantes.jpg

Photo 6: The German liner Monte Cervantes photographed shortly before sinking in the Beagle Channel


Dresden


North German Lloyd planned a series of 15,000 ton ships for their service to Australia. The first of these was built by Bremer Vulkan at Vegesack and launched on 9 June 1914 as Zeppelin. She was completed the following year, before being laid-up for the duration of the war. She was seized at the end of the war and allocated to American authorities before being handed to the Shipping Controller, London in March 1919. She made three round voyages to New York under the management of White Star, carrying a total of 18,500 returning US troops. Early in 1920 Zeppelin was bought by Orient Line who sent her to Belfast for major alterations, which were completed in Rotterdam in March 1921 when she was renamed Ormuz.

Orient undertook a major building programme to replace war losses, which enabled the company to sell Ormuz back to North German Lloyd in 1927. After a further refit she was renamed Dresden and placed on the North Atlantic service for the next seven years.

In 1934 Dresden became engaged in the German Labour Front’s Kraft durch Freude ("Strength through Joy") programme to promote the advantages of National Socialism to the people by making middle-class leisure activities, including cruises, available to the masses. As part of this programme Dresden undertook a Norwegian fjords cruise and was near Stavanger at 19:18 on 20 June 1934 when there was a sudden heavy shock to the vessel. Dresden rapidly began take in water and to develop a list leading her commander, Captain Petermöller, to alter course in attempt to run his ship aground on Karmøy Island. He nearly succeeded, but within minutes the rising waters disabled the ship’s machinery and her lights went out, causing a certain amount of panic. Captain Petermöller gave the order to abandon ship, but as the first lifeboat was lowered into the water it capsized, throwing the occupants into the water and three women drowned. There was a fourth casualty in the evacuation of the ship, but the remainder of the passengers and crew were saved.

The following day Dresden rolled onto her port side and sank, leaving only her starboard side visible. It was subsequently established that she had struck uncharted rocks near Utsira Island.

Image:ONE7_Dresden.jpg

Photo 7: Dresden immediately after being wrecked near Stavanger


Champollion


Constructions Navales La Ciotat delivered Champollion to Messageries Maritimes in 1925 for their Marseille to Alexandria service. She survived WW2 and was extensively rebuilt and modernised before re-entering the same service in March 1951.

Image:ONE8_Champollion.jpg

Photo 8: Champollion after completion of her 1950/51 rebuilding. Her revised particulars were 12,546 GRT; 550 feet LOA, with a beam of 62 feet 8 inches. Twin screw, powered by 2 three-cylinder triple expansion engines, with Bauer-Wach exhaust turbines, producing 14,000 IHP, providing a service speed of 17.5 knots. She had accommodation for 207 first class, 142 second class and 150 third class passengers.

On 15 December 1952 she sailed from Marseilles and by the early hours of 22 December was approaching Beirut in bad weather, when she sighted Ras Beirut lighthouse and set a course to enter harbour. Shortly afterwards there was a gentle scraping sound, followed by a violent thud as the ship was stranded on Elchat Elmalhoun Reef, two miles south of the harbour entrance. It transpired that Champollion’s navigators had not in fact sighted the lighthouse, but had based the ship’s course on a beacon of the incomplete Khaedé airport, which was on test that morning and flashing at the same frequency as Ras Beirut lighthouse. It appears that the navigators failed to use the ship’s navigation radar to verify their course.

The heavy seas turned Champollion parallel with the shore and she rolled onto her side so that her decks were facing the incoming surf. As a result it was not possible to launch any of her lifeboats and although the ship had come to rest only 200 yards from the shore, the plight of all in board was extremely serious. Local fishermen attempted to reach the vessel but were beaten back by the storm. Then Champollion broke in two abaft the funnel and fuel oil spilled into the sea. About 50 people attempted to swim ashore, but 15 were drowned. The remainder of those on board spent a terrifying night, with the constant fear that Champollion would totally capsize, or break-up completely.

The following day the storm continued but the British cruiser HMS Kenya arrived on the scene. She manoeuvred close offshore the wreck, to break the force of the waves, thus enabling the Beirut pilot boat to make several trips through the surf to the leeward side of Champollion and rescue all who remained on board.

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Photo 9: HMS Kenya manoeuvring off the wrecked Champollion and the pilot boat alongside


Mikhail Lermontov


The Soviet Union built five 19,500 ton passenger liners in the Mathias-Thesen shipyard at Wismar, East Germany, that were delivered between 1964 and 1972. These ships are generally known as the Poet Class; the last to be delivered was Mikhail Lermontov. She was initially used as an ocean liner on the Leningrad—New York run. In 1980 however President Reagan banned all Soviet ships from entering US waters, in response to the Russians invasion of Afghanistan and Mikhail Lermontov was switched to cruising out of Europe.

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Photo 10: Mikhail Lermontov in New York. As built she was 19,872 GRT; 578 feet long, with a beam of 77 feet 5 inches. Twin screw, powered by two Sulzer diesel engines, producing 21,000 bhp, providing a service speed of 20 knots. She had accommodation for 750 passengers in one class, with a crew of 220.

Despite having been built as recently as 1972, Mikhail Lermontov’s accommodation was well below the required standard. To make the ship more suitable for cruising, the Soviets spent US$15 million on her in 1982. All the cabins were fitted with private facilities, the public rooms and spaces were lavishly redecorated and the exterior was painted white. She was marketed by the British tour operator CTC.

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Photo 11: Mikhail Lermontov after conversion into a cruise ship

Mikhail Lermontov left Sydney on the 6th of February 1986 under the command of a relief Master, Captain Vladislav Vorobyev, with 372 passengers on board (about 53% of capacity). She visited Auckland and Tauranga on the North Island, before arriving at Wellington on the morning of Saturday, 15 February 1986. At midnight she departed to cross Cook Strait for Picton at the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound on the Northern coast of the South Island. She berthed at Waitohi wharf at 08:00 the following morning and departed at 15:00 for Milford Sound, on the South-west coast of the South Island. Captain Don Jamison, the harbour master of Picton and a Marlborough Sounds harbour pilot, remained aboard the vessel instead of leaving her at Long Island, so that he could be available to pilot the ship into Milford Sound.

Although Jamison was a qualified local pilot, he only had a very superficial knowledge of the waters in his area. Coupled with a lack of experience in handling ships the size of Mikhail Lermontov and an arrogant self esteem that led him to operate without a chart, all of the elements needed for the looming disaster were established, as the cruise ship proceeded towards Cape Jackson.

The weather was overcast with heavy rain and a 25 knot Southerly wind. Jamison hugged the shoreline to give the mainly Australian passengers a good view of the area, despite most of the passengers being clearly disinterested in peering through the murk. About one mile from the cape, Jamison decided to take the ship through the narrow passage between Cape Jackson and Lighthouse Rock. A Russian officer tried to discourage Jamison, but the harbour master arrogantly assured him it would be fine. Jamison was working on the basis that Mikhail Lermontov was drawing about 27 feet and it was his understanding that the depth in the passage was 35 to 40 feet. If he had looked at the chart he would have seen the underlying depth was 30 feet to 60 feet, but there were a number of major rock pinnacles. Even if he had had attempted to calculate the position of the pinnacles, it would have been a very foolhardy course for a major passenger vessel.

At 17:37 there was a dull thud as Mikhail Lermontov, travelling at 15 knots, struck rocks on her port side below the waterline, near the top of her double bottom tanks. Subsequent examination of the wreck disclosed a series of impact points or dents, where the hull was distorted inwards but was not penetrated. These points began 10.3 metres aft of the bow thrust unit. Below these impact points are a series of tears, which are no more than 150mm wide at any point, where inward pressure caused the hull plates to fail near the joint with the double bottom plates. The main series of tears starts about 18 metres aft of the bow thrust unit and runs for 11 meters. The tears opened the double bottom to the sea, causing further flooding, because of impact damage and distortion to the tank top plating. The area of damage effected three watertight compartments.

The initial point of impact was just forward of the bulkhead at frame 154. This was a very stiff part of the ship’s structure, due to the three way intersection of hull, bulkhead and double bottom. Instead of buckling at this point, the structure appears to have transmitted the massive force of impact around the ship, causing considerable secondary damage. The impact shock is believed to have distorted the frames of critical watertight doors, preventing them sealing the forward compartments. Well aft of the primary areas of damage, the bulkhead at frame 106 guarding the generator room, developed a crack. When the incoming water passed through this damaged bulkhead, electrical power was soon lost, leading in turn to the engines losing power.

With water pouring aft, the seriously damaged ship limped towards Port Gore, where Jamison successfully beached Mikhail Lermontov, but by then lowering the anchors was impossible, as electrical power had failed. As a result, the ship drifted off again, into deeper waters. Damaged water-tight doors were broken open by the pressure of the sea water gushing into the ship.

It has been stated that a Mayday call was broadcast at 18:03, but this is disputed. The standard Soviet Union top priority of avoiding negative publicity in catastrophes, even at the cost of human life, had set in. No announcements were made to the passengers, to advise them of the situation, or to tell them what to do; although many passengers were alerted to the problem by the fact that the crew were wearing life-jackets. In the meantime there was an announcement that dinner would be delayed an hour and the wine tasting session that was in progress would be extended. The band continued to play, but the wine tasting stopped when the ship’s growing list sent glasses sliding off the tables.

In these articles there have been several disasters where the crew abandoned the passengers to their fate. The loss of Mikhail Lermontov is bizarre, in that the passengers demanded to leave the ship, but for several hours the crew refused to man the boats to accompany them. A contributory factor to this may have been that they were aware that the lifeboats, life-rafts and many of the lifejackets were in an appalling condition.

The L.P.G. Tanker Tarihiko turned towards the scene on receiving a Mayday call, but a signal that no further assistance would be required was then received. Nevertheless Captain Reedman decided to press on. In gathering darkness, the Tarihiko arrived as passengers were at last being evacuated into rafts and ship's boats from 20:45. Many elderly people were hurt in their leap from the ship to the lifeboats.

Other ships and boats arrived to assist and as darkness set in, Wellington Radio ordered all those remaining on board to disembark. At 22:15 Mikhail Lermontov was listing 40° to starboard and at 22:27 she went down in 15 fathoms, sinking by the bow and laying over on her port side by Gannet Point, Port Gore. One of the ship’s engineers was reported missing and is presumed to have died.


Sea Diamond


Sea Diamond was built as the ferry Birka Princess, for Birka Line, by the Finnish state-owned company Valmet, at their Vuosaari shipyard in Helsinki and delivered in 1986. She sailed on 24-hour booze-cruises between Stockholm and the Åland Islands in Finland. Between 1990 and 2003 she also made longer cruises around the Baltic during the summer season. As built, she had a small car deck, with space for 80 passenger cars. Like most cruise-ferries in the Baltic, she was built to ice class 1A.

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Photo 12: Birka Princess as built was 21,484 GT; 460 feet long, with a beam of 81 feet. Twin screw, powered by four Pielstick diesel engines, producing 24,000 bhp, providing a service speed of 18 knots. She had accommodation for 1,394 berthed passengers in one class, with a crew of 150.

In 1999 she was extensively refitted at Lloyd Werft in Germany, when the fore superstructure was extended and streamlined and 62 new passenger cabins were added, including a new deck of cabins above the bridge. In October 2004, when the new Birka Paradise was delivered, the Birka Princess started making two-night cruises from Stockholm to Turku, Helsinki and Tallinn, as well a weekly 24-hour cruise from Stockholm to Mariehamn. The new itineraries proved largely unsuccessful and on 2 January 2006, the ship was laid up in Mariehamn and offered for sale.

In February 2006 she was sold to the Cyprus-based Louis Cruise Lines. As built, the ship only had an indoor pool, in the sauna section on deck 2 in the bow of the ship. A new outdoor swimming pool was installed and the sundeck area increased, at Turku Repair Yard, Naantali. The heavily modified ship re-entered service in the Mediterranean as Sea Diamond.

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Photo 13: Sea Diamond, now 22,412 GT; carrying 1,168 lower berth passengers (1,537 maximum) with a crew of 160

On April 5, 2007, at around 16:00 EEST the ship ran aground, on a well-marked volcanic reef east of Nea Kamei, within the caldera of the Greek island of Santorin, began taking on water, and listed up to 12 degrees to starboard before her watertight doors were reportedly closed (a report which was later refuted when the wreck was examined).The 1,195 passengers, mostly Americans and 60 Canadians, were initially all reported to be safely evacuated in three and a half hours, with four injuries. Some passengers were evacuated from the car ramp, through the former car deck onto boats, but some passengers had to climb down rope ladders from the higher decks. Later, it was reported that two French passengers, occupying a cabin on the lowest passenger deck were missing.

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Photo 14: The evacuation of Sea Diamond, showing how close the ship was to the shore.

The ship was towed off the rocks, and an unsuccessful attempt made to stabilize her list. The large amount of water taken on board led to the ship sinking shortly before 19:00 on April 6, 2007, only a few hundred metres from the shore. Video footage shows that, toward the end, the ship capsized before settling stern first onto the sea floor. It was later reported that the tip of the bulbous bow was only 62 metres below sea level, but the stern was in water up to 180 metres deep. It is feared that the wreck would soon slide deeper and sink into the submerged caldera of the volcanic island. It has been speculated that the deep, almost vertical shore of the bathtub-like caldera made it impossible to beach the ship and save her from becoming a total loss.

On April 7, Greek authorities announced that they were charging the captain and five other officers with negligence. State television reported they were charged with causing a shipwreck through negligence, breaching international shipping safety regulations and polluting the environment. Additional charges could be made, depending on the fate of the two missing passengers. All six were released until further notice, but if convicted they could face a five-year prison sentence. Investigations carried out by the defence team for the master of the vessel and Louis Cruise Lines, included a new hydrographic survey of the area of the accident in Santorini. This survey discovered discrepancies between the actual mapping of the sea area and the official charts used by the Sea Diamond (and all other vessels) at the time of the accident. The detailed survey revealed that the reef, which the Sea Diamond struck, is in fact lying at 131 meters from shore and not at a distance of 57 meters, as is incorrectly marked on the Greek charts. The official chart also shows the depth of the water at the area of impact varying from 18-22 meters, whilst the recent survey shows that it is only 5 meters. Nevertheless the first official enquiry blamed the Sea Diamond’s captain for the loss, by taking a course much nearer the shore than the other cruise vessels that call at Santorini.


Costa Concordia


The Italian Costa family began operating freighters in 1924, but progressively moved into passenger shipping until August 1986 when Costa Crociere S p A was formed, as the business was by then entirely devoted to the cruise industry. In December 1996 the company was taken over by the Carnival Corporation, in partnership with the British holiday company Airtours. It soon became apparent however, that Airtours’ financially frailty was hindering the development of the Costa business and Carnival became its sole owner in 2000. Carnival operates a federal corporate style, with each of the major companies such as Costa having a great deal of management freedom.

By the end of 2011, Costa was the largest European cruise company with 17 ships that carried 1,550,501 passengers during that year. One of its largest ships was Costa Concordia. The loss of this ship illustrates that extreme recklessness can defeat the most sophisticated safety provisions.

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Photo 15: Costa Concordia – Built by Fincantieri, Sestri Ponente, Italy 2006; Registered in Genoa; 114,147 GT; Length 290.2m (OA), 247.4m (BP), Beam 35.5m, Draft 14.18M; six 12-cylinder Wärtsilä 12V46C four-stroke medium-speed diesel generating sets with a combined output of 76.6 MW (102,780 hp) providing power for all shipboard requirements and for two 21 MW Alstom propulsion motors driving two fixed pitch propellers giving a trials speed of 23 knots and service speed of 19.6 knots; lower berth passengers 3,004, max 3,800, crew 1,090.

Costa Concordia was normally employed throughout the year on an anti-clockwise circular Western Mediterranean service based at Savona, Northern Italy, but passengers joined the ship at other mainland European ports of call. Unfortunately evacuation drills were not always carried out at each embarkation port, and approximately 600 passengers had not performed the drill when disaster struck.

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Photo 16:Savona was Costa Concordia’s home port and a full abandon ship passenger drill was carried out before departure. Passengers also joined at all of the other ports in the anti-clockwise circular voyage. The only safety instructions provided at these ports was an in cabin, airline-style safety video.

Costa Concordia left Civitavecchia bound for Savona on 13 January 2012 with 3,206 passengers and 1,023 crew members on board under the command of Captain Francesco Schettino. The ship’s route filed with the Civitavecchia authorities was to follow the conventional course to Savona. Despite this the Captain announced to his officers that the ship would deviate from its declared route to perform a sail-by salute to Isola del Giglio. A sail-by salute is performed by bringing a ship close to shore to salute those on land. Often the salute is performed for a crewmember's family. The practice dates back to ancient times, especially in Italy. There is controversy about whether the captain's on-shore management had consented to such a salute or had any prior knowledge of the action.

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Photo 17: The course to disaster. The official Costa Concordia course, as filed with the Authorities in Civitavecchia is shown in Grey. The fatal deviation is shown in Red.

Captain Schettino had performed this manoeuvre previously at slow speed in daylight for the island fiesta. This time he attempted the salute in darkness, with a cavalier disregard to operational regulations and safety. Unlike the previous salute, his intention was to directly approach the island then to turn at a safe point and sail past close inshore. This was plotted on a chart with a wholly inadequate scale for such dangerous navigation. Although the manoeuvre required great concentration, Captain Schettino broke regulations by bringing unauthorised people, including his lover, onto the bridge with him.

On entering the bridge with his party, the Captain ordered an increase in speed, turned off the automatic navigation system and took personal control. As the Captain was not wearing his glasses, he ordered an officer to call out radar bearings when he needed them, then further breaking regulations, he used his personal telephone to call someone on shore for advice as to the nearest that he could safely approach the island. In this chaotic situation on the bridge, the ship passed the intended turning point and continued towards the shore. When this was eventually realised the Captain only ordered a moderate turn to starboard. As a result the ship began its salute half a mile nearer the shore than intended. There is no indication on the Bridge voice recorder of any warning being given to the Captain by the officers present.

The ship was now directly approaching the rocky outcrop called Isole le Scole, which would have been visible on radar, if anyone on the bridge had looked. Emergency action was only taken when breaking waves were seen through the darkness. The Captain then issued confused and panic stricken orders to the helmsmen in English, even though the Captain is Italian and Italian was the official bridge language. The helmsmen had very little understanding of English and to make matters worse, some of the Captain’s orders were compass bearings and others rudder angles.

At about 21:45 local time Costa Concordia was travelling at 16 knots when she struck the Scole reef about 800 metres south of the entrance to the harbour of Giglio Porto. The initial impact was at a point 8 metres below the water line, but above the double bottom, which tore a continuous 60-metre (197 ft) gash in the port side of the ship. A large boulder was later found to be embedded in her hull at the aft end of the impact gash. Further smaller openings were torn in the ship’s hull as she brushed the rocks. The force of the impact was so great that it immediately reduced the speed of the ship to 8 knots.

SOLAS regulations require that a passenger ship must be able to survive a breach in two adjacent water-tight compartments. The impact caused water to enter five adjacent compartments. Furthermore Costa Concordia followed modern passenger ship design with six large diesel engines, located in two compartments, generating electricity as required to meet the ship’s propulsion and hotel requirements. Both generating compartments, the ship’s propulsion motor room and the main switchboard were flooded. All electrical power was lost. The emergency generator started, but stopped again after 41 seconds. Battery powered emergency lighting and communications automatically activated. The Chief Electrical Officer and an electrician rushed to the Emergency Generator Room on deck 11 and found that the generator had automatically disconnected from the electrical distribution system, possibly because of the large number of short circuits caused by flooding. They were only able to restore emergency power by using a screwdriver to manually close the circuit breaker, but the generator cooling fan did not activate and they felt that the generator must be stopped from time to time to prevent fatal overheating. The officers remained until 22:55, manually forcing the system to sporadically operate.

The Captain was informed at 21:48 (three minutes after impact) that the hull had been breached and at least three adjacent compartments were flooding. Two minutes later the water reached A Deck – level with the ship’s normal waterline - and was also entering a fourth compartment. This situation was so far beyond the ship’s designed ability to sustain damage that immediate preparations for evacuation should have been made. The Captain appeared to be in denial however and when he made a public announcement 21:54 it was merely to state that there was an electrical problem that the crew were rectifying.

At 21:57 the Captain informed Costa operational offices that the ship had struck a rock and the extent of the damage is being ascertained, even though he knew the much greater gravity of the situation. The Captain made no effort to notify the Italian Coastguard. They became aware of a potential problem after a passenger used a private telephone to tell their mother that part of the restaurant ceiling decor had crashed to the deck after a violent bump and that the passengers had been ordered to obtain their lifejackets from their cabins. The passenger’s mother telephoned the Carabinieri, who in turn contacted the Coastguard. At 22:07 Civitavecchia Coastguard contacted Costa Concordia to ask if the ship had a problem. They were that told that the ship was merely suffering from a lighting blackout and that the crew were working to rectify the failure.

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Photo 18: The point of impact and subsequent uncontrolled course

Costa Concordia gradually lost momentum, her rudders jammed in the hard to starboard position she swung away from the shore before coming to a halt at 22:10 with her stern towards the island. At the time, the wind was 17 knots East-North East and this swung the ships head back towards the south, then, together with the current and the rudder setting it drove the ship towards Giglio Porto.

A huge amount of water had entered the ship – eventually over 20,000 tons and her stability became very insecure. Immediately upon impact on the port side of the ship, she healed 10 degrees to port, but she then righted herself as water spread across the ruptured compartments, until by 22:06 she was on an even keel. She remained in this condition until 22:20 and this would have been an ideal time to undertake an orderly evacuation of the ship, but no action was taken. She then began to adopt a progressively increasing list to starboard.

In the absence of any relevant instructions from the Captain and his failure to truthfully advise the Coastguard of the damaged state of the ship, the evacuation was chaotic. Conflicting instructions were issued to the passengers, sending many to their cabins to collect lifejackets long after such action was unsafe. Without orders the crew and passengers began to gather at their muster stations from 22:12 and to board lifeboats at 22:30.

The flooding had by then reached the Watertight Deck – Deck O - in some compartments, but in other partially flooded compartments a huge free surface effect was building up initiating the final list to starboard. In addition the ship was starting to settle by the stern and water entered the mooring deck. To add to the problem some access stairs through Deck O were merely closed by water resistant doors that leaked then burst under the pressure of the rising water.

The Italian Marine Rescue Station at Livorno, repeatedly called the ship, but each time the Captain downplayed the seriousness of the situation. Eventually Livorno took the initiative and dispatched patrol boats and tugs to assist. Thankfully the wind and current were bringing the ship gently towards the shore.

At last, at 22:30 a General Emergency Alarm is given. By this time the ship had about 7.5 degrees list to starboard. In the absence of a clear announcement to abandon ship, the crew began to prepare to evacuate the passengers from 22:36, although this led to conflicting instructions and some confusion it was remarkably successful. At 22:39 Costa Concordia grounded on Punta Gabbianara and the angle of heel began increase and by 22:46 had reached 15 degrees. At 22:47 the Captain ordered that the starboard anchor be dropped and the port anchor at 22:54. At the same time he at last ordered the launching of the starboard lifeboats, feeling that by reducing weight on the starboard side the ship’s list would be alleviated.

No Muster was carried out, but at 22:54 an announcement to Abandon Ship was made in English by the Staff Captain; not by the Captain as required in the ship’s operating procedures and the announcement did not follow the correct format. Despite the confused situation the crew acting on its own initiative undertook an uncoordinated, but remarkably effective evacuation. The first lifeboat was lowered at 22:55, which was 54 minutes after the Captain was informed that Costa Concordia had been fatally damaged. The lifeboats began arriving at the harbour at 23:10.

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Photo 19: The first lifeboats from the grounded Costa Concordia arrive in Giglio Porto

The ship continued to roll to starboard and by 23:11 the list exceeded 25 degrees. Despite this being well over the launching equipment’s designed operational limits, the crew tenaciously continued to load and launch lifeboats and liferafts. The last recording of the Captain’s voice on the bridge recorder was made at 23:19 when he ordered everyone to leave. The Staff Captain remained however, to coordinate the evacuation. All of the lifeboats were successfully launched from the port side of the ship but eventually it became impossible to launch liferafts. Pilot ladders were lowered on the port side and passengers and crew used these to climb down to waiting rescue craft.

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Photo 20:The port side of Costa Concordia showing the huge piece of rock torn from the Scole Reef embedded at the after end of the massive tear in the ship’s hull. Note that all of the lifeboats have gone, but a liferaft remains stranded. Note also one of the pilot ladders used to reach waiting rescue craft.

All the lifeboats were also filled and launched from the starboard side and liferafts launched until the list became too great. At 00:34 the Captain boarded a lifeboat and left the ship even though there were at least 300 people still on board. There were furious exchanges by telephone between the senior Italian Coastguard Officer and Captain Schettino after he refused to return to the ship and coordinate the continuing evacuation. At 00:41 the list to starboard reached 80 degrees.

Eight Italian Government helicopters arrived on the scene and began evacuating people. At 01:04 an Air Force officer was lowered onboard by helicopter to coordinate the helicopter assistance and he reported that there were still 100 people on board. The deputy-mayor of Isola del Giglio, Mario Pellegrini, who went on board as part of the rescue operations, praised the ship's doctor and young Simone Canessa, the only officer he met on board. They remained on the ship helping passengers until 05:30.

Of the 4,229 people on board Costa Concordia, 32 were killed and 157 injured. Captain Schettino has been charged with manslaughter and causing the loss of the ship. Five other people have found guilty of manslaughter, negligence and shipwreck.

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Photo 21: The wrecked giant ship lying on her side, while her lifeboats are moored inside Giglio Porto


Bibliography


The Italian Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport Marine Casualties Investigative Body report into the loss of Costa Concordia plus the complete Bibliography for all of these Articles which is given at the end of Part 12.


Photographs


Many of the photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. Many others are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 4 have been provided as follows: -
Frontispiece - Ships Nostalgia - linerrich

  1. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  2. Ships Nostalgia – Marconi Sahib
  3. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  4. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  5. Ships Nostalgia – Marconi Sahib
  6. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  7. Ships Nostalgia – hasse neren
  8. Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
  9. Ships Nostalgia – Jim McFaul
  10. Wikimedia
  11. Ships Nostalgia – ksarlis
  12. Wikimedia
  13. Ships Nostalgia – javi 67
  14. Wikimedia
  15. Wikimedia
  16. Wikimedia
  17. Corriere Della Sera
  18. Wikimedia
  19. Wikimedia



Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson

Passenger Ship Disasters
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