Passenger Ship Disasters - Part 1

fred henderson
31st January 2010, 18:07
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fred henderson
31st January 2010, 18:10
About a year ago, I decided to write a Directory Article about the remarkable success that the SOLAS regulations have had in improving the safety of passenger shipping. In doing so I realised that as the regulations have in the past, largely been written as a reaction to particular events, I needed to study the maritime disasters that have occurred since the start of the last century. It was then that I discovered that there was no comprehensive source of the information I needed. The famous Charles Hocking book “Dictionary of Disasters at Sea During the Age of Steam” has both too much (trying to cover every type of ship) and too little (a lot of ships not covered and often with entries like “there were only 2 survivors”) information and the format of presenting all its entries in alphabetical ship name order, regardless of ship type was unhelpful.

I therefore decided to create my own comprehensive database. For practical reasons I decided to restrict this to passenger ships over 10,000 tons. In addition, by the time that the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea met in 1914, 10,000 GRT had become established as about the smallest size for a liner engaged on international trades. Of course this meant that from 1950s onwards ferries began to exceed 10,000 GRT, with a considerable increase in ship losses, because of the initially misunderstood impact of the Free Surface Effect of water on vehicle decks. Like many of these works, the project grew and I decided that for comparative purposes there was a need to establish a reference to the safety of smaller vessels. So I have also looked at the more significant smaller ship losses, which usually involved vessels that were not covered by SOLAS regulations.

The first SOLAS Convention was called as a result of the loss of Titanic and the Empress of Ireland was sunk before it met. Since the first Convention in 1914, the total number of peacetime deaths, as a result of the loss of passenger liners and cruise ships over 10,000 GRT is 1,556. In addition 878 deaths have occurred as a result of the loss of ferries over 10,000 GRT covered by SOLAS; while a further 2,171 fatalities have been incurred in the sinking of large ferries operating outside the SOLAS regulatory system. I have also looked at some earlier losses of liners below 10,000 GRT and all transatlantic steamers of this smaller size lost before SOLAS. Together these vessels accounted for 11,634 lives.

Finally I looked at the more notable peacetime disasters that have befallen ferries that were below 10,000 GRT. It is in not a comprehensive record and many of the casualty figures are estimates. Nevertheless it should be noted that the total number of deaths resulting from the losses of the small ferries recorded in my articles is over 33,500. Many of the vessels involved were operating in national waters and not covered by SOLAS regulations.

On the positive side, there are more passenger ships over 10,000 GRT operating today than at any time in history. SOLAS regulators have been constrained by the need to obtain the consent of all 168 IMO member countries to rule changes. This has often meant that to obtain agreement, the enhanced rules have only applied to ships built after the regulation date. For the first time, the new SOLAS 2010 regulations apply to all passenger ships engaged on international voyages, so old ships with inadequate safety must go. To place this in context, while there have been 479 deaths in the loss of cruise ships in the past 40 years, there have only been 3 deaths in the loss of a cruise ship built in that period. These three deaths were incurred on ships that were converted into cruise ships. Only one ship built since WW2 as a cruise ship has ever been lost. That was the constructive total loss of Cunard Ambassador in 1974, without loss of life.

The subject is so large that I have split the work into 12 Parts. Part 1 provides definitions, an explanation of the way SOLAS has developed and a summary of the worst peacetime disasters. Despite its fame, the Titanic disaster is in fact the fifth worst; the four greatest all fall within my definition of ferries.

I hope that Members will find this work of some interest. With so many learned maritime experts using this site it is highly probable you may spot some errors that I have made. If that happens, please send me a PM and I will deal with the problem.

Fred (Thumb)

31st January 2010, 18:25
Excellent work Fred - I know this has taken you a great deal of time and effort but it was definitely worth it. (Applause)

I commend it to those members who have not checked it out.

1st February 2010, 14:18
Fred i enjoyed reading most! of all you wrote it was to say the least very informative and sometimes captervating. It was a job very well done THANK YOU from me at least Bob Hughes ( timaru ) we must gtet another trip up i enjoyed the Pride of Bilbao Bob

2nd February 2010, 02:27
You might be interested to know that Stockholm (collided Andrea Doria) is still working a a cruise ship under the name "Athena" on long term charter to Classic Cruises under the Portuguese flag. She was in Hobart (Tas) a few days ago at the grand old age of 62 !!!

2nd February 2010, 13:45
Thank you Fred,
That was a very interesting and well-researched article and I look forward to reading the next part.

I wonder how many liners will be going to the breakers this year, as they will be too old to upgrade, or turn into floating casinos