Passenger Ship Disasters - Part 5
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Structural Failure
- 3 Large Passenger Ships lost through structural failure
- 4 The Passenger Ships lost as a result of structural failure
- 5 Foundered
- 6 Large Passenger Ships that foundered
- 7 The Passenger Ships over 10,000 GRT that foundered
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 Photographs
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 as a result of structural failure or have foundered.
This part could perhaps be titled “All other causes” but the events broadly fall into two categories. This section covers the four passenger vessels over 10,000 GRT that sank as a result of the physical failure of part of the ships’ structure and following section below covers the four that foundered in heavy seas.
Large Passenger Ships lost through structural failure
|Lost||Name when Lost||Name when Built||Owner when Lost||Built||GRT||Casualties|
|1971||Monte Udala||Monte Udala||Anzar||1948||10,170||0|
|2000||Sea Breeze I||Federico C||Dolphin Cruise||1958||21,010||0|
The Passenger Ships lost as a result of structural failure
Monte Udala was laid-down in the Cia Euskalduna shipyard in Bilbao as a cargo ship, but was modified as an emigrant carrier for Aznar Line before completion in 1948. She was employed on a service from Genoa to Argentina, via Spain, Canary Islands and Brazil. On 8 September 1971 while on a voyage from Buenos Aires to Genoa she suffered a main engine cooling water sea-chest failure, which flooded the engine room. The ship had to be abandoned in a sinking condition, but all on board (including the ship’s cat) were rescued. Monte Udala later sank 70 nautical miles off Ilhéus, on the southern coast of Bahia, Brazil.
Photo 1: Monte Udala was 10,170 GRT; 487 feet long, with a beam of 62 feet 4 inches. Single screw, powered by a Sulzer diesel engine, producing 7,300 bhp, providing a service speed of 16 knots. She had accommodation for 62 first class, 40 second class and 290 third class passengers.
Oceanos was completed in 1952, by Chantiers de la Gironde in Bordeaux, as the Jean Laborde; the last of four sister ships for Messageries Maritimes. The ships were used on the Marseilles – Madagascar – Mauritius service until they were sold in 1970. Jean Laborde underwent several name changes and owners until, in 1976, she was registered in Piraeus, Greece, as Oceanos under the management of Epirotiki.
Photo 2: The decrepit Epirotiki cruise ship Oceanos
After a successful 1988 cruise season in South Africa, the Oceanos received an eight-month charter from TFC Tours of Johannesburg. The Oceanos was in a sad state of neglect, including loose hull plates, valves stripped for spare parts and a 10 cm hole in the "watertight" bulkhead between the generator room and waste disposal tank. The ship was not equipped with full air conditioning and many of the lower deck portholes were almost constantly open.
On 3 August 1991, Oceanos set out from East London, South Africa, headed to Durban. She headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m swells. At approximately 21:30 while off the Wild Coast of the Transkei, the sea-chest supplying cooling water to the generators fractured with a sound like a muffled explosion. The ship's engineer reported to Captain Yiannis Avranas that water was entering the hull and flooding the generator room. The engineers were forced to shut down the generators because of the rising water. Without electricity to power their auxiliary equipment the main engines stopped and the ship was left drifting.
The water steadily rose in the generator room and began flowing through the 10 cm hole in the bulkhead into the waste disposal tank. As the isolating valves for the holding tank were inoperable, the incoming water flowed back through the main drainage pipes and rose like a tide within the ship, spilling out of every shower, toilet, sink and waste disposal unit connected to the system. Realizing the fate of the ship, the crew fled in panic, leaving the lower deck portholes open. No alarm was raised. Passengers remained ignorant of the events taking place, until they were confronted by the flooding in the lower decks. At this stage, eyewitness accounts reveal that many of the crew, including Captain Avranas, were already packed and ready to depart, seemingly unconcerned with the safety of the passengers.
Nearby vessels responded to the ship's SOS and were the first to provide assistance. Most of the crew and some passengers were evacuated by lifeboats to these vessels. The South African Navy along with the South African Air Force launched a massive seven-hour mission in which 16 helicopters were used to airlift the remainder of the passengers and crew to the nearby settlements of The Haven and Hole in the Wall, about 10 km south of Coffee Bay. Of the 16 rescue helicopters, 13 were South African Air Force Pumas, nine of which were responsible for hoisting and evacuating 225 passengers off the deck of the sinking ship.
All 571 people onboard were saved, following one of the most dramatic and successful rescue operations of its kind. The ship’s British cruise director, the entertainers, hosts and hostesses, musicians and magicians were the only crew members who remained to assist the passengers and were the last to be rescued from the ship.
The following day, at approximately 15:30, the Oceanos rolled over onto her side, her stern rose upright and she sank.
Captain Yiannis Avranas was accused by the passengers of leaving hundreds behind, with no one other than the ship's onboard entertainers to help them evacuate. Avranas claimed that he left the ship first in order to arrange the rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue from a helicopter. Avranas stated, "When I give the order abandon ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay." A year after the sinking, Avranas and several senior crew members were found guilty of negligence by the Greek Maritime Board.
Photo 3: Viking Sally as built was 15,566 GRT; 510 feet long, with a beam of 79 feet 4 inches. Twin screw, powered by four MAN diesel engines, producing 24,000 bhp, providing a service speed of 21.2 knots. She had accommodation for 828 berthed and 358 unberthed passengers in one class, with a crew of 110. She could carry 460 cars
The Baltic ferry Estonia was delivered in 1980, by the German shipbuilders Meyer Werft as Viking Sally. After several changes of ownership and name, she became EstLine’s Estonia in January 1993. The actual ownership of the ship was rather complex; in order to finance the purchase, her registered owners were Estline Marine Co Ltd, Nicosia, Cyprus, who chartered the ship to E.Liini A/S, Tallinn, Estonia who in turn chartered the ship to EstLine Ab. As a result the ship was actually registered in both Cyprus and Estonia. As the largest Estonian-owned ship of the time, Estonia symbolized the country’s independence gained after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Photo 4: Estline’s flagship Estonia
Estonia departed Tallinn, Estonia at 19:00 on 27 September 1994, on a scheduled overnight crossing to Stockholm, Sweden. She was carrying 989 passengers and crew. Most of the passengers were Scandinavian, while most of the crew members were Estonian. The weather was rough, with a wind of 29–39 knots, force 7–8 on the Beaufort scale and a significant wave height of 3 to 4 metres (compared with the highest measured significant wave height in the Baltic Sea of 7.7 metres). Other ferry captains at sea that night described the weather as "normally bad"; a typical autumn storm in the Baltic Sea. All scheduled passenger ferries were operating normally. The official enquiry found that the vessel was seaworthy and properly manned. The cargo was secured to normal standards and the bow visor was properly closed and secured on departure.
The failure sequence may have started at about 00:55 hrs on 28 September, when a seaman heard a metallic bang at the bow ramp and reported this to the officer of the watch. An inconclusive attempt was made to find the reason for the sound. The captain arrived on the bridge and was present when a second attempt was initiated shortly after 01:00 hrs. The ship’s speed was about 14 knots, with all four main engines running at full service speed setting.
The locking devices and the hinges of the bow visor failed fully, under one or two wave impact loads on the visor, shortly after 01:00 hrs. The visor worked its way forward and forced the ramp partly open due to mechanical interference between the visor and the ramp, inherent in the design. Water started entering the car deck, at the sides of the partly open ramp. The ingress of water at the sides of the bow ramp was observed on a monitor in the engine control room, but no information was passed to the bridge; which did not have a monitor.
The ramp rested for a while within the visor until about 01:15 hrs, when the complete visor fell into the sea, pulling the ramp fully open. The visor indicator lamps on the bridge did not show the visor had detached and the visor was not visible from the bridge. Large amounts of water entered the car deck and in a few minutes a starboard list of more than 15° developed.
As the list developed the officers of the watch reduced the ship’s speed and initiated a turn to port. They also ordered the engineer to compensate for the list by pumping ballast, but the pump sucked air and, furthermore, the tank was almost full. The officers of the watch also closed the watertight doors.
The main engines stopped at about 01:20 hrs, one after the other, due to lubricating oil pressure loss, caused by the list reaching about 30°. The vessel drifted with her starboard side towards the waves. At about 01:25 hrs the list was more than 40°. By then, windows and a door had broken in the aft part of the ship on the starboard side, allowing progressive flooding of the accommodation. The main generators stopped. As the list increased the Estonia started to sink stern first. At about 01:35 hrs the list was about 80°.
The first known Mayday call from the Estonia was transmitted at 01:22 hrs and at about the same time the lifeboat alarm was given. Shortly before that, a brief alarm in Estonian was given over the public address system. Just after this, the crew was alerted by a coded fire alarm. No general information was given to the passengers during the accident. In addition to the master and the two officers of the watch, at least the chief officer and the third officer were on the bridge at the time of the distress traffic.
The time available for evacuation was very short, between 10 and 20 minutes. There was no organised evacuation. The evacuation was hampered by the rapid increase in the list, by narrow passages, by transverse staircases, by objects coming loose and by crowding. About 300 people reached the outer decks. Most victims remained trapped inside the vessel. The lifesaving equipment in many cases did not function as intended. Lifeboats could not be lowered.
The vessel disappeared below the surface at about 01:50 hrs.
Estonia’s Mayday calls were received by 14 radio stations, including the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) at Turku in Finland. At the beginning the ferry Silja Europa took the role of control station for the distress traffic. Confusion and delay was caused because the distress traffic was not conducted in accordance with the procedures required by the international search and rescue radio regulations. Estonia's two distress beacons (EPIRBs) required manual activation, which didn't happen. Had they activated automatically, it would have been immediately obvious that the ship had sunk and the location would have been clear. MRCC Turku did not announce on the radio that they were conducting the operation. Helsinki Radio did not hear the Estonia's distress calls, or the distress traffic. Helsinki Radio transmitted a Pan-Pan call (urgent message) at 01:50 hrs instead of the distress message requested by MRCC Turku.
Largely as a result of the radio communications confusion, initially the accident was not treated as a major accident. It was only formally designated as such at 02:30. MRCC Turku started alerting rescue units at 01:26 hrs. One standby helicopter was alerted at 01:35 hrs, another at 02:18 hrs, and military helicopters at 02:52 hrs. Assistance by Swedish helicopters was agreed at 01:58 hrs.
The captain of the Silja Europa was appointed On-Scene Commander (OSC) at 02:05 hrs. The first rescue unit, the ferry Mariella, arrived on the scene of the accident at 02:12 hrs; 50 minutes after the first distress call. MRCC Tallinn was only informed of the accident at 02:55 hrs by MRCC Helsinki. The first helicopter arrived at 03:05 hrs. Two Finnish helicopters landed survivors on the passenger ferries. The other helicopters felt that this was too dangerous and carried rescued persons to land.
An air co-ordinator arrived to assist the OSC at 06:50 hrs and a surface search co-ordinator arrived at 09:45 hrs. The participating vessels did not launch lifeboats, or Man Overboard boats, due to the heavy weather. Their rescue equipment was not suitable for picking up people from the water, or from rafts. Winch problems in three Swedish Navy helicopters seriously limited their rescue capacity. Some helicopters carried journalists during the later rescue flights.
Of the approximately 300 people who reached the Estonia’s open decks, some 160 succeeded in climbing onto life-rafts, and a few climbed onto capsized lifeboats. Helicopters rescued 104 people, and vessels rescued 34. One rescued person subsequently died. A single Finnish helicopter rescued 44 survivors. Of the 989 people on board, 137 survived. All 95 victims recovered from the sea have been identified and 757 people are still missing.
It is perhaps inevitable with a disaster of this magnitude, that a number of conspiracy theories have arisen around the loss of Estonia. These have largely been based upon the ship’s alleged transportation of secret military equipment and the suggestion that the Russian secret service was responsible for sinking the ship. The official enquiry into the tragedy however, blamed the loss of the ship on the design and construction of her bow visor. The full report is available on line at: -
The summary of its findings reads as follows: -
- There were no detailed design requirements for bow visors in the rules of Bureau Veritas, the classification society concerned, at the time of the building of Estonia.
- The Finnish Maritime Administration was, according to a national decree, exempt from doing hull surveys of vessels holding valid class certificates issued by authorised classification societies.
- The visor locking devices were not examined for approval by the Finnish Maritime Administration, nor by Bureau Veritas.
- The visor design load and the assumed load distribution on the attachments did not take realistic wave impact loads into account.
- The visor locking devices installed were not manufactured in accordance with the design intentions.
- No safety margin was incorporated in the total load-carrying capacity of the visor attachment system.
- The attachment system as installed, was only able to withstand a resultant wave force slightly above the design load used.
- A long series of bow visor incidents on other ships, had not led to general action to reinforce the attachments of bow doors on existing ro-ro passenger ferries, including the Estonia.
- Wave impact loads generated on the night of the accident exceeded the combined strength of the visor attachments.
- Wave impact loads on the visor increased very quickly with increasing significant wave height, while forward speed had a smaller effect on the loads.
- The SOLAS requirements for an upper extension of the collision bulkhead were not satisfied.
- The general maintenance standard of the visor was satisfactory. Existing minor maintenance deficiencies were not significant factors in the accident.
The official report indicated that the bow visor and ramp had been torn off at points that would not trigger an "open" or "unlatched" warning on the bridge, as is the case in normal operation or failure of the latches. There was no video monitoring of this portion of the vehicle bay. However, a video camera monitoring the inner ramp showed the water as it flooded the car deck. Recommendations for modifications to be applied to similar ships included separation of the condition sensors from the latch and hinge mechanisms, and the addition of video monitoring.
The report states “The longer a ship is able to stay afloat in the event of an accident the more successful evacuation and rescue operations will be.” The Estonia report is critical of the delays in sounding the alarm, the passivity of the crew and the lack of guidance from the bridge. In 1999, special training requirements in crowd and crisis management and human behaviour were extended to cover the crew on all passenger ships, as well as amendments to watch keeping standards. Estonia's distress beacons or EPIRBs required manual activation which didn't happen. All EPIRBs were subsequently required to deploy automatically and the accident was instrumental in the move to legislate for the mandatory installation of Voyage Data Recorders. New IMO SOLAS life-raft regulations for rescue from listing ships in rough water were introduced, though launching such craft, even in training exercises, remains dangerous for the crew. However "If you are out to sea, the best lifeboat is the ship itself." New designs, the “citadel concept”, once again influenced by Estonia, aim to ensure damaged ships have sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat. SOLAS 90 which comes into effect in 2010 specifies existing passenger ships stability requirements and ferries in North West Europe must also be able to survive 50 cm of water on the car deck.
Photo 5: Federico C as built measured 20,416 GRT; 606 feet long; 78 feet 9 inches beam. Twin screw, powered by geared steam turbines, producing 28,600 shp, providing a service speed of 21 knots. She had accommodation for 243 first class, 300 second class and 736 cabin class passengers.
The sinking of SeaBreeze I is one of strangest and most suspicious of passenger ship losses. She began life as Federico C and had the distinction of being the first Costa newbuilding. She was delivered by Ansaldo in 1958, to strengthen Costa’s share of First and Tourist Class traffic from Genoa to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. During her long life she received a number of refits and upgrades, to meet the more demanding standards of the cruise trades and in 1972 became a full time cruise vessel. In 1983 she was sold to Premier Cruise Line and renamed firstly Royale, then Starship Royale for operations from Cape Canaveral in collaboration with the Disney organisation until 1989, when she was sold to Dolphin Cruise Line as their SeaBreeze I. Dolphin was in turn bought by Premier in 1997, but Disney decided to build their own cruise ships and Premier went out of business in 2000.
Photo 6: SeaBreeze I
After a period laid-up in Canada, the ship was bought from Dolphin’s creditors by Cruise Ventures III, a subsidiary of New York-based DLJ Capital Funding. She was traveling from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Charleston, South Carolina in heavy seas, when the Captain radioed for help, claiming that a boiler had broken away from its foundations and severely damaged the ship. The engine room was flooded and the ship was sinking 225 miles off the Virginia coast. To the surprise of the US Coastguard, the Captain did not want the assistance of salvage tugs, but asked for air-sea rescue for the skeleton crew on board the ship. As SeaBreeze I was 25 miles outside of US jurisdiction, the Coastguard were obliged to comply and all 34 men on board were rescued by helicopters.
SeaBreeze I sank the next day, 17 December 2000. Although the ship was only worth about $5 to $6 million she was covered by a $20 million insurance policy.
It could be argued that the NCL cruise ship Norway became a constructive total loss as a result of her boiler explosion on 25 May 2003. Following that explosion, when seven crew members were killed, she was towed to Bremerhaven and employed as an accommodation vessel, until she was towed to the Far East in 2005. There she remained idle, changed name and owners, until she was scrapped in 2008. In view of the time lapse between the explosion and her demise, the ship has been regarded as being scrapped from lay-up and excluded from these articles.
For these articles the expression to “founder” is confined to losses where the ship appeared to be overwhelmed by the seas. It is possible that the four losses were attributable to specific failures, but in the absence of definitive and authoritative enquiries into the disasters, they have been simply classified as foundered. It will be noted that three of the four vessels listed were ferries.
Large Passenger Ships that foundered
|Lost||Name when Lost||Name when Built||Owner when Lost||Built||GRT||Casualties|
|1928||Vestris||Vestris||Lamport & Holt||1912||10,494||112|
|1998||Princess of the Orient||Sun Flower 11||Sulpicio||1974||13,598||150|
|2002||Mercuri 2||Sovetskiy Tadzhikistan||Caspian Shipping||1985||11,450||43|
|2008||Princess of the Stars||Ferry Lilac||Sulpicio||1984||23,824||865|
The Passenger Ships over 10,000 GRT that foundered
William James Lamport and George Holt entered into partnership in 1845 as shipbrokers, charterers and traders. George Holt was the elder brother of Alfred Holt, who also worked for the partnership before becoming the founder of the famed Blue Funnel Line. In 1863 the partners began steamship services to South America and in 1865 formed the Liverpool, Brazil & River Plate Steam Navigation Co Ltd. The formal name was ignored by the public and the service was invariably known as Lamport & Holt Line.
In 1911 the managing partnership was converted into a limited company – Lamport & Holt Ltd. Behind the scenes Owen Cosby Philipps (later Lord Kylsant) was negotiating with the families to take over the new management company. Agreement was reached on the basis of cash payment, plus shares in Royal Mail and Elder Dempster. At this time three Lamport & Holt passenger liners were under construction for the company’s River Plate – New York service. One of these ships was the liner Vestris.
Photo 7: Vestris was built in Belfast by Workman, Clark & Co and measured 10,494 GRT; 511 feet LOA, 495 feet 6 inches BP; 60 feet 10 inches beam. Twin screw, powered by 2 four-cylinder quadruple expansion engines, producing 8,000 IHP, providing a service speed of 15 knots. She had accommodation for 280 first class, 130 second class, 200 third class passengers and 250 crew.
On 10 November 1928, Vestris sailed from New York on her regular service to the east coast of South America, with 129 passengers and 196 crew on-board. It was subsequently reported that her cargo was very badly stowed, with her Plimsoll line 7.5 inches under water and that the hatches not properly battened down. As a result of her very badly loaded condition, the stability of Vestris became precarious when she ran into a storm on 11 November and she developed a permanent list.
It was reported that first the cargo, then the coal bunkers began to shift, progressively increasing the list, leading to leaks through the ash ejectors and the coal bunker ports, but no SOS was sent out until the following day. By this time water was pouring into the engine room and the pumps failed. Vestris was on her beam-ends before the order was given to abandon ship and very few lifeboats could be launched before she foundered, at about 14:00 hours on 12 November, with the loss of 112 lives.
Photo 8: Photograph taken aboard Vestris shortly before she sank
The American press, with considerable justification, were highly critical of the incompetence of the master, officers and crew of the ship and the management of Lamport & Holt. This led to a dramatic drop in loadings for the company’s other liners and the South American service was discontinued at the end of 1929. The other ships employed on the service were brought back to UK and laid-up.
Owen Cosby Philipps had taken control of the dying Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in 1903 before buiding it into the largest shipping and shipbuilding organisation in Britain. In the process Philipps received a knighthood, then was made Lord Kylsant, before his empire collapsed in 1931 and he ended his life in disgrace. The brilliant accountant Sir William McLintock and his fellow trustees in bankruptcy succeeded in rescuing and re-establishing most of the constituent companies in the Royal Mail Group.
The resolution of Lamport & Holts affairs was complicated by the law cases arising from the loss of the Vestris. At one stage it seemed that the Vestris case would drive Lamport & Holt into total bankruptcy, with all the available assets swallowed by lawyers’ fees, but McLintock succeeded in settling the case out of court for £100,000. Although this saved the company, one consequence was that evidence as to the cause of the loss of Vestris was never heard in court.
Princess of the Orient
The owners of Princess of the Orient were the Philippine shipping company, Sulpicio Lines, who were notorious for overloading their vessels. The company also holds the record for the highest peacetime death toll of any shipping line in the world killing more 5,300 people ( Part 8). As a result of the loss of Princess of the Stars (see below) the company’s passenger operating licence has currently been reduced to one vessel.
Most Philippine ferries are ex-Japanese vessels. Princess of the Orient was built as the luxury ferry Sun Flower 11 and was delivered in September 1974 to Nihon Kosoku Ferry for their Osaka to Kagoshima service. Unfortunately the 1973 oil crisis and a steep drop in tourist numbers had a very adverse effect on the finances of the Japanese luxury ferry operations. Sun Flower 11 changed Japanese owners several times, before being sold to Sulpicio in 1993.
Photo 9: Sun Flower 11 as built was 13,598 GRT; 640 feet long, with a beam of 78 feet 9 inches. Twin screw powered by MAN diesel engines, producing 36,000 bhp, providing a service speed of 25 knots. She had accommodation for 1,124 passengers in one class, with a crew of 87. She could carry 192 cars and 85 trucks.
The Philippines was suffering from Tropical Storm Vicki, as Princess of the Orient sailed from Manila, at 20:00 hours on 18 September 1998, bound for Cebu with 388 passengers and 102 crew. About midnight she reported that she was listing uncontrollably; at 00:55 the next morning, she capsized and sank off Fortune Island, near Batangas at the exit from the Bay of Manila. It is believed that the ship’s cargo shifted, making her unstable.
It was over 12 hours before rescuers arrived on the scene and at least 150 people perished. A subsequent court case was successfully brought against Sulpicio, because they continued to employ the captain of Princess of the Orient, despite the ship being involved in a series of accidents whilst under his command.
The ferry Mercuri 2 was built as Sovetskiy Tadzhikistan for the USSR, by Uljanik in Yugoslavia in 1984. She was one of the Dagistan Class of Ro-Pax rail and road vehicle ferries, which were built for service on the Caspian.
Photo 10: The launch of Sovetskiy Tadzhikistan
After the collapse of the Soviet Union she joined the Caspian Shipping fleet and was renamed Mercuri 2 in 1993.
Photo 11: Akademik Topchubashov a sister of Mercuri 2
On 22 October 2002, Mercuri 2 was on a voyage in the Caspian from Aktau to Baku, carrying rail tank-cars filled with crude oil, when she ran into a severe storm. She developed a severe list and then capsized. It is believed that the rail cars broke loose. About 23 people lost their lives.
Princess of the Stars
Sulpicio bought the 1984 built Japanese vessel Ferry Lilac in 2004, renamed her Princess of the Stars and placed her on their main Manila to Cebu route.
Photo 12: Princess of the Stars was 23,824 GT; 633 feet long, with a beam of 96 feet 6 inches. Twin screw, powered by two Pielstick diesel engines, producing 23,760 bhp, providing a service speed of 21 knots. She had accommodation for 788 passengers in one class and a vehicle capacity of 427 cars.
At 16:45 hours on 20 June 2008, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) issued a bulletin that Typhoon Frank had made landfall over Eastern Samar and was headed toward the Bicol region. The forecast said Typhoon Frank would cross Samar and reach Camarines Norte the next day. Storm Signal #1 was raised in Metro Manila and some parts of Cebu, while Northern Cebu and Romblon were placed under Signal #2.
Princess of the Stars left the port of Manila at 20:04 hours and began its voyage to Cebu. Like most Philippine ferry voyages, there was no definitive passenger list for the voyage and there is considerable uncertainty as to the number of people on board.
Later that night, Typhoon Frank changed its course. The 23:00 hours PAGASA bulletin said the typhoon was headed for Masbate and on to Southern Luzon's inland waters; it would be 60 kms northeast of Metro Manila by the evening of June 21. Romblon's storm signal was raised to #3, while Northern Cebu and Metro Manila were under Storm Signal #2. Princess of the Stars was still in the Corregidor area when this PAGASA bulletin was issued. By 23:30 hours, the Philippine Coast Guard issued a directive prohibiting all types of ships from sailing.
On the morning of 21 June, PAGASA's 05:00 bulletin said Typhoon Frank had moved westward in the past six hours and was threatening the Panay and Mindoro area. Romblon was still under Storm Signal #3; Northern Cebu was under Signal #2, while the rest of Cebu and Metro Manila were under Signal #1. Around 06:30 Pier 12 in Manila advised Princess of the Stars to seek shelter if necessary.
Princess of the Stars contacted the Sulpicio Lines office in Manila around 11:30, to report that the ship had experienced engine trouble and had run aground near Sibuyan Island and Romblon. Sulpicio Lines lost contact with the ship after this. There are considerable doubts about the accuracy of this message.
Some survivors claimed that the ship slowed down as it encountered big waves off the coast of Romblon, but the engine did not stop. Some rescue boats confirmed that there was a hole in the hull of Princess of the Stars, but this was actually the ship’s bow thrust unit. It is distinctly possible that unsecured vehicles moved in the rough seas, initiating the ferry’s capsize.
Sulpicio Lines asked for help from vessels near Princess of the Stars, but received no response. The Sulpicio Lines office in Manila sent a distress call to the Philippine Coast Guard at 12:55. Rescue vessels were unwilling to immediately respond however, because of the sea state.
In media interviews days later, survivors recounted that Princess of the Stars was listing for some time and that it began to sink shortly after the captain ordered abandon ship, around noon on 21 June. All radio contact ceased after 12:30. One survivor saw many people jump, but "the waves were so big and the rains so strong that few of them could have possibly survived; the crew were so busy saving themselves that they did not care to help the passengers to wear safety vests.” Some of the passengers fainted, while children and the elderly failed to obtain life vests, as they could no longer move because of the extreme angle of the ship. The list progressively increased until the ship capsized.
Romblon remained under Storm Signal #3 for the rest of the day. By 17:00, PAGASA estimated that the centre of Typhoon Frank was either off the coast of Romblon, or in the vicinity of nearby Tablas Island. PAGASA's 23:00 bulletin reported that Typhoon Frank had weakened and was headed for Mindoro and Batangas.
PAGASA lowered the storm signal in Romblon to #2 in its 05:00 bulletin on 22 June, as the typhoon moved closer to Metro Manila. Shortly before 09:00 AM, Romblon provincial police confirmed to media reporters that Princess of the Stars had sunk. It was only then that the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy dispatched three military vessels to the area, although one turned back because of the seas.
The first rescue vessel arrived at Princess of the Stars more than 24 hours after radio contact was lost with the ship. No survivors were found as they had long since drifted away. The rescue effort was further confused by a cargo ship sinking in the same area and some reports of rescued survivors turned out to be people from the other ship.
On 24 June 2008 the Philippine Coast Guard reported that it accounted for only 115 (48 survivors confirmed, 67 others confirmed dead) of the 862 passengers and crew it believed had been onboard Princess of the Stars. Divers were however beginning to recover bodies from inside the wreck, but this work had to stop when it was discovered that the ship was illegally carrying 10,000 kg of the dangerous pesticide endosulfan. Recovery work resumed in October and November 2008, after the removal of the endosulfan and other dangerous cargo discovered on board the ferry.
At the conclusion of the subsequent Board of Marine Inquiry investigation into the tragedy, the BMI recommended the indefinite suspension of the passenger carrying licence of Sulpicio Lines, for allowing the vessel to sail despite the bad weather. It is believed that the company has since been allowed to resume passenger operations with one ferry. The board also found the ship’s missing Captain Marimom "negligent" in the performance of his duties. The Philippine Coast Guard reported only 57 survived the tragedy, around 350 bodies had been recovered, while 515 people were still missing.
A complete Bibliography for all of these Articles is given at the end of Part 12.
Many of the photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. Others are from Wikimedia Commons or are in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 5 have been provided as follows: -
Frontispiece - Ships Nostalgia - stein
- Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
- Ships Nostalgia – DICK SLOAN
- Ships Nostalgia – trenor
- Ships Nostalgia – sifnos
- Ships Nostalgia – TORRENS
- Ships Nostalgia – trenor
- Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
- Ships Nostalgia – linerrich
- Ships Nostalgia – Dick Sloan
- Ships Nostalgia – oliana
- Azerbaijan Government
- Ships Nostalgia – Harley Crossley
Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson
|Passenger Ship Disasters|
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