Passenger Ship Disasters - Part 10

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MacBrayne's Loch Seaforth. The last British, railway owned ferry loss.


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 some of the ferries below 10,000 GRT that have been lost in UK and Continental European waters in peacetime.

Smaller Ferries in European Waters[edit]

The earlier parts of these articles set out to provide a comprehensive record of all passenger vessels above 10,000 GRT that have been lost. Excluding the effects of hostilities, the world passenger ship fleet has suffered a total of 116 ship losses in the 125 years since the first ship over 10,000 GRT entered service. Of these 43 ships were lost to fire while in port (at a cost of 5 lives) and 73 at sea for all other reasons (7,301 lives). This vessel size was selected for the earlier articles for practical reasons. Many ferries are now over 10,000 GRT and sadly the list of larger passenger ships lost over the past 45 years includes 18 ferries (3,207 lives).

Ferries are defined in these articles as passenger carrying vessels engaged on regular, relatively short distance routes. This definition includes inland waterway craft, excursion, coastal and sea-going vessels, including ships providing passengers with sleeping accommodation for one or two nights. The ferry industry has in the past 45 years also become increasingly devoted to the carriage of motor vehicles using ro-ro technology.

The trade publisher ShipPax Information calculates that on 1 January 2013 there were 1,147 ferries over 1,000 GRT, carrying vehicles and passengers below decks, in service throughout the world. Of these 426 were over 10,000 GRT. It also calculates that this ferry fleet carried 2.183 billion passengers; 258 million cars; 842 thousand buses and 39 million trailers, on 7.5 million trips in 2013.

The sheer volume of this traffic has led SOLAS to devote special attention to the safety problems that have arisen during the development of ro-ro ship designs. Those involving ships over 10,000 GRT have been covered in earlier articles; this article will address some of the disasters that befell smaller ferries. There are of course many ferries in service today that are below 10,000 GRT that operate only in domestic waters. SOLAS regulations do not apply to these vessels, but the regulations that are applied in UK and most European waters are fully SOLAS compliant. It is in the nature of ferry services that the ships are required to operate in confined and crowded waters in all weathers. This has been a significant factor in many of the disasters recorded below.

Free Surface Effect[edit]

A ship floats because its weight and form displace water and the force of buoyancy this creates is greater than the gravitational force of its weight. A ship’s stability is a function of its centre of gravity and its centre of buoyancy. Normally when a ship rolls in a seaway, its centre of gravity remains in a constant centre line position, while its centre of buoyancy moves in the direction of the roll; where it exerts an upward force on that side of the hull, which corrects the ship’s roll. It was a tragedy that ships’ designers and ships’ officers were slow to realise the disastrous impact that the free surface effect of even a modest amount of water on a vehicle deck, has upon the stability of a ro-ro ship. As the ship rolls in a seaway, the water will rush across the deck in the direction of the roll, moving the centre of gravity as well as the center of bouyancy. One cubic metre of water weighs approximately one ton. What appears to be a small amount of water when the vessel is upright becomes equal to several tons of water thrown against the side of the vehicle deck, greatly increasing the intensity of the ship’s roll. If this violent action allows more water to enter the vehicle deck, the ship will become increasingly unstable, until she adopts a permanent list, then rolls completely over. Unfortunately this can happen very quickly.

British Railway Company Ferries[edit]

Steam railways began in Britain. As the railway network expanded, it was inevitable that the railway companies established steamship connections from their railheads, to carry passengers onward to the Continent, across the Irish Sea, to the Channel Islands and the remote regions of Scotland. These early services were not without their hazards. For example, the standard method of operation in reduced visibility was based on proceeding at speed, until the ship had completed the known propeller revolutions between ports on a normal voyage. Needless to say this occasionally resulted in the ferry running aground. Thankfully the ship often came off again, but even if she were wrecked in most instances all were saved. The safety record was also flattered by the small number of passengers that were usually on board.

In 1923 the individual railway companies were amalgamated into four large operators and in 1948 these companies and their ferry operating companies were nationalised. Post-war ferry operations became increasingly dominated by ro-ro vehicle operations, with no rail connection. In recognition of this development railway ownership ceased and a new government owned entity, Sealink UK Ltd, was formed in 1979. In 1984 the new company was privatised by its sale to Sea Containers Ltd.

During the entire period of railway owned ferries in Britain (Including the Scottish operator David MacBrayne Ltd that was 50% railway owned from 1928 until 1973) 43 ferries were lost between 1847 and 1979, at a cost of 575 lives. Of these, 34 ferries were shipwrecked.


From 1860 the Channel Islands were served by ferries operated by two railway companies – the London and South Western Railway from Southampton; and the Great Western Railway from Weymouth. Rivalry between the companies and the towns was intense. Journey time became all important, supported by improvements in steamship technology.

Boats were timed to arrive together at Guernsey, and from the Casquets reef inwards would sometimes race in parallel, urged on by their passengers. The race was then on to St. Helier, where only one ship could enter at a time and where a low-tide could prevent access of more than one ferry into the harbour. This forced the runner-up to land passengers and luggage by dinghy, which lost the Company money and prestige. Whilst this competition was very exciting for the public, running the boats flat out led to excessive wear and tear. Accidents, even a disaster, became likely. By the 1899 season the two railway companies were making tentative efforts to call a halt, but nothing had been concluded by Easter of that year. Easter marked the start of the first daylight runs of the season and rivalry was particularly keen. Both the L&SWR and the GWR were running their first daylight service of the year on Maundy Thursday, 30 March 1899.

The first L&SWR daylight crossing was taken by their steamer Stella. She was the last of three high specification steamers ordered from J&G Thompson Ltd, Clydebank and had been delivered in 1890. Stella was a ship of 1,058 GRT; 253 feet long, with a beam of 35 feet; twin screw, powered by two triple expansion steam engines developing 5,700 IHP, giving her a speed of 19 knots. Stella had accommodation 712 passengers, of which 199 were provided with berths. Thankfully on 30 March 1899 she was only carrying 174 passengers and 43 crew.

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Photo 1: Stella arriving stern first into St Helier Harbour

Stella cleared her Southampton berth at 11:25, ten minutes late and passed the Needles at 12:44. Captain Reeks knew that the GWR day service would be taken that day by their Ibex, a steamer of the same performance as his command. There were patchy fog banks in the Channel that day, adding to the pressure on Captain Reeks and after twice slowing to half speed for about 10 minutes each time because of poor visibility, he decided to continue at full speed when Stella entered fog for the third time.

Captain Reeks was relying upon the established data that Stella took 28,000 propeller revolutions between the Needles and the Casquets. At 15:55, Stella’s engineer informed the bridge that 27,000 revolutions had been completed, indicating that the Casquets should be about 4 miles ahead.

Simultaneously at 16:00 the Casquets foghorn was heard for the first time at immense volume, directly overhead and rocks were sighted about 80 yards ahead of the ship. In relying upon the propeller revolution count, Captain Reeks had failed to take into account that Stella was fresh out of dock, with a clean, newly painted hull and that she was sailing down-wind.

Avoiding action was attempted, but Stella leapt over the Auquière reefs at full speed, tearing out the bottom of the ship as far as the after engine-room bulkhead and continuing into deep water, where she sank bow first and stern vertical, eight minutes after impact. The first overcrowded lifeboat capsized, although it later righted itself and 6 men clambered on board. Four more lifeboats were safely launched before Stella sank and in all 112 were saved, including 23 crew. The death toll was 105. Most of the deaths were due to exposure and hypothermia in the cold sea water.

There is an extensive and well illustrated account of the Stella disaster on the Guernsey Museum website:

Report of Formal Investigation:


The London and South Western Railway had the misfortune to suffer a second disaster in 1905, with the loss of their St Malo steamer Hilda. She was an earlier version of Stella; in fact she was replaced on the Channel Islands routes by Stella, when that ship was first delivered. Hilda was built by Aitken & Mansel, Whiteinch, Glasgow in 1883. She was a ship of 745 GRT; 232 feet 8 inches long, 28 feet 3 inches beam; single screw powered by a two cylinder inverted compound steam engine of 210 NHP, giving a speed of 13.5 knots. She was licensed to carry 500 passengers.

On the 17 November 1905 the start of Hilda’s voyage was delayed by intermittent fog, but she finally sailed from Southampton at 22:00, under the command of Captain William Gregory. She was bound for Saint Malo, with 103 passengers and 28 crew on board. The fog patches that had delayed her departure turned into a thick fog, obliging the ship to anchor off Hurst Castle, Isle of Wight at 23:00. At 06:00 on 18 November weather conditions improved and the voyage was resumed.

The Channel crossing was made at full speed in fine and clear weather conditions and Hilda reached the Race of Alderney at 12:30. Gradually the good conditions changed however, with a fresh easterly wind and rough sea building up after passing Jersey. Heavy clouds soon covered the sky and the atmosphere became colder.

Around 18:00, Hilda was manoeuvring to enter St Malo harbour roads, heading for the Jardin Lighthouse. It was dark and lights from the town were clearly visible but suddenly a heavy snow squall obliterated all the lights. It was impossible to enter St Malo without clear sight of the lighthouse, so Captain Gregory ordered Hilda to turn away on a northwest course at reduced speed, until conditions improved.

For about five hours Hilda remained off St Malo. It is believed that Captain Gregory caught a glimpse of one of the harbour lights and he decided to attempt to make an entry, before the ebbing tide would oblige him to remain at sea for the remainder of the night. In heavy surf Hilda fatally struck the Pierres des Portes reef, near the Jardin Lighthouse. An attempt was made to lower a boat, but it was smashed by the tumultuous seas that were sweeping over the ship, the other boats were above rocks. About this time, the foremast which had been swaying went over the side.

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Photo 2: The chart of the difficult approach to St Malo that is included in the official report of the investigation into the loss of Hilda. The correct course is shown in green, while Hilda’s actual course is shown in red.

The saloon passengers congregated round the after hatch, which was the most sheltered place on the vessel, where the stewards and stewardesses helped them to don lifebelts, while the steerage passengers gathered along the starboard side under the bridge, assisting one another in a similar manner. There was no confusion either amongst the passengers or the crew.

An attempt was made to get out the port quarter boat, but while this was being done, the after part of the ship sank in the water, a heavy sea swept over her stern and most of people there were washed off the deck. Some two minutes later, or about ten or twelve minutes after she struck , there was a crash and Hilda broke in two; at the same time heeling over, to such an extent that those who were clinging to the eyes of the lee rigging were plunged into the water, causing the loss of most of the remainder. However, she righted again to an angle of about forty-five degrees, although she subsequently rolled throughout the night. A few managed to climb higher into the rigging, but in the icy conditions most perished. At 09:30 the L&SWR steamer Ada and a pilot cutter arrived and in extremely difficult conditions rescued the 6 remaining survivors from the tragedy.

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Photo 3: A postcard of the wreck of Hilda

Of the 103 passengers who had boarded Hilda at Southampton, 79 were “Johnnies”; Breton onion sellers returning home from England. Five of the survivors were Bretons; the sixth survivor was the crew member James Grintner AB.

The tragic loss of so many local men had a great and lasting impact on the people of St Malo, which is reflected in the detailed and well illustrated web-site.

Report of Formal Investigation:


The Great Eastern Railway Company initiated a service from Harwich to Hook of Holland in 1893, when a railway line from Hook to Rotterdam was opened; with onward links to northern and eastern Europe. Great Eastern ordered three steamers from Earle’s Shipbuilding & Engineering Co Ltd, Hull, to operate the new service. The sisters were named Amsterdam, Berlin and Vienna, to publicise some of the rail connections from the Hook of Holland.

Berlin was a steel ship of 1,745 GRT; 302 feet 5 inches long, with a beam of 36 feet; twin screw, powered by two triple expansion steam engines producing 5,800 IHP, giving her a speed of 15 knots. She had berths for 218 first and 120 second class passengers.

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Photo 4: A postcard of the Great Eastern ferry Berlin

Thankfully Berlin was only carrying 90 passengers and 53 crew when she left Harwich at 22:00 on 20 February 1907, under the command of Captain John Precious. She immediately ran into a north-westerly gale, but nevertheless made good progress through the night and was approaching the New Waterway about 05:00; bugling the relieved passengers “arrival in 30 minutes”.

The Hook Lighthouse-Keeper recorded that Berlin was running well for mid channel and under proper control, when she suddenly veered off course. The ship had been struck on her port quarter by a huge wave, causing her to swing northwards. Captain Precious and Pilot Bronders struggled to regain control, but just as the ship’s head was coming back onto her original course, Berlin was struck again on her port quarter, by another heavy sea and was swung northwards, so that she was impaled on the very end of the granite breakwater at the entrance to the New Waterway. If the giant waves had struck while she was a few yards further out, Berlin would have entered harbour without harm, but instead she was wrecked within a few feet of safety.

The seas swept over the entire ship. A passenger, Captain Parkinson, decided to offer Captain Precious help and advice, but just as he reached the bridge ladder, he saw both Captain Precious and Pilot Bronders swept overboard by tremendous wave.

The Dutch steam life-boat President van Heel, with a crew of nine men commanded by Captain Jensen, went out to assist. The weather conditions were deteriorating and it was only with the utmost difficulty that she could get out at all, but she succeeded at last in coming within three fathoms of Berlin. The seas lifted the lifeboat up and tossed her high above the wreck and disaster seemed certain until the captain succeeded in getting the boat’s anchor to hold. The lifeboat fired two rockets and the second established communication, but only for a few minutes, as the line fouled wreckage and was severed. Then the lifeboat’s anchor chain parted and she was forced to back away, to clear and return to the harbour for a fresh anchor and more rockets.

At 06:00 Berlin broke in two amidships, abaft of the engine room. The fore part of the ship slid down the inner side of the breakwater, drifting for some 80 yards, before sinking with all those within. The after part remained firmly embedded on the piles and stones of the breakwater.

The President van Heel went out again and at one point was within 10 yards of the wreck, but she could not get a line aboard. Later in the day she tried again, but only succeeded in rescuing Captain Parkinson, who managed to swim out to the lifeboat.

On the following day she put out to the wreck three times, but still the sea was so tremendous that nothing could be done. Then at 13:30, she left the harbour in the teeth of a blinding snowstorm. Accompanying her was the pilot boat Helvoetsluis, with Prince Henry of the Netherlands aboard. On approaching the wreck, Captain Jensen of the life-boat, with five volunteers from both the lifeboat and pilot boat, boarded a small boat and succeeded in landing at the end of the North Pier and ascend its iron beacon. From this vantage point, they were at last able to throw ropes to the deck of the wreck. These enabled 11 persons to be pulled to safety, joining their rescuers on the beacon. The 3 remaining women survivors on the ship were too terrified to follow. Despite the perilous conditions, the party on the beacon succeeded in regaining the pilot boat, after which the falling tide drove the rescue vessels back into the harbour.

A Dutchman, Captain Martin Sperling, then set out in a yawl from the salvage vessel Van der Tak and at great risk from the waves and Berlin’s bilge keel, manoeuvred alongside the wreck, climbed aboard and lowered the three remaining women passengers to the yawl. Captain Sperling regained the yawl and succeeded in bearing away and return to the safety of the harbour.

The heroic actions of the Dutch seaman resulted in the rescue of 15 people from Berlin – six women and four men passengers plus five crew. Sadly 128 people were drowned (48 crew and 80 passengers) within a short distance from the shore.

Report of Formal Investigation:

Princess Victoria[edit]

On 1 January 1923, the many British mainland railways were merged into four large operating companies, of which the largest was the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS). During the period between the two World Wars, there was a considerable growth in the use of road vehicles. Craning these on and off traditional ferries was a slow and cumbersome process and in 1939, LMS introduced a pioneer drive-on car ferry for their Stranraer – Larne service. Princess Victoria was fitted with a vehicle space at the after end of the main deck, accessed by ramps over the stern. This had headroom of 12 feet, occupied the full width of the ship and ran forward from the stern for 170 feet. Up to 64 cars could be accommodated, depending on size and two 20 foot turntables assisted with handling . Passenger accommodation occupied the main deck forward of the car space and large sliding doors to port and starboard gave access to a walkway down to cattle pens situated on the lower deck. The main deck was open at the after end with the stern aperture protected by two 5ft 6in high side hinged folding gates secured by an arrangement of portable drop stays and bolts.

Unfortunately Princess Victoria became a war loss and a repeat, also named Princess Victoria, virtually identical, was ordered as a replacement from the same shipbuilder – Wm Denny & Brothers, Dumbarton. The new ship was delivered in 1947. She was 2,694 GRT; 322 feet long overall, 48 feet 2 inches beam; twin screw, powered by two Sulzer 7TS48 diesel engines, producing 5,100 BHP, and achieved a trial speed of 19.4 knots. Princess Victoria was licensed to carry 875 first and 542 third class passengers, with a crew of 44. The ship was divided into 9 watertight compartments below the vehicle deck and was designed to survive with any two compartments flooded. Her intact stability calculations showed that she could heel to 45° with safety. No damage stability calculations with water on the vehicle deck appear to have been carried out. This may have been because the designers builders and regulatory authorities apparently did not conceive that within her restricted plying limits there was any risk of water entering the car deck over the stern.

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Photo 5: The vehicle ferry Princess Victoria of 1947

On 1 January 1948 the British railway companies were nationalised and British Railways came into being, operating under the control of the British Transport Commission. Princess Victoria continued to operate the same Stranraer – Larne service for the nationalised undertaking. In May 1949, the car deck was strengthened to permit the carriage of heavy goods vehicles. On 25 November 1949, in heavy weather, milk tankers on the car deck shifted and overturned setting up a list. To reduce this the milk cargo was discharged on to the deck but took over 40 minutes to clear through the scuppers. On 25 November 1951 while going astern from Larne harbour in NE gale force conditions the stern gates were breached and about 100 tons of water entered the car deck , taking nearly two hours to clear. The gates were repaired but no further modifications were made.

In the final days of January 1953 the entire area of north-western Europe, from Scotland to the Netherlands, was subject to violent storms.( The resultant storm surge in the North Sea caused flooding which claimed over 2000 lives). On the morning of 31 January weather conditions at Stranraer were so severe that station staff expected the morning sailing to Larne to be cancelled. Gale warnings had been issued throughout the previous day and overnight and by the morning, the nearby Portpatrick coastguard reported the wind speed as 75 mph (Beaufort F12) and increasing; later in the day the same source recorded speeds of over 80 mph during the frequent squalls. Even in the shelter of the harbour, Princess Victoria was rising and falling up to six feet alongside the quay. The passengers from the connecting overnight boat train from London, including two senior Ulster politicians, boarded the ship with some difficulty. Princess Victoria was berthed bow in, so it was not possible to use the ramp to board the two pre-booked cars, even if conditions had allowed. It was also too hazardous to use the dockside crane, which had suffered storm damage, to load these or the consignment of approximately 44 tons of small cargo items awaiting shipment. The practice had developed of carrying cargo on the vehicle deck rather than in the forward hold. Overnight the cargo was laboriously loaded through the port sliding 'cattle' door and stowed on large wooden 'trays' (6ft6in x 4ft6in) on either side of the un-cambered deck. The loose bags, boxes, cartons, packages etc were held in position on the trays by tarpaulins but the trays themselves were not secured to strong points on the deck.

A post delivery (1949) modification to the ship was the installation of a steel spray door, 4ft3in high, rather like a guillotine, which was secured in a frame above the folding stern gates. When lowered, a channel along the lower edge fitted over the top of the folding gates. Despite the exceptional conditions this door was not deployed when Princess Victoria departed on her last voyage.

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Photo 6: Princess Victoria: with stern gates (painted black and with ship's name and port of registry) closed and spray door in raised position

Princess Victoria eventually sailed at 0745, some 45 minutes late, with fortunately only 127 passengers aboard, together with her crew of 49, under the command of Captain James Ferguson, the ship's regular master. The Inquiry report concluded that, despite the conditions, the decision to sail was 'justified'. No mention is made of allegations, strenuously denied by the ship's managers, that the captain might have been influenced to put to sea, perhaps against his better judgement. The ship proceeded slowly down Loch Ryan into the north-westerly gale and took at least 45 minutes to cover the 9 miles to the mouth of the loch. Once clear of the loch the practice in the case of strong northwesterly conditions was to continue further north, before turning southwest for Ireland, to obtain greater sea-room. It is uncertain whether Captain Ferguson followed this procedure as some witnesses on land reported seeing the ship, at between 0850 and 0900, on its 'normal course' heading west off Corsewall Point and making 'heavy weather', rolling and pitching, about 2 miles from the shore. This is only one of numerous uncertainties about the navigation of the ship, none of the deck officers having survived the disaster.

The Inquiry report concluded that once exposed to the near hurricane force conditions outside the shelter of the loch (estimated wave height at least 30 ft) Captain Ferguson may have decided that the weather was too severe and elected to abandon the crossing. The ship was seen to turn to the north and then north east. Thus "On heading into the wind she seemed to stand up on end and I saw her level down and her screws come out of the water" (Robert McDowell). During this period of the voyage either as a consequence of the dipping of the stern while pitching or being pooped by a heavy breaking sea, the stern gates gave way and the car deck was inundated . Possibly as a consequence of this and the heavy rolling which would have occurred, the unsecured cargo trays shifted to starboard setting up a list, exacerbated by the free surface effect as water started to collect in the car deck. A party of four crewmen under the Second Officer attempted to close the gates, but these had been buckled and although the sailors managed to partially close them, they were impossible to secure and the party had to abandon the attempt after about 20 minutes.

The scuppers were, once again, failing to drain the vehicle deck and attempts were made to clear these of debris from the cargo. However, the seaward end of the drains were fitted with storm valves and given the sea conditions and list these would probably have prevented water from escaping. At this stage Captain Ferguson opted for the difficult manoeuvre of returning to Loch Ryan stern first, steering with the ship's bow rudder. Three men were sent up to the fo'c'sle head to remove the securing pin of the rudder and free it for use. With waves breaking dangerously over the fo'c'sle head the captain was obliged to recall the men before the pin could be released, the attempt being abandoned.

The build up of water on the car deck by now had produced a list of about 10 degrees. This led the Captain to order the transmission of the first of a confusing series of Morse radio signals, sent at 0946 : -

“XXX. Hove to off mouth of Loch Ryan. Vessel not under command. Urgent assistance of tug required.”

The prefix letters XXX, signified that the vessel was in trouble but not in immediate danger of sinking. The term “hove to” under these circumstances properly led the recipients of the message to assume that the ship was stationary and headed north west into the seas. No tugs were available in Stranraer and as a local man Ferguson should have been aware of this. Two such tugs had been in the harbour, but had left two days earlier; perhaps he did not know of their departure.

At this point one option would have been to risk a run before the weather for Loch Ryan. Considering the time the ship was able to survive before the engines were eventually disabled by flooding (over 3 hours) this might have succeeded. Another alternative would have been to continue north into the weather to gain the shelter afforded by Arran or Kintyre. In the event it has been surmised that the captain instead decided to try to resume the passage to Larne and headed westward for Ireland. This course, while bringing the weather abeam, prolonged the exposure of the ship to the storm. It also meant crossing the area worst affected by the heavy swell driving in from the Atlantic through the channel between Kintyre and Antrim. The strength of the wind and the slow speed possible in the prevailing conditions produced considerable leeway, the resultant track being more in the general direction of Belfast Lough.
After the XXX signal was sent, water continued to enter the car deck and collect on the starboard side. The deck had an aft sheer of about 2ft 6in so that the flooding was deepest at the forward end adjacent to non-watertight doors leading to the passenger area and machinery space. Also at the forward end of the car deck was a hatch in the side plating (24in x18in) giving access for fuelling. The bottom of this opening was about 16in above the deck. There is no evidence that any attempt was made to employ this as an improvised 'freeing port'. At one stage an order was given to open one of the 'cattle' doors located port and starboard on the vehicle deck in order to release water, but for some reason this order was then countermanded. Two of the three nautical assessors to the Inquiry concluded that opening these doors would have limited the extension of flooding to compartments beyond the car deck and that the ship would very likely have survived.

The car deck occupied only the after part of the ship, with passenger accommodation forward, and the two areas were separated by a bulkhead that was fitted with a door that was fireproof, but not watertight. By 10:30, the increased volume of water on the car deck was beginning to find its way through the fireproof door into the forward passenger area and from there down to the lower deck. Stewards initially attempted to bail out the affected lounge area but this was an impossible task and soon abandoned. Water was also finding its way into the machinery space. The seriousness of this extension of the flooded area was apparently not appreciated. It would lead to a progressively increasing list to starboard and eventually a fatal loss of stability and foundering.

At 10:32, the ship transmitted its second distress message: -

"SOS. Princess Victoria four miles north-west of Corsewall. Car deck flooded. Heavy list to starboard. Require immediate assistance. Ship not under command."

Amazingly the message gave no indication that the ship was still proceeding towards Ireland at reduced speed. The repetition of the words “Ship not under command” was extremely confusing. Under Part A of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS), the term “vessel not under command” means a vessel, which through some exceptional circumstance, is unable to manoeuvre as required by the Rules and is therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel. After the first “Hove to” message the coastguard officers organising the search wrongly assumed from the ship’s radio messages that Princess Victoria was being driven before the north-westerly storm down onto the Wigtownshire coast between Corsewall Point and Portpatrick.

In response to the SOS, the Portpatrick lifeboat Jeanie Spiers was launched and the destroyer HMS Contest despatched from Rothesay, but they were directed to the Princess Victoria's stated position four miles off Corsewall Point. The lighthouse keepers at Corsewall and Killantringan were asked to look out for her and preparations were made to receive survivors on shore. In fact the ship was heading at approximately five knots for the Irish coast, away from the area where the rescuers were converging and towards another coast where ships and lifeboats were available, or already at sea, but were unaware of her plight.

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Photo 7: HMS Contest

In 1953 electronic navigational aids and communication equipment standards were still rather basic. The search radar in HMS Contest was largely obscured by the very high seas, the Portpatrick lifeboat, was only equipped with radio telephone (RT), so was unable to communicate directly with Princess Victoria, which was only equipped with wireless telegraphy (Morse or WT), messages between the two having to be passed by way of Portpatrick wireless station and the coastguard. Three wireless stations sought to use the ship's signal to establish her position by triangulation: Portpatrick, Malin Head in the Irish Republic, and Seaforth on the Mersey. Just after midday, their estimate of Princess Victoria's position put her seven miles south-west of the last position given by the ship, a substantial difference in a twenty-mile search area. However, two of the stations were receiving the signals partly over land and this can distort radio waves. Understandably it was decided to rely on the position Princess Victoria was giving. As late as 12:00, Princess Victoria was still indicating her position relative to Corsewall Point and at 12:32 she radioed that she was 7 miles West of Killantringan Light House (near Portpatrick) and still on the Scottish coast. Regrettably, subsequent calculations showed that the wireless stations' estimates of the vessel's position were almost certainly accurate.

Meanwhile the Portpatrick lifeboat fought her way north to the position off Corsewall Point given by Princess Victoria, but found no sign of her and began to search downwind to the south, without success. As the Coastguard had assumed from the earlier messages that Princess Victoria was drifting, they were astounded to receive a message from the ship at 13:08 that her engines had stopped and she was on her beam ends. A further message “We are preparing to abandon ship” was transmitted at 13:15. The Coastguard decided to ignore the position given by Princess Victoria and rely on the radio triangulation. At 13:21 the Donaghadee lifeboat, Sir Samuel Kelly, stationed south of the Copeland Islands was called out and the Jeanie Spiers and the destroyer Contest redirected to the coast of Ulster. Finally at 13:35 Princess Victoria signalled that the Irish Coast was in sight, then at 13:47 that the lighthouse on the Copeland Islands was visible.

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Photo 8: The preserved lifeboat Sir Samuel Kelly

In preparation for the order to abandon ship, passengers were transferred from the lounge to the higher, port side of the main passenger deck, then onto the boat deck. Lines were rigged to help them make the arduous climb. Some who were too elderly, infirm, or seasick to make the climb, chose to stay in the relative shelter of the lounge. Those passengers who did make it onto the deck, were put in the shelter of the superstructure or clung to the guardrail to await the end. Meanwhile the crew prepared the lifeboats for launching. Only those on the higher, port side were accessible, but because of the list they could not be launched. Instead they were freed from their lowering tackle, in the hope they would float free with passengers already in place when the ship went over.

She went over slowly allowing three lifeboats to float clear and with many people jumping onto rafts or into the water. Some clambered over the port guardrail as the ship rolled over, ran up the hull, and then as she turned turtle made their way along the barnacle-covered keel before jumping for safety. Captain Ferguson and Wireless Operator Broadfoot were not among those who attempted to save themselves. Captain Ferguson was seen on the bridge at the salute as the ship rolled over, while David Broadfoot made no attempt to leave his wireless cabin behind the bridge, transmitting the ship's new estimated position until, with his last message timed at 13:58, the ship rolled over. She lingered for a few moments; long enough for one of the three launched lifeboats to be smashed by a wave against her and the occupants thrown out; then she sank, leaving only lifeboats, rafts, and swimmers.

Four small merchant vessels which had been sheltering in Belfast Lough put to sea immediately to assist, after hearing the transmission which placed Princess Victoria close to their anchorage: the cattle ship Lairdsmoor, the trawler Eastcotes, the coastal oil tanker Pass of Drumochter and the coastal cargo ship Orchy. They formed a line to sweep east and then south for the missing vessel and at 14:49 the Orchy came upon wreckage and survivors in lifeboats and liferafts. The remains of Princess Victoria had been found.

Despite arriving first, the merchant ships were unable to rescue the survivors in lifeboats, as the fierce waves were in danger of dashing the smaller boats against the sides of the larger ships. Only Eastcoats had a low enough freeboard to haul seven people from the water with boathooks; but then found only one of them was alive. All the other ships could do was to provide shelter from the worst of the seas until the Donaghadee lifeboat arrived and 15:51 began to take survivors on board.

An RAF Hastings aircraft, which had been assisting other rescues off Lewis and Barra, reached the location of the doomed ferry at 15:31hrs; dropping supplies and guiding HMS Consort, which arrive at the scene soon after the Donaghadee lifeboat. The Portpatrick lifeboat arrived shortly afterwards and the three rescuers saved a further 43 people, 34 being picked up by Sir Samuel Kelly.

Of the 176 embarked on the Princess Victoria, only 44 survived the disaster; 34 passengers and 10 crew members. No women or children were rescued (they were all thought to have been in the lifeboat that was smashed against Princess Victoria). None of the ship’s officers survived.

The subsequent Court of Inquiry asked probing questions about the construction of Princess Victoria and her suitability for deployment on the Stranraer to Larne journey in winter. The Court heard that the Ministry of Transport had declined to issue a passenger certificate for the Fishguard to Rosslare route. There were concerns about the exposure of the stern to following seas on the Rosslare to Fishguard passage.
The Inquiry concluded that the loss of the Princess Victoria was due to her unseaworthy condition due to two circumstances:-

  1. The inadequacy of the stern doors which yielded to the stress of the seas thus permitting the influx of water to the car deck
  2. The inadequacy of the clearing arrangements for the water which accumulated on the freeboard deck causing an increasing list to starboard, culminating in the ship capsizing and foundering.

The ship's owners and managers were held to be principally at fault.

An Appeal under Lord MacDermott, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, against the main findings of the lower court, confirmed the owners responsibility. Lord MacDermott concluded that the loss of Princess Victoria was caused, or contributed to, by the default of the owners and the managers in that they were negligent before the disaster:

  • In failing to appreciate that the vessel was unfit to encounter the full range of foreseeable weather conditions on the Larne and Stranraer route, by reason of the inability of the stern doors to withstand heavy seas
  • In not taking appropriate steps to provide adequate freeing arrangements on the car deck, or else to make the stern doors sufficiently strong and adequate to prevent heavy seas from flooding that deck

The Inquiry report concluded with the following sentence; "If the 'Princess Victoria' had been as staunch as the men who manned her, then all would have been well and this disaster averted". Prof. A. M. Robb, one of the assessors, in an addendum to the report concurred that the main responsibility lay with the owners but added: "A contributory cause was default on the part of the ship's complement". The designers, builders, Lloyds Register, the Ministry of Transport, all those who approved the plans, supervised construction and certified the ship as fit to ply, were absolved of any responsibility.

Formal Investigation Report:

Appeal Court Judgement:

Some other UK and European Ferry Disasters[edit]

Sadly small ferries, lake and coastal passenger vessels have suffered too many losses to provide a comprehensive record and the remainder of this article is confined to some of the more notable UK and European disasters involving ferries below 10,000 GRT.

Sample Losses of small Ferries in European waters

Lost Name Owner Cause Built GRT Deaths
1878 Princess Alice London Steamboat Co Collision 1865 171 700
1929 Kuru Finnish Foundered 1915 ? 138
1958 Üsküdar Şirket-i Hayriye Foundered 1927 148 272
1987 Herald of Free Enterprise Townsend Thorenson Foundered 1980 7,951 193
1989 Marchioness Tidal Cruises Collision 1923 46 51
1991 Moby Prince Navarma Collision 1967 6,882 143
1993 Jan Heweliusz Polish Ocean Line Foundered 1977 3,015 55
2000 Express Samina Minoan Flying Dolphins Wrecked 1966 4,445 82
2011 Bulgaria OOO Argorechtur Foundered 1955 1,003 129

Princess Alice[edit]

Princess Alice was built as the steamer Bute in 1865, for the Wemyss Bay Railway & Steamboat Company, as part of an ambitious effort by this fledgling company to provide a faster service to Rothesay than the established operators, many of whom had sold their best vessels to Confederate agents to serve in the American Civil War. Although Wemyss provided the shortest possible sea crossing to Rothesay, the service was let down by its railway connection. This ran from a junction at Port Glasgow, over the Renfrew Hills to Wemyss Bay. It was built as quickly and cheaply as possible, had steep gradients, was single track, with too few passing places. The trains were very often late and frequently missed their steamer connection. Passenger traffic on the new service was well below anticipated levels and the Company found that it had too many ships, leading to the sale of Bute and her sister Kyles in 1866 to Waterman’s Steam Packet Company, London.

The two ships passed through several hands, with Bute being renamed Princess Alice in 1871 and becoming part of London Steamboat Company’s fleet of 70 ships in 1876. She was an iron paddle steamer of 171 GRT; 219 feet 5 inches long, 20 feet 3 inches beam; powered by a two cylinder oscillating stem engine of 140 shp, with two haystack boilers, she had a service speed of 12 knots. She was licensed to carry 936 passengers on sheltered passages; life preserving equipment comprised just two lifeboats and 12 lifebuoys, which complied with the regulations of that period.

On September 3, 1878, she was making what was billed as a "Moonlight Trip" to Gravesend and back. This was a routine trip from Swan Pier near London Bridge, to Gravesend and Sheerness. Tickets were sold for two shillings. Hundreds of Londoners paid the fare; many were visiting Rosherville Gardens in Gravesend.

The trip out was uneventful, but the return voyage, with about 900 passengers and under the command of Captain W Grinstead, was made against a full ebb tide and she hugged both banks as necessary, to avoid the strong midstream flood. By 19:40 Princess Alice was approaching North Woolwich Pier, where many passengers were to disembark. She rounded Tripcock Trees Point on the south bank and was cutting across Galleons Reach towards Devil’s House on the north bank, when Captain Grinstead saw a large ship heading downstream on the flood. Captain Grinstead tried to turn back.

The approaching ship was the tramp ship Bywell Castle (890 GRT) in ballast. Captain Harrison, on the bridge of Bywell Castle, observed the Princess Alice coming across his bow, making for the north side of the river. Bywell Castle set a course to pass astern of her. When Captain Grinstead started to turn back this brought Princess Alice directly into the path of Bywell Castle. Upon realizing this, Bywell Castle's captain ordered her engines to be stopped, but it was too late.

The bows of Bywell Castle struck Princess Alice amidships, at an angle of approximately 13 degrees; sliced 14 feet into Princess Alice, flooding the engine room. The after part filled and sank; the fore part rose in the air, broke off then floated a short distance downstream before capsizing and also sinking. Hundreds of passengers and crew, including Captain Grinstead were plunged into the water.

SF9 Princess Alice.jpg

Photo 9: A contemporary engraving of the collision between the tramp ship Bywell Castle and the paddle-steamer Princess Alice

Unfortunately, just up-river from the scene of the collision, both the main London northern and southern outfall sewers discharged masses of untreated sewage at high water on the ebb tide, to be carried down to the Thames estuary. The river was further polluted with industrial effluent. Swallowing water at this part of the Thames, at that time, was usually fatal. Nevertheless 69 people were saved, many by another London Steamboat Co ship, Duchess of Teck, which arrived ten minutes after the disaster. It is estimated that at least 700 people lost their lives, including Captain Grinstead, who was held to be entirely to blame for the worst river disaster in British history.


Kuru was one of the small ships that provided a passenger service on the large Lake Näsijärv in Finland. During the First World War, the ship served as a part of Satakunta Flotilla of the Imperial Russian Navy.

SF10 Satakunnan Flotilla.jpg

Photo 10: The Satakunta Flotilla ice-bound in winter, including Kuru, showing the much smaller superstructure of the original designs

The fleet of passenger vessels was not subject to any form of independent safety inspection. After the war Kuru was rebuilt by her owners and an additional enclosed deck added in 1927, entirely without expert shipbuilding guidance.

SF11 Kuru.jpg

Photo 11: Kuru after modification

On 7 September 1929, Kuru attempted a lake crossing during a severe storm (in excess of Beaufort Force 8). Waves broke into the new upper superstructure, which critically was not provided with adequate drainage arrangements. This additional top-weight overpowered the ship’s stability and she capsized and sank. It is believed that 138 people died out of the 150 passengers and 12 crew thought to be on board.

The wreck was raised in the same year and repaired; the ship had suffered only minor damage. Part of the new superstructure was removed to improve her stability and she remained in service until 1939.


Üsküdar was built by F. Schichau Shipyard in Elbing, Germany in 1927 for the Turkish urban transportation company Şirket-i Hayriye. She was 33 m (108 ft) long, 148 GRT with with three steam engines of 350 shp,which propelled her at 10 knots when new, but by the 1950s this had dropped to 8 knots. Üsküdar was certified to carry 344 passengers.


Photo 12:Üsküdar

Üsküdar operated a scheduled shuttle service in the Sea of Marmara between İzmit and Değirmendere. On 1 March 1958, a heavy SW storm was rapidly developing and her Captain decided that his ship was too vulnerable at the exposed İzmit Pier and he left before the scheduled time in such haste that a crewman who was on the pier untying the ferry’s moorings was left behind. There were nine crew and 302 passengers on board.

As the ferry headed to Değirmendere, the storm was began gusting to 80 mph high waves started to break over the small vessel. The ferry’s bridge was swept away taking the captain and the boatswain with it, breaking the rudder chain and leaving the ferry uncontrollable. The waves stove-in the windows of the forward passenger saloon and water filled the engine room.

Üsküdar rolled over on her port side and sank 26 minutes after her departure from İzmit; 272 people died including 7 crew; 37 passengers and 2 crew survived the disaster.

Herald of Free Enterprise[edit]

Townsend Thoresen was formed in 1968, by a merger between the two leading privately owned vehicle ferry operators linking the UK and Europe. In the late 1970s, Townsend Thoresen ordered three new identical ships from Schichau Unterweser, Bremerhaven, Germany, for its Dover–Calais route, for delivery from 1980. The ships were branded the Spirit class and were named Herald of Free Enterprise, Pride of Free Enterprise and Spirit of Free Enterprise. They were ships of 7,951 GRT; 432 feet 9 inches long, 76 feet 1 inches beam, 18 feet 9 inches draught; triple screw, powered by three Sulzer 12ZV 40/48 diesel engines of 8,000 bhp, providing a service speed of 22 knots.

The Dover – Calais crossing of the Channel is the shortest and most heavily used route between England and France. To remain competitive with other ferry operators on the route, Townsend Thoresen required ships which provided fast loading and unloading and quick acceleration. Vehicles were loaded onto the lowest vehicle deck (G deck) through watertight doors, near the waterline, at the bow and stern. Both sets of doors were hinged about a vertical axis and as a result the status of the bow doors could not be seen from the wheel house. Loading of vehicles onto E deck and F deck was over the foredeck and through a weathertight door in the superstructure at the bows and an open portal at the stern. Vehicles could be loaded and unloaded onto E and G deck simultaneously, using the double deck linkspans in use at Dover and Calais.

SF12 Herald of Free Enterprise.jpg

Photo 13: Herald of Free Enterprise, charging out of Dover. Her bow doors are located between the two horizontal bow fenders. It will be noticed that even with the ship at normal trim, the bow wave is lapping the lower fender as the ship heels through a turn.

On 6 March 1987, Herald of Free Enterprise was re-assigned to the route between Dover and the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. The linkspan at Zeebrugge caused operational complications for the Spirit class of vessels, as it only had a single deck and so could not be used to load decks E and G simultaneously. The ramp could also not be raised high enough to meet the level of deck E during the high March spring tides. The ship and the linkspan had to be connected by trimming the ship bow heavy, using the forward ballast tanks. Herald was due to be modified during its refit in 1987 to overcome this problem. Before dropping moorings, it was the duty of the Assistant Boatswain to close the doors. However the Assistant Bosun, Mark Stanley, had taken a short break after cleaning the car deck upon arrival at Zeebrugge. He returned to his cabin and fell asleep. He was still asleep when the harbour-stations call sounded and the ship dropped its moorings. The First Officer normally stayed on the deck to confirm that the doors were closed, but he returned to the wheelhouse, to help the overcome any schedule delay caused by the protracted unloading and loading of the vessel. The captain assumed that the doors had been closed as usual, although they were not visible from the wheelhouse and no indicator lights were fitted.

Herald of Free Enterprise left Zeebrugge at 18:05 British time with a crew of 80, she was carrying 459 passengers, 81 cars, 3 buses and 47 trucks. The ferry reached 18.9 knots (33 km/h) 90 seconds after leaving the harbour, the bow wave rose and as the ship heeled over upon turning to starboard, water entered the lower port corner of the open bow doors, flowing onto the car deck in large quantities. The resulting free surface effect immediately destroyed her stability. At 18:28pm, the ship rapidly listed 30 degrees to port; she briefly righted herself before listing to port once more, and capsizing. The entire event took place in less than a minute. The water quickly reached the ship's electrical systems, destroying both main and emergency power and leaving the ship in darkness.

The ship ended on her side, half-submerged in shallow water, 1km from the shore. The fatal fast turn to starboard in her last moments caused her to capsize onto a sandbar, preventing the ship from sinking entirely, in much deeper water, which would have resulted in an even higher death toll.

A nearby dredger noticed Herald's lights disappear and notified the port authorities. A rescue helicopter arrived within half an hour, shortly followed by assistance from the Belgian Navy, which was undertaking an exercise in the area. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 193 people. Many of those on board had taken advantage of a promotion in The Sun newspaper, for cheap trips to the continent. Most of the victims were trapped inside the ship or succumbed to hypothermia in the frigid (3 °C) water. The rescue efforts of the Belgian Navy limited the death toll.

The report of the public inquiry into the sinking placed primary blame on Mark Stanley, for not closing the bow doors, the First Officer for not making sure they were closed, and the captain for leaving port without knowing the doors were closed. It also castigated Townsend Thoresen, the ship's owners, and identified a "disease of sloppiness" and negligence at every level of the corporation's hierarchy.

Townsend Thoresen was taken over by P&O in November 1987. In view of the adverse publicity arising from the loss of Herald of Free Enterprise, the operation was rebranded P&O European Ferries and the company’s ships renamed.

Moby Prince[edit]

Moby Prince was built in 1968, as the Harwich-Hook ferry Koningin Juliana, for the Zeeland Steam Ship Company. She was bought by NAVARMA in 1986, for their service between Bastia (Corsica) and La Spezia and Livorno on the north-west Italian mainland. NAV.AR.MA stands for Navigazione Arcipelago Maddalenino; the Arcipelago Maddalenino being a group of very small islands off the north-east coast of Sardinia. The company was founded in 1959 by Achille Onorato. The Onorato family originated on the island of Ponza (north-west of Naples) and have been ship-owners since the 1880s.

NAVARMA began operations in 1959, on a route from Palau (Sardinia) to the La Maddalena islands, using small second-hand ferries, mainly acquired in Scandinavia. A major change in scale occurred with the purchase from Townsend Thoresen of their much larger Free Enterprise II in 1982, which operated from Bastia (Corsica) to Piombino on the Italian mainland as Moby Blu. Moby Blu introduced the 'blue whale' symbol and Moby nomenclature to the fleet. The new venture was successful and by 1987, three additional large 'Moby' ferries had been acquired and additional routes from Bastia operated to Livorno, La Spezia and Porto Santo Stefano. One of the acquisitions was Moby Prince.

SF13 Moby Prince.jpg

Photo 14: Moby Prince, as originally built was 6,882 GRT; 429 feet 10 inches LOA, 67 feet 3 inches beam. She was twin screw, powered by four MAN diesel engines producing 19,560 bhp, giving her a service speed of 21 knots. She had accommodation for 1,600 day passengers; 850 night passengers; of which 600 were provided with berths. A total of 300 cars could be carried.

On the night of 10 April 1991, Moby Prince left Livorno for Bastia with 144 passengers and crew on board. Whilst still clearing the harbour, at 22:23 she collided with the anchored tanker Agip Abruzzo. The collision was sufficiently violent to ignite the tanker’s cargo of naphtha. The tanker’s crew escaped in their covered lifeboat and in the process rescued one of Moby Prince’s crew members. All of the remaining 143 people on board the ferry died, many from inhaling toxic fumes. It is claimed that the Mayday signal sent out by the ferry was very weak and was not picked up by the Italian authorities. No rescue teams were sent out to the ship until the following morning.

SF14 Moby Prince.jpg

Photo 15: Moby Prince after the collision and fire

NAVARMA subsequently changed its name to Moby Lines and has grown to a major operator between Corsica, Sardinia and Elba to the Italian mainland. The exterior of its ships are now decorated with Loony Tunes cartoon characters. The company is still owned by the Onorato family.

Express Samina[edit]

Ferries provide an essential service between the many Greek islands and the mainland. As in many island nations, the economics of these ferry services are often dependent upon the use of older, low capital cost vessels, to provide the low fare services demanded by their passengers. Express Samina was typical of this category of ship, having been built in 1966, as the ferry Corse for Compagnie Générale Transatlantique; she then worked for three subsequent operators before being acquired by Minoan Flying Dolphins in 1999, who traded her under the brand name Hellas Ferries. She was a ship of 4,455 GRT; 377 feet 4 inches long, 59 feet 5 inches beam and 14 feet 4 inches draught; twin screw powered by two Atlantique – Pielstick Vee-8 diesel engines, 14,880 shp, providing a service speed of 21 knots. She had a registered capacity for 1,500 passengers and 170 cars.

SF15 Express Samina.jpg

Photo 16: Express Samina (left) passing Express Aphrodite (right)

Express Samina left Piraeus at 17:00 on 26 September 2000, with 447 listed passengers and 63 crewmen, heading for Paros and intending then to travel on to Naxos, Ikaria, Samos, and Patmos. Later that evening, the crew placed the ship on automatic pilot and contrary to all regulations deserted the bridge, leaving the ship with no one on watch. It is alleged that the entire bridge team was watching a football match on television. The old autopilot fitted in Express Samina could not compensate for the wind and currents. Furthermore the ship’s fin stabilizers system had been deployed, but the port stabilizer fin did not extend, also causing the ship to drift.

As the ship was due to approach Paros a crew member returned to the bridge and discovered that the ferry was off course and heading for reefs. At the last minute he tried to steer the ship to port, but this action occurred too late. At 22:12 P.M. the ship struck the face of a rock pinnacle, tearing a six-meter long and one-meter wide hole in the hull, above the water line. After that impact, the rocks bent the starboard stabilizer fin backwards, and the fin cut through the hull, below the waterline, next to the engine room. The water from this three-meter gash destroyed the main generators and ended the ships electrical power. The damage sustained by Express Samina should not have sunk the ship, but contrary to regulations nine of the ship's eleven watertight compartment doors were unsecured. The water spread beyond the engine room, and because of the lack of electrical power the crew could not remotely close the doors.

At 22:15 PM, three minutes after impact, the ship developed a five degree list. By 22:25 PM the list increased to fourteen degrees and water began to enter the six meter gash in the hull. Four of the ship’s eight lifeboats were launched, but by 22:29 the ship list had increased to twenty-three degrees, preventing the launching of additional lifeboats. At 22:32 the ship listed by 33 degrees, by 22:50 the ship lay on its side and at 23:02 she sank. Passengers were apparently unaided by the crew in evacuating and there was widespread panic. Inflatable life rafts blew away in the windy conditions as soon as they were inflated; before anyone could board them. It is believed that 82 lives were lost in the disaster.

Several crew members, as well as representatives for the owners, were subsequently charged with different criminal charges, including manslaughter and criminal negligence. One of the accused was Pandelis Sfinias the manager of Minoan Flying Dolphins. On 29 November 2000 he committed suicide by jumping from his sixth floor office window. The trial of the remainder of the accused commenced in July 2005. First officer Tassos Psychoyios was sentenced to 19 years in prison, while Captain Vassilis Giannakis received a 12-year sentence. Three crew members were sentenced to between eight years and 15 months for a series of misdemeanours, that included abandoning ship without the captain’s permission. Two senior officials from ferry operator were each given 51 months in prison for negligence.

Over the years SOLAS regulations have greatly enhanced safety at sea, but efforts of IMO are in vain if the regulations are ignored.


Bulgaria was one of the 36 Class 785/OL800 Russian river cruise ships built in Komárno Czechoslovakia. She was completed in 1955. She was owned by Kamskoye Rechnoye Parokhodstvo, which leased the ship to OOO Briz, which in turn subleased it to OOO Argorechtur, which operated her on a bareboat charter in the Volga - Don Basin. Investigators claim that Argorechtur was operating the cruise ship without a proper licence, and the director of Agrorechtur was subsequently arrested.

On 10 July 2011, Bulgaria was in the Kuybyshev Reservoir of the Volga River near Syukeyevo, Tatarstan, Russia, with 201 passengers and crew aboard, although the vessel was only rated to carry 120 passengers. Only one of her two main engines was operational on departure. She was several hours into a voyage from the town of Bolgar to the regional capital, Kazan when the ship was hit by a storm. The Captain apparently tried to turn Bulgaria, but a combination of badly distributed fuel and ballast, overloading and strong winds caused the ship to heel sharply, which submerged a large number of portholes near water level that were open, as the 56 year old ship was not air-conditioned. The ship sank within minutes, causing the death of 129 people.


Photo 17: Bulgaria: Built 1955, 1,003 tons. A closely spaced row of portholes is visible below the rubbing strake.

Totals from the UK and European Samples[edit]

A total of 43 ferries were lost during the period of UK railway ownership, of which 11 disasters resulted in 575 fatalities. The 9 vessels covered in the table above claimed a further 1,713 lives.


A complete Bibliography for all of these Articles is given at the end of Part 12.


Many of the photographs used to illustrate these articles are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. Many others are from Wikimedia Commons or are in the public domain. The individual photographs used in Part 10 are from the following sources: -

Frontispiece - Ships Nostalgia - conehead

  1. Ships Nostalgia – Fairfield
  2. Official Report of Investigation – Histomar
  3. Ships Nostalgia – DICK SLOAN
  4. Wikimedia Commons
  5. Ships Nostalgia – Roymuir
  7. Wikimedia Commons
  8. Wikimedia Commons
  9. Wikimedia Commons
  10. Wikimedia Commons
  11. Wikimedia Commons
  12. Deniz Gazete
  13. Ships Nostalgia – David Menzies
  14. Ships Nostalgia – JanH
  15. Ships Nostalgia – nautico
  16. Ships Nostalgia – ksarlis
  17. Wikimedia Commons

Article written and compiled by Fred Henderson

Passenger Ship Disasters
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