Top Ten Worst Maritime Disasters on Record: Our Maritime Attorney Reports

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

When we board a cruise ship, we enter a world of cloistered comfort and safety. It can be easy to forget the dangers inherent in voyaging out to sea. All sea vessels, including cruise ships, ferries, and cargo ships, are vulnerable to weather, shallow reefs, and other obstacles. They can also sink due to faulty equipment. Add to that the fact that these vessels travel great distance over the vast and unpredictable ocean and you have a recipe for (occasional) disaster.

Curious about some of these accidents? Our maritime attorneys have compiled a list of the top ten worst maritime disasters on record. Let’s take a look.

10. In 1954, the Toya Maru, a Japanese passenger ferry sank between Hokkaido and Honshu. While the official recorded death toll is 1,153, the actual death toll may be higher or lower because some passengers actually didn’t board with tickets, while others cancelled their bookings before setting sail.

9. In 1707, the Royal Navy experienced its own Costa-Concordia-style disaster, when the fleet struck a shallow reef. It is not certain how many individuals died in the accident, but the estimate runs at anywhere from 1,400 to 2,000 people.

8. In 1991, the Salem Express, a Saudi Arabian vessel struck a reef and sank in only ten minutes. While the official record shows that 470 lives were lost, it seems that many undocumented passengers traveling to Mecca were riding on board the vessel. 1,400 people may have lost their lives in the accident.

7. While the Titanic may be the most famous maritime disaster, it only rounds out our list at #7 for lives lost. When the Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage, 1,517 people died, largely due to the fact that there weren’t sufficient lifeboats on board the ship to save all passengers and crew. The sinking helped enact large-scale safety reforms for passenger vessels.

6. In 1822, the Tek Sing struck a reef when trying to take a short-cut through the Gaspar Strait. 1,600 people were killed.

5. In 1993, the ferry Neptune, sank due to overcrowding. The ship had a capacity of 650, but was carrying a whopping 2,000 passengers. When people congregated on one side of the vessel to avoid rainfall, a deck collapsed and the ship sank, killing 1,700.

4. In 2002, the Senegal ship, Le Joola capsized on rough ocean waters, killing 1,864.

3. In 1917, the Mont Blanc experienced a tragic explosion on deck in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Mont Blanc collided with another ship. While the crew of the ship was able to escape, the people on the shore were not so lucky. 2,000 people were killed by falling debris, collapsed buildings, and by projectile shards of glass.

2. The Kiangya, a passenger steamship exploded and sank in 1948, killing almost 4,000 people. The boat hit a mine.

1. The worst maritime disaster on record is the Doña Paz. In 1987, the overcrowded vessel sank on its way to Manila, Philippines. It collided with an oil tanker. When everything was said and done, 4,386 passengers were dead.

These maritime accidents are a sober reminder of what can go wrong with classic errors of navigation, improperly-used equipment, and failure to heed capacity regulations.