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10 Worst Cruise Ship Disasters in History starstarstarstarstar

Cruises are a very popular way to vacation. Because they are all-inclusive and travel to exciting and exotic places, they are the reasons why 23.63 million passengers each year decide to spend their vacations at sea.

But what happens when something goes wrong on a cruise? Have there been tragedies at sea aboard cruise ships? 

The answer is yes, sometimes things go awry for vacationers on cruise ships. These floating cities (average capacity of 3,000 guests but some are filled with 5,500) are likely to be at risk for many of the same things that travelers face on any trip…and more. 

Here are the 10 worst cruise ship disasters in history.

Costa Concordia: The Costa Concordia was a large cruise ship filled with 3,229 passengers when it ran aground on a reef off the coast of Italy in 2012. 

worst cruise ship disasters - costa concordiaImage via wikipedia

The 17-deck ship actually tipped over after it took on water. In one of the most tragic accidents of its kind, 32 passengers were killed, 64 were injured, and one was missing and never found. In the costliest ship disaster in history, it took over a year and a half to bring the ship upright, after which it was taken to port and dismantled.

The accident was caused when the ship Captain Francesco Schettino decided to sail close to the shore to impress local residents. The ship’s navigation system was disarmed when the ship struck rocks. Then the captain committed the ultimate maritime sin: he abandoned ship while 300 passengers were still onboard. Capt. Schettino was convicted of manslaughter.

RMS Titanic: In probably the most famous cruise ship disaster of all time, this 1912 sinking has become legend, books and movies.

worst cruise disasters titanic (1) (1)Image via documentarytube

Originally touted as “unsinkable,” the ship proved quite sinkable on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. In the early morning hours, the ship struck an iceberg in the frigid north Atlantic waters.

Too few lifeboats (only enough for 30% of the passengers) and an isolated position in freezing water resulted in the watery deaths of over 1,500 people.

The plight has been memorialized in such Hollywood films as Titanic, A Night to Remember, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

S.S. Eastland: Only three years after the Titanic tragedy, the S.S. Eastland rolled over on its side while still docked. At the time, the ship held Western Electric employees celebrating an event. The disaster resulted in 800 deaths.

worst cruise ship disasters eastland (1)Image via eastlanddisaster.org

Seabourn Spirit: In November 2005 this luxury cruise ship was attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Two boats of pirates neared the ship and fired machine guns and hand held rocket propelled grenades.

worst ship disasters - seabournImage via visualitineraries

One crew member was injured by shrapnel. The crew used evasive manoeuvres and a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a sonic device that blasts powerful sound waves, to stop the attack. The ship has been renamed the Star Breeze.

MS Royal Pacific: In the early morning hours of August 23 1992, the Greek-owned cruise ship Royal Pacific was struck by a Taiwanese fishing trawler in the Straits of Malacca off southern Malaysia.

bad cruise ship disasters - royal pacificImage via cruiseshipdeaths

There were 530 passengers aboard of which 30 were killed and 70 injured. Most passengers were asleep at the time of the collision. The casualties were compounded by a broken PA system and a crew that reportedly focused on saving themselves instead of passengers.

Star Princess: On March 23, 2006, the 3,100-passenger Star Princess was sailing from Fort Lauderdale toward Jamaica when at 3 a.m. a fire broke out on one of its decks.

worst boating accidents - star princessImage via Princess Cruises

A grand-class Princess Line cruise ship, Princess is owned by Carnival. Investigation revealed a cigarette left on the deck caused the fire, which took the life of one passenger from smoke inhalation and injured 13 others.

Carnival Triumph “poop cruise”: In 2013, a fire broke out in the engine room of the 2,700-passenger Carnival Triumph cruise ship.

horrible cruise ship disasters - poop cruiseImage via CNN

This left the ship without power or propulsion for four days. This resulted in no air conditioning or working toilets for the passengers and crew. Human waste was piled in bags on the decks. After investigation, documents showed that the cruise line was aware that an engine fire was likely but continued to operate the ship.

Passengers described carpets soaked with more than two inches of raw sewage. It took four days for the Triumph to be towed from the Gulf of Mexico to Mobile, Alabama. Reports were that the human sewage problem was so bad that onlookers could smell the ship from the dock.

Celebrity Mercury: Celebrity Mercury, owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, was on a Caribbean cruise from Charleston, SC when in February 2010 413 passengers became ill with the Norovirus.

bad cruise shipsImage via ship-technology

That’s nearly one out of every four passengers. The virus spreads quickly in confined spaces like cruise ships, and between 2010 and 2015 Celebrity Cruise ships experienced 15 of these outbreaks.

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas: In January 2014 the Explorer of the Seas was forced to return to port two days early because so many passengers became violently ill, likely with Norovirus.

worst boating disasters - royal caribeanImage via royalcaribbean

According to the CDC, it was the largest known number of people sick on a cruise: 630 passengers and 54 crew. Reports were that the numbers were probably higher since many passengers failed to report their illness for fear that they would be confined to their cabins.

SS Morro Castle: Between 1930 and 1934, the SS Morro Castle was a ship that carried almost 500 passengers between Havana and New York. The attractiveness of the ship was that during Prohibition there were no limits to alcohol consumption on board. 

terrible cruise ships Image via cruiselinehistory

The ship was a regular “booze cruise.” But in September 1934 the ship was returning from Cuba to New York when everything seemed to go wrong. On September 7, the ship’s captain Robert Wilmott went to his cabin with what he thought was an upset stomach, but later died of a heart attack.

Chief officer William Warms took command and a few of hours later, around 3 a.m. on September 8, a fire started in one of the storage lockers. The crew failed to adequately address the blaze, which began to consume the vessel.

Many of the crew members abandoned the ship. Passengers were dazed and confused passengers in the wee hours in this smoke-filled ship. Some jumped from the deck to their death in the water. Rescuers lined up on the Jersey Shore to meet the lifeboats carrying passengers. Out of the 549 aboard the ship, 86 passengers and 49 crew were killed. 

The best way to protect yourself from the dangers of cruise ships is to pay attention to the risks. To protect from Norovirus, the best protection is to wash your hands very often, use hand sanitizer, avoid buffets (use the dining room) and avoid crowded spaces. 

To increase your chances of surviving a fire or collision, pay careful attention to the muster drills that take place on every cruise, know where your life jackets are stored and where the nearest life boat is, and keep close watch of all family members.

Because tourists tend to drink more on cruise ships it is best to moderate alcohol use and watch out when others don’t. There are many instances of passengers going overboard or assaults taking place because of over-serving of booze.

Stay together on the ship. When passengers go off alone there is a greater chance of problems. That includes the risk of harm from other passengers as well as crew members who might decide to get too friendly.

Watch where you walk. The most common injury on a cruise ship is from a slip and fall. Many times there are wet areas that are very slippery. Sometimes it is near the pool but other times it may be something spilled or someone who has walked with wet feet.

Even the spas and saunas can be a slip hazard. Avoid the medical care onboard ships. They are often staffed by health care providers who cannot get jobs stateside or by foreign doctors. 

Medical malpractice occurs aboard ships…don’t become a statistic. However, if you do require medical care it may be your best -or only – place to get care.  If you have repatriation insurance (insurance that will transport you home, sometimes available through your credit card company), use it.  If it’s anything serious you will want to get to a major medical facility stateside.

While cruises are popular, it requires constant vigilance, there are many other cases of worst cruise ship disasters, these are just a few examples to make sure you know the dangers.