The top ten worst Maritime Disasters of all time


If it’s sea-faring tales you’re after, our tale of the top ten shipwrecks is a must read, from stories of treasure troves to those of lost lovers and warfare.

Many majestic and historic vessels have met their demise at the bottom of the seas. The seven seas have seen many a traveler and taken many a victim – none more tragic and heroic than those in these tales that have since become legend. Even though these brave souls have been lost at sea, they hold an eternal reverence in society.

10. SS Sultana

SS Sultana
SS Sultana

People may not be familiar with the tale of dear SS Sultana. It is a tragedy that resulted in the loss of more than 1800 lives. The fateful day fell on 27 April 1865, when the vessel’s engine room caught fire, dooming the ship and all its occupants to a watery grave in the Mississippi River.

The SS Sultana was a side-wheel river steamboat used at the end of the American Civil War. After the war, she was utilized to convey POWs. What occurred on that fateful day has been described as the worst maritime accident in American naval history. Although built to carry 376 passengers, the boat was packed to the top with 2427 souls.

The disaster was overshadowed by significant political events that occupied the media at the time. The SS Sultana, constructed for the cotton trade, was completed in 1863 at the John Litherbury Boatyard.

The main factor that contributed to the ship’s demise was that shoddy repairs had been made to the boiler room. This, coupled with overcrowding, resulted in a disaster that killed many innocent people.

9. RMS Rhone, Royal UK mailing ship

Wreck of the RMS Rhone, British Virgin Islands Photo Credit
Wreck of the RMS Rhone, British Virgin Islands Photo Credit

Also known as packet ships, these vessels were designed for carrying mail. This particular mailing ship was carrying 123 people on board when it sank. The ship tangled with a hurricane on 27 October 1867 and was lost. She was wrecked off the coast of Salt Island, Virgin British Isles.

The Royal Mail Ship Rhone had a twin sister, Duoro. Both were commissioned during 1863. Construction of Rhone was carried out by Millwall Iron Works, while Rhone’s sister ship was constructed by Caird and Company.

The wreck is now a popular diver’s paradise, attracting many adventurers to the Caribbean.

8. The Vasa

Vasa Photo Credit
Vasa Photo Credit

The construction of Vasa began in 1626 and was completed in 1628, the same year that the ill-fated Swedish warship foundered on its maiden voyage.

It’s not clear what caused the ship to sink just 1300 miles into the voyage. The commission of inquiry to determine the cause of the fiasco was inconclusive. During 1961, a major salvage operation was undertaken on the Vasa. A Maritime archaeologist has since discovered the bodies of 15 people.

The Vasa was a naval masterpiece of its time, boasting bronzed cannons. The ship, which is now housed at the Vasa Museum, has provided valuable insight into the warfare of the 17th century. It remains a tourist attraction that has seen over 35 million visitors.

7. The Mary Rose

Mary Rose Photo Credit
Mary Rose Photo Credit

Mary Rose was a tough old warship commissioned by King Henry VIII. Mary Rose put up her last stand with brevity on 17 July 1545. No stranger to warfare, she had a 33-year service history against France, Scotland, and Brittany. She was rebuilt during 1543 and was finally laid to rest at the Isle of Wight.

In Mary Rose fashion, she was leading a charge against the French when she sank in Solent. She made her reappearance again in 1971 and was not salvaged until 1982 by the Mary Rose Trust. This operation was considered to be one of the most complex and expensive salvages. The treasures within Mary Rose made the expedition to bring her back up all worthwhile. Thousands of artifacts and the Mary Rose herself have provided invaluable insight into Tudor warfare. The cost and complexity of the mission are comparable only to number eight on our list, the Vasa. All the artifacts and what’s left of the ship is now at home in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

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