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The most popular and the deadliest shipwrecks in history

The seabed hides many secrets from the world above it. Even avid divers and researchers haven’t uncovered everything from below. UNESCO estimates that worldwide over 3 million shipwrecks, some thousands of years old, lie on seabeds.

Not only will historians and researchers be interested in these wreckage sites, but marine biologists love them too. The longer a piece of equipment has sat on the bottom of the ocean, the more the sea life makes a home on or in it.


Here is a list of the top ten shipwrecks in history,  that have sunk beneath the waters:

Royal Mail Ship Titanic
The bow of the wrecked RMS Titanic, photographed in June 2004

Everyone has heard of this shipwreck and is still considered one of the most famous wrecks. The ship sunk after hitting an iceberg in 1912 nearly 370 miles from the coast of Newfoundland.

The ship will one day become nothing but a rusty pile since the metal-eating bacteria in the ocean is slowly consuming it. Many people are trying to raise enough money to excavate it, but have been unsuccessful.

MV Dona Paz

This ferry boat is also considered one of the world’s deadliest wrecks. The ferry sunk in December 1987 and killed over 4,000 people, making it the world’s deadliest wreck so far. The ferry was originally a Japanese ferry named Himeyuri Maru and was designed to carry only a little over 600 people.

It was sailing between Manila and the islands when it struck an oil tanker named MT Vector. They both caught fire and sank in shark-infested waters. The death toll was high in part because rescuers didn’t arrive until nearly eight hours later.


This ship was designed to be a flagship of Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus’ Navy. The Vasa ended up sinking on its maiden voyage just outside of the harbor of Sweden’s capitol, Stockholm, in 1628. The ship had never made it to its destination, Poland. It remained at the bottom of the ocean until 1961, when it was raised and moved to a museum.

MS World Discoverer

This ship was built in Germany as a cruise ship and was designed especially to visit remote locations like the Falkland Islands. The ship ended up striking something and sinking in the Sandfly Passage in the Soloman Islands on April 30, 2000. The captain was able to sail it to the bay on Nggela Island and it sits there today. There are no plans to salvage the ship.

MV Captayannis

This ship was known as the sugar boat due to its cargo of sugar on its last voyage. It has been sitting in the middle of Scotland’s River Clyde since 1974. The ship sunk when the anchor chains of an oil tanker ripped out its bottom. British tugboats were able to rescue the crew. The wreckage sits near a French warship known as the Maille Breze, which was sunk in World War II.   

USS Arizona
Aerial view of the USS Arizona Memorial, showing the wreck and oil seepage from the ship's bunkers

This Pennsylvania class battleship is one of America’s most famous shipwrecks. It was sunk during the Japanese attack at the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. It had been sent there by President Roosevelt in order to deter Japanese Imperialism.

Over 1,000 people died when the ship sank from a massive explosion in the area of the powder magazines. The superstructure of the Arizona was used on a different ship called the Nevada during the war. Some of the guns were also salvaged and used in the war. Oil from the wreckage still leaks into the ocean.

Royal Mail Ship Lusitania

The ship had been torpedoed by German submarine U-20 in 1915, 11 miles off the coast of Ireland, during World War I. Over 1,000 passengers died on the ship as it sank. Many people believe this was the impetus for America to decide to enter the war. Three of the ship’s four propellers were removed from the ocean in 1982. The British government has made unsuccessful legal actions to stop the salvaging.

The Sweepstakes' bow under water

This wreckage is located in the Fathom National Marine Park in Tobermory, Ontario. The ship sunk in Big Tub Harbor in 1885 when a tugboat was pulling it into port.

Painting by Ken Marschall depicting Argo exploring the wreck
Painting by Ken Marschall depicting Argo exploring the wreck

Used for eight months, this ship was only one of two full-sized German battleships used in World War II. It was launched in August 1940 and was scuttled by the crew in May 1941 in order to prevent Britain’s Royal Navy from seizing it.

The ship was damaged by Fairey Swordfish, a British torpedo bomber. After a bombardment by British ships, the crew members of the Bismarck decided to sink it in order to keep it out of enemy hands.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News