More than a century after the Titanic disaster and with particular reference to the recent Costa Concordia episode, the media has come to define such high-profile disasters as among the most disastrous in modern times. However, there are five events in which death totals exceeded even those of the Titanic, indeed, some 9,000 perished in the destruction of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945.
The Wilhelm Gustloff (1945)
On 30 January 1945, a Soviet submarine torpedoed and sank a German cruise ship in the waters of the Baltic Sea. Named for a National Socialist assassinated in Switzerland in 1936, The Wilhelm Gustloff was constructed during the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through joy) programme. She was a 684-foot long, 25,000-ton vessel which was converted into a military hospital and then a U-boat training school.
In January 1945, during Operation Hannibal, a mass naval evacuation of German military personnel and civilians occurred in which the Gustloff departed from the port of Gotenhafen bound for Kiel, Germany. On 30 January, the Soviet submarine, S-13, attacked the vessel with three torpedoes and sunk it within 90 minutes about 12 nautical miles off of Stolpe Bank. There were over 10,000 people aboard the vessel, approximately 90% perished as a result.
Mont Blanc (1917)
On 6 December 1917, in Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia, an explosive laden ship, the Mont Blanc, collided with the Imo, another ship on route to New York to pick up relief supplies for war-ravaged Belgium. Following the collision, fire soon broke out, causing the vessel to ground on the banks of the Halifax waterfront where a crowd soon gathered. The resulting fire ignited 2,925 tons of explosives found on board, blasting the surrounding area and causing the deaths of more than 2,000 people.
On 27 April 1865, the 260-feet long, wooden-hulled was licensed to carry 376 passengers, however, when transporting Union soldiers freed from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, the Sultana was carrying approximately 2,400 passengers; more than 2,000 soldiers, 100 civilians and 80 members of crew. At approximately, 2am , three of the four boilers exploded and the vessel caught fire, killing hundreds by fire, hundreds by drowning.
On a voyage made from Liverpool to New York City in 27 September 1854, the 284-foot long, 2,856-ton Arctic collided with the Vesta in thick fog off of Cape Race, Newfoundland. Following rapid ingress of water, the captain ordered the women and children to abandon ship, however, a number of male passengers and crew made off with the life boats, leaving the most vulnerable to perish when the vessel sank. With 400 on board at the time, only 87 survived, 22 of them were passengers and the remainder were members of crew. There were no women and children survivors. Although contrary to international law and etiquette of the sea generally, none of the crew were prosecuted for putting their safety before that of their passengers aboard.
Dona Paz (1987)
On 20 December 1987, the Filipino vessel, the Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker whilst on route to Manila from the island of Leyte. The oil tanker, Vector, was carrying more than 8,000 barrels of hydrocarbon products causing both vessels to catch alight when they collided at night off the Tablas Strait. The sinking of both vessels caused the deaths of up to 4,000 people, although the numbers carried aboard are unknown, potentially more than twice the carrying capacity. Only a few dozen passengers survived the disaster, which has now been coined ‘Asia’s Titanic’.
“Halifax Explosion reconstruction,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAPcTC8A7ck. Copyright © 2013 Graham Tuck / YouTube.
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