List of maritime disasters in the 20th century

A maritime disaster is an event which usually involves a ship or ships and can involve military action. Because of the nature of maritime travel, there is often a substantial loss of life.

The sinking of the British RMS Titanic in 1912, with 1,500 fatalities (minimum), is probably the most famous shipwreck, but not the biggest in terms of lives lost. The wartime sinking of the German Wilhelm Gustloff in January 1945 in World War II by a Soviet Navy submarine, with an estimated loss of about 9,400 people, remains the deadliest maritime disaster ever. The 1987 loss of the Philippine ferry Doña Paz, with an estimated 4,386 dead, is the largest peacetime loss recorded.


Many maritime disasters happen outside the realms of war. All ships, including those of the military, are vulnerable to problems from weather conditions, faulty design or human error. Some of the disasters below occurred in periods of conflict, although their losses were unrelated to any military action. The table listings are in descending order with respect to the number of casualties suffered.

Year Country Description Deaths Image
1987  Philippines Doña Paz – On 20 December 1987, the ferry bound for Manila with more than its capacity of unlisted passengers collided with the oil tanker MT Vector in the Tablas Strait, near Marinduque. The resulting fire and sinking left an estimated 4,386 dead which included all but 24 of Doña Paz's passengers, and all but two of Vector's 13-man crew.[1][2] 4,386
1948 China Kiangya – The passenger steamship, packed beyond its capacity limit with refugees fleeing the People's Liberation Army, blew up and sank in the mouth of the Huangpu River 50 mi (80 km) south of Shanghai on 4 December 1948. The suspected cause of the explosion was Kiangya hitting a mine left behind by the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II. The exact death toll is unknown, however, it is thought that between 2,750 and 3,920 died with 700–1,000 survivors being picked up by other vessels. 2,750–3,920
1917  Canada Mont-Blanc and the Halifax Explosion – On 6 December 1917, Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada, was devastated by the huge explosion of the fully laden French munitions ship Mont-Blanc. She collided with the Norwegian ship Imo in The Narrows part of Halifax Harbour. The Mont-Blanc's 40-man crew all escaped but minutes later she exploded. About 2,000 people on the shore and in Halifax were killed by the explosion, falling debris, fires or collapsing buildings, and over 9,000 were injured, particularly by flying glass.[3] It is still the largest accidental explosion of conventional weapons to date.[4] 2,000 (estimated); 1,950 known dead
1912  United Kingdom RMS Titanic – A British ocean liner and, at the time, the world's largest ship. On 14 April 1912, on her maiden voyage, she struck an iceberg, buckling part of her hull and causing her to sink in the early hours of 15 April. 706 of her 2,224 passengers and crew survived.[5] Her loss was the catalyst for major reforms in shipping safety and is arguably the most famous maritime disaster, being the subject of numerous media portrayals.[6] 1,516
1949 China Taiping – On 27 January 1949 the Chinese steamer Taiping sank after a collision with another vessel en route to Taiwan leading to the deaths of over 1,500 passengers and crew combined. The ship was packed to nearly twice capacity with over 1,000 refugees fleeing Communism after the Chinese Civil War traveling from Shanghai to Keelung.[7] 1,500+
1991  Egypt Salem Express – On 17 December 1991, while on a voyage from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Safaga, Egypt, with more than 1600 passengers, the ship struck a reef about 0130 hrs and sank within 10 minutes. Official toll is 470 lives lost, but local lore says many more and that the ship was overcrowded with unlisted passengers returning from pilgrimage to Mecca. The ship is a popular scuba dive site. Details 1,400
1954  Japan Toya Maru – A Japanese passenger ferry that sank in Typhoon Marie in the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu on 26 September 1954. It is said that 1,153 people aboard were lost but the exact number of fatalities remains unknown because some victims managed to board without tickets and others cancelled their passage just before sailing. 1,153
1914  Canada RMS Empress of Ireland – On 29 May 1914 the passenger liner sank after colliding with the cargo ship Storstad on the Saint Lawrence River, killing 1,012 people. About 465 survived.[8] 1,012
1904  United States General Slocum – The paddle steamer caught fire and sank in New York City's East River on 15 June 1904. More than 1,000 people were lost, making it New York City's highest loss of life until the September 11 attacks.[9] 1,000
1912  Japan Kiche Maru – Sank in a typhoon in the Pacific on 22 September 1912. It is estimated that more than 1,000 persons died.[10] 1,000
1921 Singapore Hong Moh – On 3 March 1921, the ship struck the White Rocks on Lamock Island near Swatow (Shantou) on the southern coast of China. She broke in two and sank killing about 1,000 of the 1,100 people aboard. 1,000
1927  Japan Wusung – On 16 September 1927, 900 Japanese workers died when the steamship, bound for Kamchatka, sank off the Kuril Islands.[11] 900
1994  Estonia Estonia – the Roll-on/roll-off sank in heavy seas on 28 September 1994. An investigation concluded that the failure of the bow visor door allowed water from the Baltic Sea to enter the ship. 852 people were lost; 137 survived. 852
1915  United States Eastland – On 24 July 1915, while moored to the dock in the Chicago River, the capacity load of passengers shifted to the river side of the ship causing it to roll over, killing 845 passengers and crew. 845
1996  Tanzania Bukoba – The overloaded ferry sank on 21 May 1996 on Lake Victoria. While the ship's manifest showed 443 aboard, it is estimated that about 800 people died in the sinking. 800
1939  Soviet Union Indigirka – On 12 December 1939 the prisoner transport ship Indigirka ran aground and rolled on its side in shallow water during a blizzard off the Japanese coast near Sarufutsu while trying to enter the La Perouse Strait.[12] While most of the crew and passengers were rescued an additional three days passed before a rescue of the trapped prisoners in the cargo holds could begin. Only 28 of the over 700 prisoners were found alive with one of the 28 rescued later dying. 741
1902  United Kingdom Camorta – The ship was caught in a cyclone and sank in the Irrawaddy Delta on 6 May 1902 with the loss of all 655 passengers and 82 crew. She was en route from Madras, India, to Rangoon, Burma, across the Bay of Bengal. 737
1914  United Kingdom HMS Bulwark – On 26 November 1914, a powerful internal explosion ripped her apart at 7:50am while she was moored at Number 17 buoy in Kethole Reach, 4 mi (6.4 km) west of Sheerness in the River Medway estuary. All of her officers were lost, and out of her complement of 750, 14 survived; two of these subsequently died of wounds in hospital. 736
1904  Denmark Norge – On 28 June 1904 the ship ran aground on Helen's Reef near Rockall. 635 people were lost; 160 survivors spent up to eight days in open boats before rescue. 635
1947  India Ramdas – On 17 July 1947 the ship capsized 10 miles (16 km) off Mumbai, killing 625 people aboard. The wreck became known only as survivors swam ashore. 625
1955  Soviet Union Novorossiysk – On 29 October 1955, the battleship was moored in Sevastopol Bay, 300 metres (330 yd) from shore and opposite a hospital. At 01:30 hrs there was an explosion, following which the ship capsized and sank with the loss of 608 men. The official investigation concluded that the explosion had been caused by a German mine left over from the Second World War. 608
1947  United States Grandcamp – On 16 April 1947, the French-registered Liberty ship caught fire and exploded dockside while being loaded with ammonium nitrate at Texas City, Texas. In what came to be called the Texas City Disaster an estimated 581 people, including all of the ship's crew and 28 firefighters, were lost and about 5,000 injured. 581
1981  Indonesia Tamponas II – On 27 January 1981 the ocean liner, carrying more people than its capacity limit of 1,137, sank in the Java Sea after a fire and explosion. At least 580 were lost and 515 rescued.[13] 580
1920  France SS Afrique (1907) – The passenger ship sank on 9 January 1920 in the Bay of Biscay in bad weather. She was carrying 602 passengers and crew, of whom only 34 were saved. 568
1993  Haiti Ferry Neptune – Sank on 16 February 1993.[14][15][16] 500–700
1986  Bangladesh Shamia – On 25 May 1986 the double deck river ferry, carrying about 1,000 people, capsized in the Meghna River 135 miles (217 km) south of Dhaka in a storm. An estimated 500-600 people were lost.[17] 500–600
1919  Spain Valbanera – the steamship sank in the Gulf of Mexico 45 mi (72 km) west of Key West, Florida in a hurricane in September 1919. All of the 488 crew and passengers were lost. 488
2000  Indonesia Cahaya Bahari – On 29 June 2000 the overloaded ferry carrying refugees from the Maluku Islands sank in a storm. Of the 491 aboard, 10 were rescued.[18] 481
1916  Spain Príncipe de Asturias – Sank near the island of Sao Sebastiao, Brazil on 5 March 1916. At least 445 out of 588 aboard were lost. 445
1975  China On 4 August 1975, two passenger ships Hongxing 245 and Hongxing 240, on overnight trips between Guangzhou and Zhaoqing, collided and sank on Zhujiang River, 432 of the 800 aboard were lost. 432
1986  Soviet Union Admiral Nakhimov – On 31 August 1986 the ship collided with the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasyov in Tsemes Bay, near the port of Novorossiysk, Russian SFSR. 423 of the 1,234 people aboard were lost. 423
1988  India A reported 400 people were lost when an unnamed passenger ferry struck a sand bar and capsized in the Ganges River.[19] 400
1988  Philippines Doña Marilyn – On the afternoon of 24 October 1988, while sailing from Manila to Tacloban City, the vessel was caught up in Typhoon Unsang and sank leaving 389 dead and 147 survivors. Doña Marilyn was a sister ship of Doña Paz which sank a year earlier in the deadliest ever peace-time maritime disaster.[20] 389
1999  Indonesia KM Bismas Raya 2 – In October 1999 the ferry KM Bismas Raya 2 caught fire, capsized and sank while off the coast of Merauke, Indonesia. A reported 361 people were lost.[21] 361
1918  United States Princess Sophia – On 23 October 1918 the passenger steamship ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef in Lynn Canal near Juneau, Alaska. Rescue ships were unable to assist due to the continuing storm, and she sank on the night of 25 October. The only survivor found was a pet dog. The sinking of the SS Princess Sophia is to this day the worst maritime accident in the history of British Columbia and Alaska. 343
1970  South Korea Namyoung – The South Korean ferry sank on 14 December 1970. It was carrying 338 people, who were traveling from Busan to Jeju.[22] 326
1904  Japan Yoshino – On 14 May 1904, the cruiser sank killing 319 people after a collision. 19 survived. 319
1927  Italy Principessa Mafalda – On 25 October 1927, the ocean liner sank off the coast of Brazil after her propeller shaft fractured and damaged her hull. She sank slowly in the presence of rescue vessels, but panic among passengers and crew caused the deaths of 314 of the 1,265 aboard. 314
1999  China Dashun – On 24 November 1999 the ferry caught fire, broke apart and sank in rough seas off Yantai in eastern China. Of 336 aboard, 22 are known to have survived.[23] 314
1999  Indonesia Harta Rimba – On 7 February 1999 the ferry foundered and sank after being struck by a large wave while drifting with engine problems. Of the 332 aboard 19 were rescued two days after the sinking by a passing ship. A distress signal was not sent out and the sinking was unknown until the survivors were found.[24][25] 313
1911  France Liberté – battleship that suffered an accidental ammunition explosion in 1911; about 300 people were killed. 300
1906  Italy Sirio – On 4 August 1906 the cargo steamship sank after she ran aground and suffered a boiler explosion on the Punta Hormigas, a reef off Hormigas Island, two and a half miles east of Cape Palos, Cartagena, Spain. 293, including Italian and Spanish emigrants bound for Argentina, of the 645 aboard were lost. Other sources put the death toll at over 500. 293–500
1993  South Korea Seohae Ferry – was a South Korean passenger ship that sank near Wi-do island, Jeolla Province. The ship was carrying 362 passengers (141 more than its capacity) and heavy freight in bad weather. 292
1996  Malta F174 – illegal immigration towards Europe 283+
1958  Turkey Üsküdar – A small passenger ferry sank due to heavy lodos weather in the Gulf of İzmit on 1 March 1958. 272 passengers including seven crew died; 39 people survived. 272
1994  Kenya Likoni Ferry – On 29 April 1994 the overloaded passenger ferry Mtongwe One capsized and sank killing 272 of the more than 300 aboard.[26] 272
1928  Chile Angamos – On 6 July 1928 she sailed bound for Talcahuano and sank off Punta Morguillas Lebu, Chile. Of the 269 aboard 262 were lost and seven rescued. It was the second largest single maritime loss of life in the history of Chile. 262
1996  Indonesia Gurita – On 19 January 1996 the ferry Gurita sunk during a strong storm six miles from Sabang. Of those on board, between 260 and 340 were killed and 47 survived.[27] 260-340
1913  United States Great Lakes Storm of 1913 – A cyclonic blizzard (sometimes referred to as an inland hurricane) on the Great Lakes that occurred between 7 and 10 November 1913. In total 12 ships were sunk with a combined crew loss of 255. An additional seven ships were damaged beyond repair; 19 more ships that had been stranded were later salvaged. 255
1961  United Kingdom Dara – sank in the Persian Gulf on 8 April 1961, as a result of a powerful explosion that killed 238 of the 819 people aboard including 19 officers and 113 crew. The explosion is believed to have been caused by an explosive device placed aboard. 238
1966  Greece Heraklion – a car ferry that capsized and sank on 8 December 1966 in the Aegean Sea in a storm. An unsecured vehicle damaged the loading door resulting in sea water entering the vessel. The sinking resulted in the death of 234 people out of 281 aboard. 234
1970  St. Kitts and Nevis MV Christena – An overloaded passenger ferry boat that sank crossing the channel between the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, Leeward Islands. 233
1953  South Korea Changgyeong – The South Korean ferry sank on 5 January 1953. It was cruising from Yeosu to Busan.[28] 229
1921  Russian SFSR Sovnarkom – on 10 May 1921 crashed into Novosibirsk railway bridge and sank in the Ob river, resulting in the death of at least 225 (according to other estimates, 400). 225–400
1906  Brazil Aquidabã – a Brazilian ironclad warship built in the mid-1880s. On 21 January 1906, the powder magazines of the ship blew up, sinking the ship within three minutes. 212 people were lost. 212
1909  United Kingdom Waratah – Around 27 July 1909, the steamship, en route from Australia to London, was lost without trace off Durban on the east coast of South Africa. All 211 aboard were lost. 211
1908  Japan Matsushima – On 30 April 1908 the Japanese cruiser Matsushima, while returning from a training cruise and anchored at Mako in the Pescadores islands off of Taiwan, had an accidental explosion occur in her ammunition magazine. Matsushima rolled over onto her starboard side and then sank stern-first. 206 of her 350 crew were lost. 206
1919  United Kingdom Iolaire – (Scottish Gaelic for "Eagle") was an Admiralty yacht that hit rocks and sank on 1 January 1919 just off the Isle of Lewis, while carrying soldiers coming home from World War I. At least 205 of the 280 men aboard were lost. 205
1988  Bangladesh Haisal – On 27 December 1988 the passenger ferry sank after being rammed from behind by a cargo ship on the Dhaleshwari River killing 200.[29] 200
1987  United Kingdom Herald of Free Enterprise – Capsized and sank on 6 March 1987 due to taking on water just minutes after leaving the harbour at Zeebrugge in Belgium. The doors to the car decks were left open by the Assistant Bosun, Mark Stanley, causing the ferry to take on water and quickly capsize. Of the 539 aboard, 193 passengers and crew died. 193
1983  Soviet Union Aleksandr Suvorov – on 5 June 1983 the ship struck a girder of the Ulyanovsk railway bridge. The collision caused 177 deaths yet the ship stayed afloat, was restored and is still in use. 177
1980  Philippines Don Juan – On 22 April 1980 the luxury liner Don Juan collided with an oil tanker Tacloban off Tablas Strait in Mindoro and sank 15 minutes later at a depth of 1,800 feet.[30][31] The vessel was carrying 1,004 passengers but was only cleared to carry 864 persons including its crew.[32] 176
1952  United States USS Hobson – On the night of 26 April 1952, Hobson was steaming in formation with carrier USS Wasp (CV-18) about 600 miles (1000 kilometers) west of the Azores. The Hobson crossed the carrier's bow and was promptly struck amidships. The force of the collision rolled the destroyer-minesweeper over, breaking her in two. USS Rodman (DD-456) and the Wasp rescued many survivors but the ship and 176 of her crew were lost. 176
1914  Newfoundland Southern Cross – Lost with all 173 hands in a storm between 31 March and 3 April 1914. Believed to be near Cape Pine, Newfoundland. 173
1955  Japan Shiun Maru – 11 May 1955. Collided in dense fog her with sister ship Uko Maru in the Seto Inland Sea and sank with the loss of 166 passengers and two crew members. 166
1990  Denmark Scandinavian Star – caught fire in 1990 en route between Norway and Denmark, killing 159 people. 159
1998  Philippines Princess of the Orient – On 18 September 1998, the ferry, while travelling from Manila to Cebu, sailed into Typhoon Vicky. She capsized at 12:55 pm near Fortune Island in Batangas. Of 388 passengers aboard, an estimated 150 died. Passengers floated in the sea for more than 12 hours before rescuers were able to reach the survivors. 150
1907  United States Larchmont – On 12 February 1907, the paddle steamer Larchmont sank off Block Island, Rhode Island after colliding with the schooner Harry Knowlton. About 150 of the people 200 aboard were lost.[33] 150–200
1912  United Kingdom Koombana – disappeared on 20 March 1912 north of Port Hedland, Western Australia, in a tropical cyclone with the loss of about 76 passengers and 74 crew. 150
1950  Soviet Union Majakovskis Riga – sank in the Daugava River on 13 August 1950, 147 died. 147
1994  Philippines Cebu City – On 2 December 1994, the ferry collided with a Singaporean freighter Kota Suria and sank in Manila Bay killing 140 people. 140
1991  Italy Moby Prince – On 10 April 1991, the Italian ferry Moby Prince collided with the oil tanker Agip Abruzzo in Livorno harbour and caught fire, killing 140 of the 141 people aboard. 140
1934  United States Morro Castle (1930) – In the early morning hours of 8 September 1934, while en route from Havana to New York, the passenger liner caught fire and burned, killing 137 passengers and crew members out of the 549 aboard. The ship was beached near Asbury Park, New Jersey, and remained there for several months until she was eventually towed away and sold for scrap. 137
1929  Finland Kuru – Passenger steamer sank after capsizing in high winds on 7 September 1929 in Lake Näsijärvi near Tampere, Finland. An estimated 136–138 people were lost. 136–138
1901  United States City of Rio de Janeiroen route from Hong Kong, this passenger ship sank on 21 February 1901 after striking a submerged reef at the entry to San Francisco Bay, killing more than 135 passengers and crew. 135
1953  United Kingdom Princess Victoria – Sank on 31 January 1953 in the North Channel (between Scotland and Northern Ireland), in a severe storm killing 133 people. Her sinking had the highest death toll in UK waters since World War II. 133
1957  West Germany Pamir – On 21 September 1957 the four-masted barque Pamir was caught in Hurricane Carrie and sank off the Azores with six survivors rescued out of 138 aboard. 132
1913  Canada Volturno – On 9 October 1913 the steamship, carrying mostly immigrants bound for New York, caught fire in a gale in the North Atlantic. 520 people were rescued. About 130 people, most of them women and children in unsuccessfully launched lifeboats, were lost. 130
1963  United States USS Thresher (SSN-593) – A nuclear-powered attack submarine that sank on deep-diving tests on 10 April 1963 about 220 nautical miles (410 km) east of Boston, Massachusetts. 129
1963  Greece TSMS Lakonia – Caught fire and burned in the Atlantic Ocean on 22 December 1963. 128 people died, of whom 95 were passengers and 33 were crew members. 53 people were killed by the fire. The rest died from exposure, drowning, and injuries sustained while diving overboard. 128
1907  United Kingdom Berlin – On 21 February 1907 the steamship was driven onto the granite breakwater at the New Waterway ship canal in the Netherlands by large waves and then broke apart. Of 144 people aboard, 128 were lost. 128
1905  United Kingdom Hilda – A steamship on a cross-Channel run that sank in 1905 killing 125 people. 125
1911  Australia Yongala – The ship sank off Cape Bowling Green, Australia, after steaming into a cyclone. There were no survivors of the 122 aboard. 122
1973  Malaysia Pulau Kidjang – On 26 December 1973, the passenger ferry sank in the Rejang River near Tanjung Jerijeh, Sarawak, Malaysia 3.5 nautical miles (6.5 km) west of Sarikei in the monsoon season. Of 159 people were aboard, 38 were saved including 18 sailors. 41 bodies were found. 121
1907  France Iéna – On 12 March 1907, while in drydock in the Missiessy Basin at Toulon, the French battleship suffered a series of internal explosions in her magazine. The first explosion was caused by Powder B, a nitrocellulose-based propellant in the ammunition, which tended to become unstable with age, and self-ignite. The explosion killed 120 people including two civilians hit by fragments in the suburb of Le Pont Du Las. 120
2000  Russia K-141 Kursk – The Russian submarine Kursk sank with all hands in the Barents Sea on 12 August 2000 on a naval training exercise, after accidental contamination of the torpedo tubes caused a series of explosions. All 118 officers and crew were lost. 118
1949  Canada Noronic – Caught fire at the dockside in Toronto Harbour on 16 September 1949. Estimates ranged from 118 to 139 fatalities. Most of the deaths were from suffocation or burns. However, some died from being trampled or from leaping off the upper decks onto the pier; only one person drowned. 118–139
1906  United States Valencia – Shortly before midnight on 22 January 1906, she struck a reef near Pachena Point on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island and sank. Estimates of the number of people killed vary widely. Some sources list it at 117; others claim it was as high as 181. According to the federal report, the official death toll was 136. 37 men survived, but every woman and child aboard was lost. 117–181
1928  United Kingdom Vestris – On 12 November 1928 the ship began listing about 200 nautical miles (370 km) off Hampton Roads, Virginia, was abandoned, and sank killing more than 100 people. 110
1908  United States Star of Bengal – On 20 September 1908, in the beginning of her return trip from Fort Wrangell to San Francisco, the Star of Bengal was in tow into the open sea when she encountered a storm. The ship struck the rocks near the shore of Coronation Island and sunk, killing approximately 110 of 138 people aboard. 110
1940  Italy Orazio – On 21 January 1940 the passenger liner caught fire and burned 35 miless off Toulon, France. 48 of the 423 passengers and 60 of the 210 crew died in the fire. 108
1954  United States USS Bennington At 06:11 on 26 May 1954, while cruising off Narragansett Bay, the fluid in one of her catapults leaked out and was detonated by the flames of a jet causing the forward part of the flight deck to explode, setting off a series of secondary explosions which killed 103 crewmen, predominantly among the senior NCO's of the crew and injured 201 others.[1]Bennington proceeded under her own power to Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island, to land her injured. This tragedy caused the Navy to switch from hydraulic catapults to steam catapults for launching aircraft. A monument to the sailors who died in this tragic event was erected near the southwest corner of Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island. 103
1939  United Kingdom HMS Thetis – A T-class submarine that sank in Liverpool Bay on 1 June 1939 after inadvertent opening of both doors of a torpedo tube to the sea whilst diving. 99 people were lost, including shipyard workers who were aboard for sea trials. Raised and refitted, as HMS Thunderbolt the boat was later sunk by Italian anti-submarine forces in the Mediterranean in March 1943. 99
1968  United States USS Scorpion (SSN-589) – A nuclear-powered submarine that sank (most likely due to an internal explosion) on 22 May 1968 460 nautical miles (850 km) southwest of the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. 99
1933  Soviet Union The Fourth disaster – a boat sank in the Volga near Yaroslavl on 9 July 1933. At least 98 died. 98
1959  Denmark Hans Hedtoft – The Danish liner was sailing from Greenland when she struck an iceberg and sank on 30 January 1959. There were 40 crew members and 55 passengers aboard. No-one survived. She was on her maiden voyage and was said to be "unsinkable" due to her strong design. 95
1911  France SS Emir – On 9 August 1911 the French steamship Emir was struck and sunk by the British steamship Silverton in dense fog in the Strait of Gibraltar off the coast of Tarifa, Spain. Seventy-one passengers and twenty-four crew members were lost while fifteen passengers and twelve crew members were rescued.[34] 95
1918  Newfoundland Florizel – Sank after striking a reef at Horn Head Point Cape Race near Cappahayden, Newfoundland on 23 February 1918. Of 144 people aboard, 94 were lost. 94
1989  Thailand Seacrest – the Unocal drilling ship capsized in the Gulf of Thailand on 3 November 1989 in Typhoon "Gay". 91 of her crew complement of 97 were lost. 91
1916  United Kingdom Connemara – On 3 November 1916 the ferry Connemara sank at the entrance to Carlingford Lough, Louth, Ireland after being hit amidships by the coal ship Retriever which also sank. All 82 on board the Connemara were killed, and only one crew member of the Retriever's crew of nine were rescued. 90
1965  Panama Yarmouth Castle – The steamship's loss in a disastrous fire in 1965 prompted new laws for safety at sea. 87 people were lost, three of the rescued passengers later died in hospital, bringing the death toll to 90. 90
1907  United States Columbia – A little over 20 minutes past midnight on 21 July 1907, the passenger steamship Columbia collided with the steam schooner San Pedro in dense fog sinking in less than 9 minutes, killing 88 people, including all children on board. The sinking of Columbia partially ignited public outrage against American operated Pacific coastal steamships. 88
1922  Mexico Topolobampo — In November 1922, the 36-ton steamer Topolobampo left Guaymas carrying 125 passengers bound for the cotton fields of Mexicali. Around midnight at the end of 18 November, the vessel was hit by a nearly 15-foot tidal bore traveling up the Colorado River. 86 people drowned; 21 bodies were recovered. 39 survivors were found.[35][36] 86
1982  Canada Ocean Ranger – On 15 February 1982 a semi-submersible mobile offshore drilling unit sank on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, 267 kilometres (166 mi) east of St. John's, Newfoundland with the loss of all 84 crew members. 84
1997  Albania Kateri i Radës – On 28 March 1997 the Albanian ship Kateri i Radës sank following a collision with the Italian naval vessel Sibilia in the Strait of Otranto. Of the 142 on board, 83 lost their lives. 83
1964  Australia HMAS Voyager – On 10 February 1964, while undergoing post-refit exercises, the destroyer was rammed and sunk off Jervis Bay, New South Wales, by the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, which was also carrying-out post-refit exercises.[37] 82 of the 314 people aboard Voyager were lost;[37] Australia's largest peacetime loss of military personnel. 82
2000  Greece Express Samina – On 26 September 2000, the roll-on/roll-off ferry hit a reef and sank at 23:02 hrs near the island of Paros. 82 of the 534 people aboard (473 passengers and 61 crew) were lost. 82
1953  Turkey TCG Dumlupınar – On 4 April 1953, the submarine sank with all hands after colliding with the Swedish freighter Naboland in the Dardanelles. 81
1981  Philippines Datu Kalantiaw – a Philippine Navy destroyer escort driven aground by Typhoon Clara on 21 September 1981. 79 of her 97 crew were lost. 79
1976  United States George Prince – On 20 October 1976, a small automobile ferry crossing the Mississippi River in Louisiana collided with the tanker Frosta, capsized and sank. Of 96 people aboard, 78 were lost. 78
1929  United States San Juan – On the night of 29 August 1929, the coastal liner San Juan, outbound from San Francisco, California bound for Los Angeles, collided in dense fog with the oil tanker S.C.T. Dodd in the Pacific Ocean north of Monterrey. The ageing San Juan was a poorly maintained 47 year old wrought iron steamship, allowing the Dodd to cut halfway into her stern and destroyed a lifeboat. The San Juan capsized to port and sank stern first in less than three minutes killing 77 people. Most of the survivors were dragged down with the sinking ship only to swim free of the sinking vessel during the final plunge. The San Juan sinking helped lead to the end of coastal passenger steamships.[38] 77
1978  Singapore Spyros – On 12 October 1978, while undergoing repairs dockside, the Greek tanker Spyros exploded at the Jurong Shipyard killing 76. 76
1909  New Zealand Penguin – On 12 February 1909, the inter-island ferry Penguin hit a rock near the entrance to Wellington Harbour, sinking then exploding when water entered her boiler room. Of the 105 people aboard, 75 died. 75
1951  United Kingdom HMS Affray – an Amphion-class submarine that disappeared on 16 April 1951 on a training exercise in the English Channel, killing all 75 crew. She is the last Royal Navy submarine to have been lost at sea. 75
1928  Denmark København – a Danish five-masted barque used as a naval training vessel until she disappeared with 75 aboard after 22 December 1928. Built by the Danish East Asiatic Company in 1921, it was the world's largest sailing ship at the time, and primarily served for sail training of young cadets. 75
1969  United States USS Frank E. Evans – On 3 June 1969, while operating as a plane guard for the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne in the SEATO training exercise Sea Spirit, the destroyer crossed the bows of the carrier and was rammed and sunk.[39] Of the 273 aboard Evans, 74 died.[39] The handling of the inquiry into the collision was seen as detrimental to United States–Australia relations.[39] 74
1995  Philippines Viva Antipolo VII – On 16 May 1995 the ferry Viva Antipolo VII caught fire and sank in the vicinity of Lucena, Quezon. Of the 214 on board, 62 were killed and 10 were missing in the accident.[40] 72
1972  United Kingdom STV Royston Grange – The British cargo liner was destroyed by fire after a collision with the petroleum tanker Tien Chee in the Rio de la Plata on 11 May 1972. There were no survivors from the 72 aboard. 72
1996  Philippines Gretchen I – On 19 February 1996 the overloaded ferry Gretchen I capsized and sank off Cadiz with the loss of 71 lives. There were at least 141 survivors.[41] 71
1925  United Kingdom HMS M1 – The submarine sank with all hands (69) on 12 November 1925 after being struck by the Swedish ship Vidar while submerged in the English Channel. 69
1989  Guatemala Justo Rufino Barrios II – On 1 January 1989 the ferry Justo Rufino Barrios II sank in Amatique Bay whilst under tow of a Guatemalan Navy vessel, after running out of fuel, with the loss of 67 lives. It was reported that the ship was overloaded with passengers at the time of the accident.[42][43] 67
1901  United Kingdom HMS Cobra – the British destroyer's short career ended when she broke her back and sank near Cromer on 18 September 1901. 67 men were lost; 12 saved. 67
1950  United Kingdom HMS Truculent – The British T-class submarine sank in the Thames Estuary on 12 January 1950 after colliding with the Swedish oil tanker Divina. A total of 64 people died, most in freezing cold mid-winter conditions after escaping the collision. 64
1921  United Kingdom HMS K5 – A K-class submarine, lost with all hands (57) on 20 January 1921 when she sank en route to a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay. 57
1921  United States USS Conestoga – The ship was missing and lost with all hands after it left 25 March 1921 from Mare Island, California, heading for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The wreck was located in 2009 in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. 56
1903  Canada Clallam – The ferry sank on 9 January 1903 in a storm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, between British Columbia and Washington, killing 56 people. 56
1999  Philippines Asia South Korea – On 22 December 1999 the ferry Asia South Korea was off Bantayan Island in stormy weather. According to one crew member a large wave swamped the ferry, knocking out the power. Life vests were then distributed and rafts were launched immediately.[44] Other reports state that the ship was off course and struck a reef before sinking. 56
1925  United States Mackinac – late in the afternoon of 18 August 1925, the 162 feet (49 m) excursion ship was passing the Newport Naval Station, Rhode Island, when her boiler exploded, killing 55 passengers. She was on a day cruise from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Newport Harbor for passengers to visit the city and its beaches. Most injuries and deaths were from burns and smoke or steam inhalation. Some people jumped overboard but none drowned. The ship remained afloat and many boats came to the rescue. More than 600 passengers survived, many uninjured. The ship's Captain was George W. McVey, who had also been captain of Larchmont in 1907 when she sank after a collision less than 20 nautical miles (37 km) away.[45] 55
1993  Poland Jan Heweliusz – a Polish Roll-on/roll-off ferry in the early hours of 14 January 1993, while sailing from Swinoujscie to Ystad, capsized and sank in 27 metres (89 ft) of water off Cape Arcona on the coast of Rügen in the Baltic Sea. 55 people aboard were lost; 20 crew and 35 passengers, 9 crew were rescued; 10 bodies were never found. 55
1932  France Georges Philippar was an ocean liner of the French Messageries Maritimes line that was built in 1930. On her maiden voyage in 1932 she caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Aden with the loss of 54 lives. 54
1968  New Zealand TEV Wahine – an inter island ferry that foundered in a cyclone on Barrett Reef at the mouth of Wellington Harbour and capsized near Steeple Rock. Of the 610 passengers and 123 crew aboard, 53 were lost. 53
1929  United States Milwaukee – On 22 October 1929 the train ferry Milwaukee, while carrying 27 railroad cars, sank off Milwaukee in Lake Michigan in a storm. There were no survivors from the 52 men aboard. 52
1989  United Kingdom Marchioness – On 20 August 1989 the pleasure boat Marchioness sank after being pushed under by the dredger Bowbelle late at night near Cannon Street Railway Bridge on the Thames River. Of the 131 on board, 51 were killed in the accident. 51
1957  Pakistan Minocher Cowasjee – The cargo ship reported in distress in position 25.3°S 68.00°E / -25.3; 68.00, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, coming from Tianjin[46] heading to Antwerp.[47] All 51 crew members, mostly Pakistanis and at least one German, were killed.[48] 51
1921  United Kingdom Canastota – On 13 June 1921, the cargo steamer left Sydney, Australia, bound for Wellington, New Zealand, and was never heard from again. Cargo from the ship - some of which was charred, suggesting a fire at sea - was washed up on Lord Howe Island. Otherwise, the ship and her crew of 49 men disappeared without trace. 49
1989  United States USS Iowa – On 19 April 1989, An open breech explosion occurred in the center gun of turret Number Two aboard Iowa, killing all 47 men in the turret. 47
1935  United States Mohawk – On 24 Januar 1935, eight miles off the coast of New Jersey, the passenger liner Mohawk suffered a failure of her automatic steering gear, veered off course into the path of Norwegian freighter Talisman and was rammed on port side. She sank within one hour. 16 out of 53 passengers and 31 of her crew of 110 were killed, including the captain. 47
1956  Italy Andrea Doria – On 25 July 1956, approaching the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, bound for New York City, the passenger liner Was struck by the eastward-bound Stockholm. 1,660 passengers and crew were rescued and survived, while 46 people died as a consequence of the collision. In what became one of history's most noted maritime disasters, Andrea Doria's loss generated great interest in the media and led to many lawsuits. 46
1906  United States Dix – On 18 November 1906 the ferry sank off Alki Point, Seattle after a collision, killing more than 45 people. 45
1902  New Zealand Elingamite – The ship, carrying a large consignment of gold, was wrecked in 1902 off the north coast of New Zealand killing 45 people. The wreck is now favoured by adventurous divers for the drama associated with it, and tales of lost treasure. 45
1980  United Kingdom Derbyshire – Lost on 9 September 1980, south of Japan, in Typhoon Orchid. All aboard (42 crew and 2 spouses) died. At 91,655 gross tons she was, and remains, the largest UK ship to have ever been lost at sea. 44
1989  Soviet Navy K-278 Komsomolets – On 7 April 1989 the Soviet Mike-class nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea with the loss of 42 of her 67 crew following an onboard fire. 42
1971  Italy Heleanna – On 28 August 1971, the Greek ferry Heleanna caught fire off Torre Canne (Italy), resulting in 25 dead and 16 missing out of 1174 people aboard.[49] 41
1914  United States Monroe – 30 January 1914, while traveling from Norfolk to New York City, the passenger ship Monroe was sunk by the freighter Nantucket in fog 50 miles (80 km) off the Virginia Capes. After being struck amidships Monroe capsized and sank, killing 41 people aboard. 41
1901  Canada Islander – On 15 August 1901, while sailing down the narrow Lynn Canal south of Juneau, the ship struck what was reported to be an iceberg that stove a large hole in her forward port quarter. She sank quickly, killing 40 of the 172 people aboard. 40
1911  United States Sechelt – The ferry sank on 24 March 1911 in Strait of Juan de Fuca under mysterious circumstances, killing 37 people. 37
1941  United States Don – a pleasure craft that was lost in Casco Bay Maine 29 June 1941 in an apparent explosion, near Ragged Island, killing all aboard. The vessel was reportedly overloaded with passengers and carrying extra cans of gasoline on deck at the time of the loss.[50][51] 36
1967  United States USS Liberty – On 8 June 1967, during the Six-Day War, the United States Navy technical research ship USS Liberty was attacked by Israeli Air Force jet fighter aircraft and Israeli Navy motor torpedo boats while in international waters. Israel apologized for the attack, saying that the USS Liberty had been attacked in error after being mistaken for an Egyptian ship. The combined air and sea attack killed 34 crew members, wounded 171 crew members and severely damaged the ship which was subsequently scrapped. 34
1958  United States Carl D. Bradley – Sank on Lake Michigan in an 18 November 1958 storm with the loss of 33 crew. 33
1963  United Kingdom Tritonica – On 20 July 1963 the Bermuda-registered ore carrier was on the St Lawrence River en route from Havre-Saint-Pierre to Sorel, Québec with about 18,300 tons of ilmenite when she collided in dense fog with the British cargo ship Roonagh Head shortly before 03:00 hrs off Petite-Rivière-Saint-François. She sank within eight minutes with all hatches open. Her sinking was so sudden that all navigation crew were trapped in the wheelhouse. 18 bodies were recovered; another 15 remained missing. Her Canadian pilot was also missing. In the fog and night a third ship, the Spanish Conde de Fontamar, struck Tritonica's superstructure. She saved seven survivors. 33
1940  United States William B. Davock – On 11 November 1940 the cargo ship was caught in a fierce storm on Lake Michigan. She was making her way down the lake with coal for Chicago, and is presumed to have been overwhelmed at the height of the storm by the intense wind and waves, sinking in about 200 feet (61 m) of water 5 miles (8 km) off Little Sable Point between Ludington, Michigan and Pentwater, Michigan. The freighter Anna C. Minch sank nearby in the same storm. 32–33
1998  United Kingdom Fantome – The 679-ton windjammer was lost in October 1998 in Hurricane Mitch. All 31 crew were lost 31
1916  United Kingdom Britannic – Sank after striking a mine in the Aegean Sea near the Greek Isle of Kea on 21st November 1916. Britannic sank in 55 minutes with a loss of 30 lives. The Britannic was the sister ship of the RMS Titanic which sunk on her maidan voyage in 1912, Britannic was originally a passenger ship before becoming a hospital ship in December 1915. 30
1992  Cyprus Royal Pacific – She was rammed by the Taiwanese fishing vessel Terfu 51 in the Straits of Malacca, and sank, sending thirty people to their deaths[52]. The deaths are most likely attributed to the crew's choice to abandon ship first. 30
1975  United States SS Edmund Fitzgerald – Fitzgerald was an American taconite Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on 10 November 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. When launched on 7 June 1958, she was the largest ship on North America's Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there. 29
1981  Israel The Mezada was lost 3 March 1981; The cargo ship sank in rough seas approximately 100 nautical miles (190 km) southeast of Bermuda. Eleven of 35 crew rescued. 24


Disasters with high losses of life can occur in times of armed conflict. Shown below are some of the known events with major losses.

Pre-World War I

Year Country Description Lives lost Image
1905  Russia Battle of Tsushima – the decisive naval battle of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, in which two-thirds of the Russian fleet was destroyed. 4,380 Russians were killed and 5,917 captured, including two admirals; 1,862 were interned. The battleships Knyaz Suvorov, Imperator Aleksandr III, Borodino and Oslyabya were sunk. 4,380
1904  Japan SS Hitachi Maru (1898) – A Japanese transportship in the Russo-Japanese War that was shelled and sunk by the Imperial Russian Navy armored cruiser Gromoboi in the southern Korean Strait between the Japanese mainland and Tsushima in the "Hitachi Maru Incident". 1,086
1904  Russia Petropavlovsk – in the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian battleship was sunk on 31 March 1904 after striking two mines near the Port Arthur naval base. A total of 18 officers, including an Imperial vice admiral and 620 men were lost. 620
1904  Japan Hatsuse – A Japanese battleship in the Russo-Japanese War that hit two mines on 15 May 1904 and sunk with the loss of 496 crew in a Russian minefield off Port Arthur. 496
1904  Japan Takasago – a 2nd class protected cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy that struck a mine and sank off Port Arthur on 13 December 1904 in the Russo-Japanese War, with the loss of 273 officers and crew. 273
1904  Japan Yashima – A Japanese battleship in the Russo-Japanese War that hit a mine on 15 May 1904 and sunk under tow with nearly 200 of her crew. 200

World War I

Spanish Civil War

Year Country Description Lives lost Use Image
1939  Spain Castillo de Olite – On 7 March 1939, near Cartagena Harbor while approaching the docks, she was hit by three 381mm rounds from a coastal battery and sank shortly afterwards broken in two. Of the 2,112 men on board, 1,476 died, 342 were wounded and 294 were taken prisoner after being rescued by local fishermen and the lighthouse keeper. 1,476 Naval
1938  Spain Baleares – sunk by the Lepanto on 6 March 1938. 765 seamen died. 765 Naval
1936  Spain Almirante Ferrándiz – sunk by Canarias on 29 September 1936; 130 killed. 130 Naval
1936  Spain C-5 – disappeared on 31 December 1936 near of Bilbao; 40 disappeared. 40 Naval
1936  Spain C-3 – sunk by German submarine U-34 (1936) on 12 December 1936; 38 killed. 38 Naval
1936  Spain B-5 – disappeared on 15 April 1936 near of Malaga; 34 disappeared. 34 Naval
1937  Germany Deutschland – hit by bombs from Republican aircraft in the Deutschland incident; 31 killed. 31 Naval

World War II

There are at least eight maritime disasters during WWII, each of which has a greater death toll than any other maritime disaster.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

Year Country Description Lives lost Use Image
1971  Pakistan Navy PNS Ghazi (Pakistan) – On 3 December 1971 the Pakistani submarine was destroyed under mysterious circumstances, killing 92 people. 92 Naval
1971  Pakistan Navy PNS Muhafiz, PNS Khaibar, PNS Shah Jahan (Pakistan) – On 4 and 5 December 1971, Pakistani minesweeper PNS Muhafiz, destroyer PNS Khaibar, transport MV Venus Challenger and destroyer PNS Shah Jahan were destroyed by three Vidyut class missile boats, INS Nipat (K86), INS Nirghat (K89) and INS Veer (K82) escorted by two anti-submarine Arnala class corvettes, INS Kiltan (P79) and INS Katchall (P81) in Operation Trident killing more than 100 Pakistani sailors. 100+ Naval
1971  Pakistan Navy PNS Dacca (Pakistan) – On 8 December 1971, a Pakistani oiler along with Panamian tanker Gulf Star and British ship MV SS Harmatttan were destroyed by Indian missile boat INS Vinash (K85) and two multipurpose frigates INS Talwar and INS Trishul in Operation Python killing nearly 1790 Pakistani sailors. 1790 Naval
1971  Indian Navy INS Khukri (India) – On 9 December 1971 the Indian frigate was torpedoed and sunk by the Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor (S131), killing 194 people. This was the first sinking by a submarine since World War II. 194 Naval

Falklands War

Year Country Description Lives lost Use Image
1982  Argentina ARA General Belgrano – On 2 May 1982 the Argentinian light cruiser was torpedoed and sunk by British submarine HMS Conqueror, killing 323 people. This was the first time a warship had been sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine. 323 Naval

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