Voyages Into Doom: Ocean Cruises You Wouldn’t Want to Be On

As you’ve doubtlessly witnessed in the news, 2012 is already (ship)shaping up to be an ominous year for cruise liners. We’ve seen two major incidents in the space of two months, while April 15 marked the 100th anniversary of the fate of the Titanic. Here, we explore the famous, and the less famous, cruise liners that unknowingly departed from the docks on voyages into doom.

RMS Titanic, 1912

Like United Flight 93 or Space Shuttle Challenger, there’s a certain chill in the air when the name ‘Titanic’ is mentioned. It’s as if the mere utterance of the word transports people back to the icy seas in which over 1,500 perished. The Titanic oozed class. The largest ship of her time, she carried over 2,200 passengers and boasted her own library, Turkish bath and newspaper. Admittedly, things weren’t quite so luxurious for third-class passengers; they had to share two baths between 700 people. The Titanic was four days into her maiden voyage, when at 11:40pm UTC-3, she struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean. Two and a half hours later the Titanic was sunk. Among some of the more shocking truths about the disaster is that despite the alarming lack of lifeboats, somehow two dogs were bundled in and rescued. Captain Smith, the ship’s captain was quoted as saying before the Titanic set sail: “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern ship building has gone beyond that.”

The Costas Concordia and Allegra, 2012

The beginning of 2012 brought Captain Smith’s ironic words back into the public conscience with grizzly poignancy. On January 13, the Costa Concordia struck a reef off the coast of Isola del Giglio, Tuscany, causing a massive gash in the hull, and the death of 32 passengers. Just six weeks later, a ship from the same fleet, the Costa Allegra, was incapacitated by fire and was left stranded in pirate- inhabited waters before being towed to safety. Costa Crociere, the operator of both ships now face one heck of a PR nightmare.

MV Le Joola, 2002

Just ten years previous to the Costa Crociere debacle, the world witnessed another large-scale passenger liner tragedy. Transporting around 2,000 passengers from Dakar to Casamance on September 26 2002, the Joola sailed into a tumultuous storm off the coast of Gambia and soon capsized. Though the ship went down at 11pm, official rescue teams did not arrive at the scene until the next morning and before they did, local fishermen set out to pull survivors from the waters. Their efforts were largely to no avail. Of all Joola’s passengers, approximately 64 survived. At least 1,863 died.

MV Doña Paz, 1987

If you’re in your twenties or younger, you may not even heard of the MV Doña Paz. In fact the ship was the subject of by far the most fatal peacetime sailing incident in history. Built in Japan in 1963, the ship was sold 12 years later to Filipino operator Sulpicio Lines, where she enjoyed a healthy innings operating a round route from Manila, via Catbalogan and Tacloban. In December1987, however, disaster struck. As most of the passengers slept, the Doña Paz hit an oil tanker, MT Vector, which was carrying close to 9,000 barrels of gasoline. Explosions and widespread fire were a result. Those who were not burned were forced to leap into shark-infested waters in order to swim away from the wreckage. They had to do so without lifejackets, as these had allegedly been locked away. It reportedly took 19 hours for rescue teams to get come to the ship’s aid. The final death toll was never verified although the 2008 edition of the World Almanac estimates it at 4,341.Two of the 13 members of the tanker MT Vector died.

Sunken or simply lost?

Not all cruise ship tragedies necessarily involve sinking. The Bermuda Triangle, a region steeped in paranormal hearsay has become notorious as a sort of maritime black hole which has consumed many an airplane and ship. The most infamous of these incidents was the disappearance of Patriot in 1812 (the year ‘12 seems to be a recurring theme). The schooner had among its passengers Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of ex- U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr. The boat and was headed from Georgetown to New York set sail on December 31. After her departure, the Patriot was never seen again. Three years before the Titanic tragedy, the SS Waratah disappeared en route from London to Adelaide, along with its 211 passengers and crew. Waratah enthusiast Emlyn Brown, who spent 22 years studying the mystery finally admitted in 2004: “I’ve exhausted all the options. I now have no idea where to look”.

Floating on hope

In an upbeat coda to the above disasters, it’s heartening to know that from great tragedy can arise great defiance and hope. In 2008 it was revealed that a $1 billion ship named the USS New York had been constructed partially from steel salvaged from the rubble of the World Trade Center. On the side of the vessel, the New Orleans shipbuilders (still reeling from the devastating Hurricane Katrina) had inscribed “Never Forget”. Glen Clement, a paint superintendent on the project was quoted as saying: “Nobody passes by that bow section without knocking on it. Everybody knows what it is made from and what it’s about.”