The Carnival Cruise ship the Carnival Splendor has been stranded just off Mexico since Monday with only auxiliary power. The ship is so disabled because a fire occurred in the engine room and destroyed the main generators. Carnival Cruise Lines is expecting tug boats to arrive to tow the boat to land today. The 4,500 individuals on board were lucky and have so far been uninjured. This is just the latest incident of an accident on a passenger ship. Most of the passengers were not so lucky in past cruise ship accidents.
The USS General Slocum caught fire in 1904 in the East River of New York killing over 1000 people aboard. The death toll could be attributed to the abysmal state of the ship’s safety equipment and Captain error. The Captain kept sailing despite the failed efforts to fight the fire with on board equipment. The ship was a complete loss to the fire and only approximately 300 people survived of the over 1300 aboard.
In 1994 over 850 people, of the almost 1000 on board, died when the MS Estonia sank due mostly to human error. A combination of not latching the vehicle level visor properly and not distributing the weight of the cargo evenly caused the ship to list and take on water. The water caused the engines to cut out, leaving the Estonia stranded in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Due to the ship’s location, rescue boats and helicopters were unable to reach the ship in time to save many people.
Boats do not have to traveling far for disaster to happen. In July of 1915, with over 2500 people on board, the SS Eastland rolled while docked because of a shift in the passenger load. When the ship rolled, over 800 people died from drowning or crushing injuries. It is suspected that there was a design flaw in the ship which caused the center of gravity to be too high as the ship had listed to one side and almost rolled once before.
In 1914 the RMS Empress of Ireland sank after striking another ship. There is debate over which ship had the right of way in the heavy fog of the early morning but the aftermath was over 1000 people dead out of a total of 1500 passengers and crew. One of the contributing factors was that many of the lower level portholes had been opened by the passengers to get fresh air and when the ship began to list after being hit and taking on water, the water poured in the portholes and down the passengers. Also contributing was the time of day because most passengers were still sleeping and unable to get out in time.
Although ships have gotten safer over the years, there will always be risks. When there is a disabling fire on board and the ship is drifting at sea, it is still a very dangerous situation. The passengers on the Splendor were very lucky and had multiple factors on their side in the near disaster. Cruises are a great vacation idea, as long as the risks that go along with it are known before you sign up.
Gene Sloan “‘Extremely Trying’ Situation for Passengers on Fire-Damaged Carnival Splendor”, USA Today.
“General Slocum”, National Underwater and Marine Agency.
“A Survivor’s Story from the MS Estonia”, Remember RMS Titanic.
“The Disaster”, Eastland Disaster Historical Society.
Michael Grace “The RMS Empress of Ireland sinking resulted in the deaths of more passengers than the RMS Titanic disaster”, Cruising the Past.