- Cruise ship sinkings are rare, with roughly 22 incidents in the last 100 years.
- Advanced safety features and improvements in technology have reduced the likelihood of sinking.
- Many sinkings occurred while ships were berthed or towed, not during active cruises.
Cruise ships are a popular vacation choice for millions worldwide, offering luxurious amenities, exciting activities, and the opportunity to visit multiple destinations in a single trip. However, the safety of these massive floating hotels occasionally comes into question, particularly when considering the possibility of sinking.
In the last century, only a few cruise ships have sunk. When a cruise ship does sink, most or all of the passengers and crew remain safe thanks to the cruise line industry’s safety protocols.
Table of Contents
How Many Cruise Ships Have Sunk?
Since 1912, only 24 cruise ships have sunk, including ocean liners and river cruise ships. It’s essential to note that some cruise ship sinkings occurred while the vessel was berthed or towed.
We can attribute the rarity of cruise ship sinkings to modern safety features and the robust designs of these vessels.
Cruise ships today are built with a focus on safety, making them incredibly resilient to sinking. Even if an unfortunate incident occurs, modern cruise ships are equipped with numerous safety measures to save as many lives as possible.
As a result, the loss of life in such events is generally minimal.
Sadly, some of the earliest sinkings resulted in a large number of casualties.
On average, since 1912, a cruise ship sinks every four and a half years, emphasizing the infrequency of such occurrences. However, the frequency of cruise ship disasters is decreasing as technology and safety improve, and we continue to learn from past tragedies.
Despite the rare nature of cruise ships sinking, there have been a few notable instances, such as the Titanic and the Costa Concordia disaster. However, these high-profile events tend to overshadow the actual safety record of the cruise industry, which is, by and large, quite impressive.
How often do cruise ships sink?
It’s important to understand that cruise ship sinkings are incredibly rare occurrences. Over the past 100 years, only 22 cruise ships have sunk.
However, several sinkings occurred while ships were moored or being towed. Cruise ship sinkings are rare when you consider the number of cruise ships operating year-round.
Modern cruise ships are designed with numerous safety features that help to minimize the risk of sinking. Additionally, strict regulations and inspections help to maintain a high level of safety aboard these vessels. These efforts, along with advancements in technology, contribute to the infrequent nature of cruise ship sinkings.
However, cruise ships specifically have an even lower frequency of sinking compared to this overall number. While it is challenging to determine the precise number of cruise ship sinkings in the recent past, one can generally conclude that these events are rare and not a significant concern for travelers.
In summary, cruise ship sinking is infrequent, thanks to modern technology and strict safety regulations. Passengers can feel confident in the safety and stability of their cruise ship experiences.
How Often Do Cruise Ships Sink?
Cruise ships sinking is rare, thanks to modern safety features and strict regulations. Only 20 cruise ships have sunk in the past 100 years.
It is important to note that not all sinkings of these instances involved passengers onboard or resulted in significant casualties.
Cruise ship sinkings have become increasingly rare thanks to advancements in technology and navigation systems.
Can Cruise Ships Sink?
Yes, cruise ships can sink, but such instances are quite rare.
Modern cruise ships are equipped with advanced safety features that help minimize the risk of sinking. These features include advanced navigation systems, improved hull design, and watertight compartments preventing a ship from taking on too much water. In addition, cruise ship crews are trained in emergency procedures and undergo regular safety drills, ensuring they are prepared to respond to potential incidents.
Despite these safety measures, historical records show that 24 cruise ships and ocean liners have sunk since the RMS Titanic tragedy in 1912.
While the thought of a cruise ship sinking can be unsettling, it is essential to remember that safety remains a top priority for the cruise industry. Passengers can have peace of mind knowing they are on one of the safest modes of transportation available, with the frequency of sinking incidents being extremely low compared to other forms of travel.
When Was the Last Time a Cruise Ship Sank?
The last time a cruise ship sank with passengers on board was in 2012, when the Costa Concordia ran aground in Italy. The Italian cruise ship struck rocks and eventually capsized, resulting in the loss of 34 lives. The event was also notable for the charges brought against members of the ship’s crew, particularly Captain Francesco Schettino, who is serving a 16-year sentence for manslaughter.
In recent years, several safety measures and regulations have been implemented in the cruise industry to ensure maximum security for their passengers. These changes have significantly reduced the number of accidents and sinkings and contributed to the fact that we don’t often hear about such incidents.
What Keeps Ships Afloat?
Ships, especially cruise ships, can be incredibly massive structures, yet they are designed to float effortlessly on water. Cruise ships float thanks to the principle of buoyancy. Archimedes’ principle, the physical law of buoyancy, states that any object submerged in a fluid (like water) experiences an upward force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.
One crucial factor that contributes to a ship’s buoyancy is the shape of its hull. Ships have a broad, flat bottom, which allows them to displace a large volume of water. This displacement creates an upward force that counteracts the ship’s weight.
Cruise ships continue to float if the ship’s density is less than the water’s density.
Ships use strong, lightweight materials, such as steel and aluminum, which provide structural support while keeping the overall density low. Additionally, the hull is divided into watertight compartments, which prevents water from flooding the entire vessel in case of damage. This design helps maintain the ship’s buoyancy and prevents cruise ships from tipping over.
The stability of a ship is also essential in preventing it from capsizing. Ships are designed with a low center of gravity. The low center of gravity is achieved by placing heavy components, such as engines and fuel tanks, in the lower section of the ship. The design strategy ensures that the vessel remains upright and stable even in rough seas.
Historical Overview of Cruise Ship Sinkings
|Ship Name||Year Sunk||Vessel Type||Reason for Sinking||Casualties|
|RMS Titanic||1912||Ocean Liner||Collision with iceberg||1,517|
|RMS Empress of Ireland||1914||Ocean Liner||Collision with the Norwegian SS Storstad during thick fog||1,012|
|RMS Lusitania||1915||Ocean Liner||Hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat||1,198|
|HMHS Britannic||1916||Ocean Liner (converted to a hospital ship during WWI)||Struck a German naval mine during service as a hospital ship during WWI||30|
|SS Principessa Mafalda||1927||Ocean Liner||A broken propeller shaft fractured the vessel’s hull.||314|
|MS Georges Philippar||1932||Ocean Liner||A malfunctioning light switch started a fire in one of the luxury cabins.||54|
|SS Morro Castle||1934||Ocean Liner||A fire that is believed to be caused by faulty electric circuitry.||137|
|Empress of Britain||1940||Ocean Liner||Hit by two 250kg bombs during WWII||45|
|SS Andrea Doria||1956||Ocean Liner||Collision with another ocean liner, Stockholm.||46|
|Bianca C||1944 &1961||Ocean Liner||First sunk during WWII before being refitted into an ocean liner. The ship sunk once again in 1961 after an engine room explosion.||1|
|Angelina Lauro||1979||Cruise Ship||Caught fire while berthed in Saint Thomas.||0|
|MS Mikhail Lermentov||1986||Ocean Liner||Collision with rocks.||1|
|SS Admiral Nakhimov||1945 &1986||Ocean Liner||Struck a mine during WWII. After WWII, the Soviet Union attempted to raise the vessel, only for it to sink again after an explosion from mines planted by the Germans in the vessels’ hull. In 1986, the ship sank for a third time after a collision with the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev.||123|
|MV Jupiter||1988||Cruise Ship||Collision with an Italian freight ship.||4|
|Achille Lauro||1994||Cruise Ship||A fire caused by a discarded cigarette.||2|
|MTS Oceanos||1991||Cruise Ship||Broken ventilation pipe causing excess flooding.||0|
|Sun Vista||1999||Cruise Ship||Engine room fire.||0|
|SS SeaBreeze||2000||Cruise Ship||Sank due to damages received from the boiler breaking off||0|
|Britanis||2000||Cruise Ship||The vessel took on water and capsized while under two towards the shipbreak yard.||0|
|MS Sea Diamond||2007||Cruise Ship||Ran aground near the Greek island of Santorini.||2|
|MV Explorer||2007||Cruise Ship||Collision with an iceberg.||0|
|Costa Concordia||2012||Cruise Ship||Capsized off the coast of Italy after running aground.||34|
|Ocean Dream||2016||Struck a mine during WWII. After WWII, the Soviet Union attempted to raise the vessel, only for it to sink again after an explosion from mines planted by the Germans in the vessel’s hull. In 1986, the ship sank for a third time after a collision with the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev.||The ship capsized and sank after being abandoned for around one year.||0|
|Orient Queen||2020||Cruise Ship||While docked without passengers, the ship sank due to damage sustained from a nearby ammonium nitrate explosion.||2|
RMS Titanic – 1912
The RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. The vessel sank after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, UK, to New York City. An estimated 1,517 of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew died in the disaster.
At the time of her construction, the Titanic was the largest ship afloat and was considered an engineering marvel. She set sail with over 2,200 passengers and crew on board for her first transatlantic crossing. On April 14, the Titanic received several warnings of icebergs ahead but continued sailing at 22 knots.
Shortly before midnight, lookouts spotted an iceberg in the ship’s path. The Titanic could not turn fast enough and struck the iceberg on her starboard side, causing damage below the waterline.
As the ship took on water, it became clear she would sink. Due to a lack of lifeboats and cold water temperatures at the time of the Titanic’s disaster, there was a massive loss of life. The tragedy led to significant improvements in maritime safety regulations.
Empress of Ireland – 1914
The RMS Empress of Ireland was an ocean liner that sank in the St. Lawrence River in Canada after colliding with another ship in dense fog in the early morning of May 29, 1914.
The Empress was en route from Quebec City to Liverpool with 1,477 passengers and crew aboard. Upon colliding with the Norwegian collier Storstad, the Empress suffered severe damage and took on water rapidly. The ship sank in just 14 minutes despite quick efforts to evacuate passengers. Of those on board, 1,012 people perished in the disaster, making it the worst peacetime maritime disaster in Canadian history.
RMS Lusitania – 1915
The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat torpedo on May 7, 1915, during World War I, killing 1,198 passengers and crew. The Cunard Line-owned Lusitania was sailing from New York to Liverpool on her 202 transatlantic crossing when the vessel was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland.
Moments after the torpedo strike, a second explosion erupted from the ship’s hull. The extensive damage and degree of listing meant that only six lifeboats could lower from the vessel’s starboard side.
Around 18 minutes after the torpedo strike, the ship sank. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard the Lusitania, only 764 survived.
The German government claimed that RMS Lusitania carried 173 tons of munitions and ammunition. However, the British government denies that the ocean liner carried such war munitions aside from the small arms ammunition published on the vessel’s military cargo.
HMHS Britannic – 1916
HMHS Britannic was the third and largest vessel of the White Star Line’s Olympic-class ocean liners. The ship was built as a transatlantic passenger liner and launched just before the start of World War I.
After the outbreak of war, Britannic was requisitioned by the British Admiralty before she could enter passenger service and converted into a hospital ship renamed Britannic. In November 1916, while serving in the Aegean Sea, the Britannic struck a naval mine planted by a German U-boat.
The explosion caused significant damage and sank the ship in just 55 minutes. Despite the speed of the sinking, the quick evacuation saved 1,030 lives. Sadly, 30 people died during the sinking.
Principessa Mafalda – 1927
The SS Principessa Mafalda was an Italian transatlantic ocean liner that sank off the coast of Brazil in 1927. After a delay due to mechanical problems, the ship began on her 14-day sailing.
During the sailing, it became clear that the ship was in poor condition, as the vessel stopped several times in the ocean. On October 25, the starboard propeller shaft fractured, creating a series of gashes in the hull.
The vessel began to take on water, and issues with the watertight doors meant they could not be fully closed. The ship sank slowly, taking over four hours to submerge. But confusion, and 314 people lost their lives.
Georges Philippar – 1932
The Georges Philippar was a French passenger ship that caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Aden in 1932, resulting in 54 deaths. On May 16, while sailing on her maiden voyage off the coast of Italian Somaliland, a spark from a faulty light switch ignited wood paneling in a luxury cabin occupied by Mme Valentin.
There was a delay in reporting the fire, allowing it to spread rapidly. The situation deteriorated despite Captain Vicq’s efforts to fight the blaze and beach the ship.
With engine rooms evacuated, the Georges Philippar was left adrift. The captain ordered passengers and crew to abandon the ship and sent a distress call. Three nearby vessels came to the rescue – the Soviet tanker Sovietskaïa Neft, the French ship Andre Lebon, and two British cargo ships, Mahsud and Contractor.
Rescuers saved 698 survivors. However, 54 people perished, some jumping overboard in desperation.
SS Morro Castle – 1934
The luxury ocean liner SS Morro Castle was sailing from Havana to New York City on September 7, 1934, when a fire broke out around 3:00 a.m. Fueled by high winds, the fire quickly spread out of control.
Despite efforts to fight the blaze and launch lifeboats, chaos ensued as panicked passengers faced the choice to remain on the burning ship or jump into the sea. After just 6 hours, the devastated Morro Castle ran aground near Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Of the 549 passengers and crew aboard, only 312 survived.
Later investigations found that a lack of training and fire safety preparedness contributed to the incredibly high casualty toll. The burnt wreck remained beached until dismantled in 1935, serving as a solemn reminder of the terror faced by those on board.
The tragic fire demonstrated the need to improve fireproofing, safety drills, and crew training on ocean liners.
Empress of Britain – 1940
The RMS Empress of Britain, an ocean liner owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and operated by the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company, transported passengers and troops across the Atlantic during World War II.
In the early morning of October 26, 1940, while sailing about 450 miles west of Ireland, the Empress of Britain was struck by two torpedoes fired from the German submarine U-32. Despite efforts to prevent flooding, the damage was too extensive, severely causing the ship to list.
With the order to abandon ship, lifeboats were hurriedly lowered into the darkness, some capsizing in the chaos as flares lit up the sky. British naval ships rescued 1,259 survivors from the sinking liner, but 45 unfortunate souls were lost, either drowned or killed in the initial blasts.
By morning, the elegant Empress of Britain had slipped beneath the waves, demonstrating the vulnerability of civilian ships to Germany’s ruthless submarine warfare tactics.
Andrea Doria – 1956
The Italian ocean liner SS Andrea Doria was on a routine voyage from Italy to New York with over 1,700 passengers and crew in July 1956. On July 25, the Andrea Doria collided with the Swedish liner Stockholm in extremely foggy conditions off Nantucket, Massachusetts.
The Stockholm’s bow stabbed into Andrea Doria’s side, ripping open passenger cabins and causing catastrophic damage below the waterline. Despite efforts to control flooding, the mortally wounded Andrea Doria sank 10 hours later in over 200 feet of water.
Fortunately, 1,660 people survived in the lifeboats. However, the violent collision claimed 46 lives from impact injuries and drowning.
Bianca C – 1961
Bianca C is a unique ship because it actually sunk twice. The first sinking was in WWII when Germans sank the vessel operating as a passenger ferry.
The ship’s hull was raised and refitted into a cruise ship before it sank in 1961.
On September 22, 1961, the Italian cruise ship Bianca C departed Grenada on an overnight voyage to Italy with over 600 passengers and crew. Around midnight, an engine room explosion started a fire that quickly engulfed the ship.
As smoke-filled corridors, the captain ordered passengers and crew to evacuate the burning ship. Liferafts and lifeboats were lowered into the dark tropical waters as nearby ships rushed to assist. Most passengers managed to abandon the Bianca C safely; tragically, one crew member was killed during the explosion. But all other passengers and crew were evacuated safely.
Angelina Lauro – 1979
In March 1979, the aging Italian ocean liner Angelina Lauro was sold to Costa Lines. While chartering to the new cruise line, the vessel caught fire while berthed in Saint Thomas.
After several days of burning, the vessel was deemed a total loss. There were no casualties from the fire.
MS Mikhail Lermentov – 1986
On February 16, 1986, the Soviet cruise liner Mikhail Lermentov struck rocks and sank off New Zealand’s South Island, carrying over 1,000 passengers and crew. Though no passengers were lost, the chief electrical engineer tragically drowned during the chaotic evacuation.
Within hours, rescue ships and aircraft managed to evacuate everyone else safely from the stricken vessel before it slipped below the waves. An inquiry later blamed poor navigation for allowing the massive ship to stray dangerously close to the jagged reef in low visibility, tearing a massive gash in the hull and rapidly flooding the liner.
SS Admiral Nakhimov – 1986
SS Admiral Nakhimov has the most fascinating story on our list. The vessel has sunk a total of three times.
In WWII, the vessel operated as a hospital ship for Germany and was sunk during the war.
As part of reparations, the vessel was given to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union attempted to recover the ship’s hull, but mines planted in the ship’s hull by the Germans exploded, causing the vessel to sink for a second time.
SS Admiral Nakhimov sank for the third and final time on August 31, 1986. The Soviet passenger liner collided with the bulk carrier Pyotr Vasev in the Black Sea near the Strait of Kerch. The collision tore a massive hole in Admiral Nakhimov’s hull, causing rapid flooding of the ship.
As the power failed, evacuation efforts turned chaotic, with insufficient lifeboats and poor leadership. Within 30 minutes, the Admiral Nakhimov had capsized and sank. Tragically, over 423 people lost their lives.
MV Jupiter – 1988
On June 21, 1975, the British roll-on/roll-off ferry MV Jupiter collided with the tanker Phoenix II midway through a crossing of the English Channel from Dover to Zeebrugge. The collision tore open MV Jupiter’s car deck, causing catastrophic flooding.
As the Jupiter dangerously listed, the crew sent distress calls and evacuated most of the 585 passengers and crew. Sadly, two crew members and two passengers (a teacher and a pupil) tragically lost their lives.
Achille Lauro – 1988
On November 30, 1994, a devastating engine room fire erupted on the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro as it sailed off Somalia, quickly raging out of control. During an urgent nighttime evacuation, two passengers tragically died.
Rescue ships and aircraft safely evacuated all other passengers and crew from the burning liner. After two days of intense fire, the vessel sank.
An investigation blamed an engine room explosion that disabled safety systems.
MTS Oceanos – 1991
On August 3, 1991, the Greek cruise ship Oceanos sank off South Africa after massive waves damaged caused a ventilation pipe to come loose. It’s believed that an insufficient repair left the pipe vulnerable to impacts.
The broken ventilation pipe caused excessive flooding. When the captain became aware that the ship was sinking, he and a handful of crew members abandoned the ship.
Remarkably, the entertainment staff took charge, helping passengers evacuate from the sinking liner. Nearby vessels rescued all 571 people over the next two days.
Sun Vista – 1999
On August 8, 1999, the Malaysian cruise ship Sun Vista sank in the Malacca Strait after an engine room fire knocked out power and caused severe listing. The well-trained crew immediately evacuated all passengers and crew into lifeboats and summoned help from nearby ships.
SeaBreeze – 2000
On December 17, 2000, the cruise ship Seabreeze I was sailing approximately 225 nautical miles off the coast of Virginia when it suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure and rapidly sank. Cruise Ventures III had just purchased the 21,000 GT, 9-deck passenger vessel and was transiting from Halifax to Charleston when disaster struck.
The boiler allegedly broke loose, severely damaging the vessel’s engine room and causing massive flooding. As the 40-year-old Seabreeze swiftly took on water, the captain called ‘abandon ship’ and requested immediate rescue for the 34 crew members aboard.
Suspicion swirled around the sinking, as some believed it was an intended sinking. The aged Seabreeze was likely only worth $5-6 million in scrap value yet carried a $20 million insurance policy.
The ship went down in international waters. As the vessel was a foreign-flagged ship under the Panama flag, the sinking in international waters put the investigation under Panamanian jurisdiction, much to the chagrin of maritime officials who doubted Panama’s diligence.
The captain’s wishes to abandon the vessel rather than salvage it also raised suspicion.
US Coast Guard rescuers believed it to be highly unlikely that the ship could sink so quickly. The Coast Guard was astonished that the captain demanded a complete evacuation rather than requesting salvage tugs.
Britanis – 2000
The Britanis was on her way to a scrapyard in India when the vessel developed a leak in the ship’s aft. The vessel’s owners decided repairing the leak was too costly and allowed the boat to sink.
No one was aboard the vessel as it was being towed by tug boats. And there were no casualties from the incident.
MS Sea Diamond – 2007
On April 5, 2007, the Greek cruise ship Sea Diamond sank near Santorini after straying off course and striking a reef, tearing open the hull. As the vessel lost power and listed, the crew hastily evacuated 1,195 passengers, rescuing nearly everyone.
Sadly, two passengers tragically died during the sinking. By afternoon, the crippled Sea Diamond had sunk in 500 feet of water.
An investigation initially blamed the captain for deviating dangerously close to shore—however, people later discovered that the sea charts for the area were inaccurate. The reef was marked on the map at 57 meters, while the vessel ran aground at 131 meters from shore.
MV Explorer – 2007
On November 23, 2007, the cruise ship MV Explorer sank off Antarctica after colliding with an iceberg in the early morning. The iceberg tore a hole in the ship’s hull, causing catastrophic flooding.
As the stricken ship lost power and listed dangerously near King George Island, the well-trained crew urgently evacuated all 154 passengers and crew into lifeboats. Thanks to an effective emergency response, not a single life was lost in the dramatic sinking in frigid Antarctic waters.
After five hours of drifting in the lift rafts, all 154 people were rescued by MS Nordnorge.
Costa Concordia – 2012
On January 13, 2012, the Costa Concordia cruise ship struck a reef and catastrophically capsized off the Italian island of Giglio, with over 4,252 passengers and crew aboard. The 951-foot cruise ship deviated off course, sailing dangerously close to shore.
The violent impact tore a 160-foot gash in the hull, causing severe listing and a partial sinking within hours.
While most people managed to evacuate via the ship’s lifeboats, helicopters, and ships, 34 people tragically perished in the chaotic aftermath.
Captain Francesco Schettino’s reckless course deviation was identified as the cause of the incident. He was subsequently found guilty of manslaughter and is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence.
Ocean Dream – 2016
The Ocean Dream was a cruise ship abandoned without crew or maintenance near Laem Chabang, Sri Racha, Thailand, in 2015 after the ship’s owner went bankrupt. The neglected ship capsized and sank in shallow water off the coast in February 2016.
Attempts were made to upright the sunken ship but failed. It was decided that the Ocean Dream would be dismantled and scrapped on-site rather than refloated. By the end of 2019, most of the remaining visible portions of the wreck had been dismantled and scrapped, leaving just the lower hull on the seafloor.
Orient Queen – 2020
The massive 2020 explosion that ripped through Beirut’s port inflicted tragic damage 1,000 feet away on the cruise ship Orient Queen. The powerful blast wave tore a massive hole in the Orient Queen’s hull, killing two crew members and injuring seven more as fires broke out.
Unable to be salvaged, the gutted cruise ship capsized over the next 48 hours where it was docked, ending its 40-year cruising career.