Most compelling maritime disaster stories

Everyone here is familiar with the regular list of major maritime disasters that have happened since World War II (e.g. Herald of free enterprise, marine electric, exxon valdez). But what are some of the leaser know tragedies that have a compelling story but have never been featured in a book or movie?

I’ll start the thread with the Glomar Java Seas

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Well, just a few minutes of Internet research and reading produced several very illuminating articles. I was busy in my USN career at the time and ignorant of this event and the issues related to the command structure.

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You mention the Marine Electric. I was living in Virginia Beach at the time, so this was big local news. Some friends of mine had a singing group and Jerry Cronin (USCGA) was the lead singer. Here is a link to a song written by him and performed by the Dram Treeo. As I read the posts on many of these threads, and think about ships like the El Faro, I realize that the lyrics are just as applicable now as then.

John, sorry if getting your thread off track.

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Yes and legislation was written to fix the problem but the same issues came up again in the Deepwater Horizon investigation. Just like the practice of ABS taking over inspections for the USCG was atopped after the Marine Electric but started up again before the El Faro sunk. And like how single hull seperation between the ocean and petro tabks were banned after the Exxon Valdez but came up again after the Cosco Busan. I could go on and on…

How about the collision between Congress and the US Merchant Marine … not that is truly a disaster.


I’m trying to think of a great story I heard about a rogue wave and only a few survivors but my mind is drawing a blank on the name.

I had never heard of it, thanks for pointing it out.
To save others a Google search, here’s a gCaptain synopsis.


Years ago, I was working on a tug that was sold to a company in Seattle, we were tied up in New Orleans, they sent a captain down to bring the tug up north, Gus Swanson, he was also a master on drill ships, he went down on the Java Sea when it sank. he was a good guy.

The worst accident in terms of life lost and involving floating Rigs or Drillships were the Alexander Kielland capsize at the Ekofisk field in 1980. 123 persons lost their life:

The case is still being iin the news in Norway, as the relatives of those who lost their life is still not satisfied with the explanations that was given in the many investigations conducted:

This accident resulted in major changes to the design criteria for offshore units, safety equipment, operating procedures and training and certification of personnel working offshore in Norwegian waters, or on Norwegian owned and operated offshore units working anywhere in the world.

These requirements applies regardless of the unit’s registration or ownership, or nationality of the crew, as long as they are engaged in activities on the Norwegian OCS, or in Norwegian waters.

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There is also the semi submersible drilling rig "Ocean Ranger"off the coast of Canada, no survivors, tug Willamette Pilot III, sank during a storm off of California, all hands lost and the tug Eagle, one survivor, sank in the Gulf of Alaska, I know they were only tugs, but it affected us tug guys.

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Another major accident was the capsizing and sinking of the drillship Seacrest in the Gulf of Thailand in 1989, with the loss of 91 people.

She was owned and operated by Unocal at the time, but built as Scan Queen for Mosvold at the Far East Levingston Shipyard in Singapore in 1977 as the last of a series of 5 small drillships designed for benign water operation. (Now all gone)

The Master that had taken out all of those ships as new left only a few weeks before this accident because he was dissatisfied with not being heard when he warned of the danger of stability loss due to the extension of the derrick to fit a topdrive and the way the vessel was being operated.

M/V Donna Paz. Google “Asia’s Titanic” for Nat Geo documentary on YouTube. Plenty of blame to go around with nobody accepting it. Bad situation all the way. 4,000 people, govt cover up.

MS Al Salam Boccaccio 98, a RO-RO passenger ferry sank February 2006 en route from Duba, Saudi Arabia, to Safaga in southern Egypt, Fire believed to have started prior to leaving port but the ship left anyway. The ship capsized when stability was lost due to water accumulation from the crew fighting the fire. Over 1000 fatalities.

Both the Willamette Pilot III and the Eagle were mentioned on this thread.

There was the Burma Agate collision and fire off Galveston in '79.

Are we counting shoreside maritime incidents as well?
Texas City - 1947
Halifax - 1917

OMI Challenger, Dockwise boat sinks in the Luanda Harbor: And then there was, you know, the entire Atlantic Hurricane Season of 2005

how about miracles at sea?

When the Tug Alert had the Kulluk in tow the captain said he lost the lights that were mounted on the top of the wheelhouse. I’d like to see that story told although it doesn’t rate as a disaster.

Kalee Thompson wrote about the Alaska Ranger sinking. - I’d like to her write the whole story about the loss, recovery and loss of the Kulluk…

Deadliest Sea by Kalee Thompson is the spellbinding true story of the greatest rescue in U.S. Coast Guard history. Recounting the tragic sinking of the fishing trawler, Alaska Ranger, in the Bering Sea and its remarkable aftermath in March 2008, Deadliest Sea is real life action and adventure at its finest. The full story of an amazing rescue—where extraordinary courage, ingenuity, will, and technology combined in one of the most remarkable maritime feats ever recorded—has never been told before now. It’s The Perfect Storm meets Deadliest Catch.

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I have written a book which goes pretty deeply into the reports of 29 offshore accidents and have produced an analysis of each in the hope that the results would assist those in the business in the future, without them having to read the complete reports. These include the Kulluk accident and the Glomar Java Sea (if you type the name into Google my work comes up on the front page). I did this on the basis that one of the requirements of a competent Safety Case compiler is that he or she reviews accidents which have occurred in the industry so that the lessons learnt can be included in the safety case. I probably don’t have to say that very few lessons actually seem to have been learnt. Of particular interest to mariners might be the case of the Bourbon Dolphin which capsized with the loss of eight lives during an anchor-handling job west of Shetland in 2007. I was part of the team which investigated the accident on behalf of Chevron, the operator. The Norwegian government carried out an investigation as did the UK Health and Safety Executive, and I have read somewhere on this forum that you should never hire anybody to investigate an accident who thinks they know how it happened. Both bodies could have benefited from that advice. Numerous recommendations were made, most of limited value, based, in my view, on a failure to determine the root cause, and this due to the fact that no-one in either group of investigators seemed to have any knowledge about how the job was actually done. I could go on – but anyway it’s worth a look. And the best investigation report ever – that into the loss of the Ocean Ranger. It is detailed, expert and distressing.