Shipwrecking is truly a big loss of material possessions and human lives. A rough estimate by the United Nations shows at least 3 million shipwrecks are lying across ocean floors. There are over 5000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes that have taken the lives of over 30,000 mariners. There is also a shipwreck museum at whitefish point.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society found Atlanta 650 feet below Lake Superior. The 172-foot schooner barge sank in 1891. Its recent discovery was the steamer Cyprus which went down in 1907. North Carolina Coast also has a diverse history of seafaring. Marine archaeologists have discovered many shipwrecks in the area, including the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the pirate Blackbeard, which sunk in 1718 CE, and USS Monitor, the earliest steamship with an iron hull, built for the Union during the American Civil War.
Several maritime accidents in the past, as depicted in popular movies, poems and dramas, depict the heartwrenching tales of lost ships, their lamenting crew and hopeless passengers who drowned in the depths of oceans and seas.
Shipwrecks are essential discoveries that tell stories of the past, helping us connect the dots in history. For future generations, shipwrecks provide a window to the long histories of conflict, survival, and the history of destinies. They are testimonies to the trade and cultural exchanges of our predecessors.
Over countless centuries, many ships have fallen prey to accidents caused by human negligence. Nonetheless, these shipwrecks excite history buffs and laypeople alike. They are often seen as treasure chests and shrouded in mystery.
Many enthusiastic travellers, brave warriors and merchants have found their final resting place at the bottom of mighty seas and oceans. In addition to being important sites of cultural interest, these historical monuments contribute significantly to a healthy marine ecosystem and support recreation and the growing diving industry.
In this article, we take you through the pages of history to some of the precious maritime treasures lying on the ocean’s floor.
1. SS Edmund Fitzgerald
The majestic SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American freighter. The ship was launched on 7th June 1958 and was the biggest vessel to ply on the Great Lakes of North America at that time.
It carried a cargo of Taconite iron ore from mines near Minnesota to the ironworks in Ohio, Michigan and Detroit. She was a famous ship that broke its previous records and set new ones in its 17 years of service.
She embarked on her last unfortunate voyage from Wisconsin, near Duluth, on 9th November 1975. She was carrying a cargo of ore pellets and was headed by Captain Ernest M. McSorley.
The ship was destined for a steel factory in Detroit and was moving when she was joined by another ship SS. Arthur M. Anderson. The next day, both ships were caught in a strong storm with hurricane winds and almost 11 m high waves.
On the evening of 10th November 1975, Edmund Fitzgerald sank around 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan. The entire 29-member crew went down with it in what has become the greatest Great Lakes Shipping Tragedy of all time.
She was found by an aircraft belonging to the US Navy on 14th November 1975. Three expeditions were conducted at the site, and at the request of the family members of the crew, the ship’s bronze bell was retrieved on 4th July 1995.
2. HMHS Britannic
Belonging to the Olympic class of steamships, the White Star Line vessel was the youngest sistership of the RMS Olympic and the RMS Titanic. It was constructed to be a passenger liner; however, she functioned as a hospital ship from 1915 until she finally sank in November 1916.
She entered service before the First World War started. She was carefully designed, and lessons learned from the sinking of the Titanic were implemented in its construction to make it safe and comfortable.
In 1915-16, she sailed between Britain and the Dardanelles. On 21st November 1916, she was shaken by a blast which occurred due to a naval mine of the German Navy. The incident took place near the Greek island of Kea in the Aegean Sea.
The ship sank around an hour later and killed 30 people. She became the biggest ship that sank during World War I and, more so, tragically. Of the 1066 people, 1036 survived and were rescued from the water and the lifeboats.
In 1975, its wreck was located, and it became the world’s biggest and most well-preserved passenger liner.
3. HMS Curacoa
HMS Curacoa was a light cruiser constructed for the Royal Navy. She functioned as a flagship most of the time. Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet in 1919, she was sent to the Baltic to support the British forces in their campaign during the Civil War in Russia.
After encountering a naval mine, she suffered damage and was sent to be repaired. Later she was shifted to the Mediterranean fleet in 1922-23 to support British Troops in Turkey.
She was converted to a training ship in 1933, and in 1939, before the Second World War started, she was made into an anti-aircraft cruiser.
After 1940, she became an escort ship. In 1942, she escorted the RMS Queen Mary, which resulted in the tragedy. The former was carrying around 15,000 US troops and was moving in a zigzag course to avoid German bombers and possible enemy vessels.
Queen May caught up with the escort ship Curacoa and was trying to overtake her. One of the seamen of Curacoa, Ernest Watson, was admiring Queen Mary when he noticed its bow swinging toward the cruiser. He realised that the two ships were soon going to collide.
The 20 times bigger Queen Mary rammed into Curacoa’s metal plating and sliced it in half before it sank in no time. Out of 430 men onboard, only 99 seamen and 2 officers survived.
4. The fleet of Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan’s lost fleet is one of the most famous shipwrecks of old times. Two Mongolian invasion fleet attempting to attack Japan was wrecked in storms in 1274 and 1281, killing tens of thousands of troops.
Several artefacts belonging to these vessels were found centuries later on the seabed of the Imari Gulf. In October 2001, an entire shipwreck claimed to originate from Fujian in south China was discovered by archaeologists.
Recently in 2015, archaeologists located a Mongolian ship in a bay close to the city of Matsuura, near the island of Kyushu.
5. The Spanish Armada
The Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships on a mission to invade England in 1588, was disrupted by storms, and a large number of the Armada’s ships were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland, killing around 5000 soldiers.
Among the drowned were most of the soldiers and crewmembers of the 32-gun warship La Juliana, built near Barcelona in 1570.
In 1985, local divers discovered the wreckage of three fleet vessels, including La Lavia, La Santa Maria de Vision, and La Juliana. In 2015, several cannons from La Juliana were found in the sands off Streedagh in Co Sligo.
6. RMS Titanic
RMS Titanic, the most famous ship for never making her destination, was the largest cruise ship of its time. The Titanic was built in Ireland at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. It was considered to be the most developed ship of that era.
However, the Titanic, famously described as ‘unsinkable,’ unfortunately sank after colliding against an iceberg in its maiden voyage- from Southampton to New York City- on 14 April 1912, in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Around 1 517 people lost their lives in one of the biggest marine tragedies in history.
After many unsuccessful expeditions, the wreck was finally located by a joint French–American expedition in 1985. Several artefacts and debris have been removed from the shipwreck and are displayed in the National Maritime Museum in England.
Many schemes were proposed to raise the ship, but the fragile condition of the vessel prevented such plans. The 2001 UNESCO Convention now protects the wreck of the RMS Titanic.
7. RMS Empress of Ireland
Canadian ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland sank near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River on 29 May 1914 after colliding with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad due to thick fog, killing 1012 people.
The vessel was en route from Quebec City to Liverpool, with 1057 passengers and a crew of 420 abroad, when the ship went down in one of the worst disasters in Canadian maritime history.
At present, the wreck of Empress of Ireland lies in a shallow 130 ft of water.
Several divers have recovered several valuables, including silver bars, a brass bell, and a stern telemeter, from the ship on several occasions after the incident.
8. MS Estonia
The Estonia ship casualty in the Baltic Sea is one of the biggest maritime incidents in the recent past. The cruise ferry MS Estonia, built in the German shipyard Meyer Werft, was en route to Stockholm from the Estonian province of Tallinn when it sank on 28 September 1994.
Over 800 people lost their lives in this horrifying incident, and most of the bodies were never recovered.
The cause of the accident remains controversial as there are many theories about the cause of the sinking. The most commonly known reason for the accident is said to be the rough weather conditions that the ship encountered.
However, other sources disregarded this reason and stated that because of the ship’s military involvement, bombs were planted by rival countries to destroy the ship.
After the accident, there were demands from the relatives of the deceased to raise the vessel to give a land burial. And at the same time, there were discussions to raise the ship for a detailed inspection to know the cause of the accident.
However, the Swedish government decided to bury the vessel, and thousands of tons of pebbles were dropped on the site.
As per the Estonia Agreement 1995, the burial site has been designated as a sea grave and prohibited the exploration of the wreckage.
9. The Andrea Doria
The Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria sank after colliding against the Swedish ship MS Stockholm in July 1956, killing 46 people.
The vessel, which had 1,134 passengers and 572 crew members on board, was en route to New York City when it met with one of the most infamous maritime disasters in history.
However, despite the severity of the incident, not many lives were lost thanks to the timely communication by the ship’s authorities and commendable rescue efforts.
After the sinking of the vessel, divers Peter Gimbel and Joseph Fox managed to locate the wreck of Andrea Doria.
Today, resting in some 240 feet of the North Atlantic water, the wreck of Andrea Doria has become a popular site among scuba divers, being called “Mount Everest of scuba diving.”
10. HMS Victory
The 100-gun ship of the Royal Navy, HMS Victory, was launched in 1737 and met with an accident in the English Channel in 1744.
The sinking of HMS Victory, one of the worst British naval disasters in the English Channel, claimed the lives of more than 1,000 sailors.
The ship disappeared in the Channel Islands, and for over 250 years, there was no sight of any remains of the ship.
The shipwreck was discovered in 2008 by the Odyssey Marine Expedition of the United States around 43 nautical miles from where it encountered the storm and disappeared.
As a military wreck, the remains of HMS Victory are now the property of the British Government under maritime laws.
11. MV Doña Paz
The Philippine-registered passenger ferry MV Doña Paz was en route from Leyte Island to Manila when it sank after colliding with the oil tanker MT Vector on 20 December 1987.
One of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history, the collision claimed the lives of at least 4,386 people.
Reports then revealed that the vessel was overcrowded, the ship did not have a radio and passengers didn’t have immediate access to life jackets.
The ship, now known as ‘Asia’s Titanic,’ was mostly destroyed in the collision due to the fire.
12. The Carpathia
The British passenger liner RMS Carpathia is best known for rescuing survivors from the Titanic when the cruise ship met with an accident.
However, Carpathia met with the same destiny when it was destroyed by a German submarine in the year 1917, at the time of World War I.
The vessel was attacked by three torpedoes from a German U-boat when it was moving as part of a convoy travelling from Liverpool to Boston, and five people were killed in the accident.
The Carpathia wreck was found in 1999 by a company known as Argosy International Ltd, in 600 ft of water, 298 km west of Land’s End, sitting upright on the ocean bed.
13. The Mary Rose
The Mary Rose was a warship in the navy of the Tudor King Henry VIII and was destroyed while leading an action against a French ship in Solent on the Isle of Wight on 19 July 1545.
The ship sank in a strait of the English Channel, claiming the lives of hundreds of men.
This shipwreck was salvaged in 1982 by the Mary Rose Trust, and now the artefacts are displayed in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
The artefacts discovered in the Mary Rose were unique, offering immense knowledge about the equipment of naval warfare of that era.
14. The Vasa
The Vasa was a Swedish war vessel built during the 17th century, and it was the most high-tech warship when it set sail. However, the ship sank during its maiden voyage in the year 1628 in Stockholm Harbor.
Many unsuccessful attempts were to raise the ship from the seabed in the following years.
Finally, the Vasa was recovered in 1961, and at present, the remains of the Vasa are stored at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, where it attracts more than a million visitors per year.
15. The Rhone
The iron-hulled steamship RMS Rhone was a UK Royal Mail Ship or packet ship owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. This ship was lost in a hurricane off the coast of Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands in 1867, killing 123 people.
The topmast of the vessel remained above the waterline for a long period after the accident, and the Royal Navy blew up the stern of the ship only in 1950 due to navigational hazards.
At present, because of the way the shipwreck is positioned in the water, the Rhone is regarded as the best diving destination in the Caribbean.
16. The Sultana
In one of the worst and least recognised maritime disasters in the history of the US, the explosion and sinking of steamboat Sultana on 27 April 1865 took 1,800 lives on the Mississippi River near Memphis.
The ship was used at the end of the American Civil War to transport the POWs from the Union army back home, and the vessel met with an accident after the explosion of its boilers.
The ship’s wreck was found in 1982 in a soybean field on the Arkansas side, around 6 km from Memphis.
Featuring a few relics from the ship, a temporary Sultana Disaster Museum was opened in 2015 on the 150th anniversary of the tragedy.
17. The RMS Republic
The steam-powered ocean liner RMS Republic, built-in 1903, was lost at sea after colliding with the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida in 1909.
The vessel was en route from New York City to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports when it met with an accident that killed six people.
Several rumours suggest that the Republic was carrying valuables, including gold, when she went down off Nantucket, Massachusetts.
The Republic wreck, found in 1981 by Captain Martin Bayerle, lies upright around 80 km south of Nantucket Island, around 250 feet underwater.
18. RMS Lusitania
British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was the world’s largest passenger ship for a brief time when it launched in 1906.
The vessel was sunk on 7 May 1915 after being attacked by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland, killing 1962 passengers and 1191 crew members.
The disaster occurred on the 202nd trans-Atlantic crossing of RMS Lusitania. After a few salvage efforts, several items were recovered.
Currently, the wreck lies 11 miles south of the lighthouse at Kinsale, Ireland, with around 300 feet of water.
Frequently Asked Questions About Shipwrecks
1. What is the most famous shipwreck?
The RMS Titanic is the most tragic shipwreck in the world. It has become popular due to the 1997 movies directed by James Cameron.
2. What Great Lake has had the most shipwrecks?
All great lakes have hundreds of shipwrecks, but most are found in Lake Erie.
3. What is the most popular unfound shipwreck in the world?
Flor de la Mar is the most famous shipwreck, filled with diamonds, gold and other riches.
4. What is the deepest shipwreck ever found?
The U.S.S Samuel. B Roberts was found in the Philippine Sea at 22,916 feet. It is the deepest shipwreck ever found.
5. Can you claim a shipwreck?
Yes, a country can claim ownership rights of a vessel if it owns the ship. Even if the vessel was sunk for hundreds of years, ownership rights could be claimed.
You may also like to read:
- 11 Books On Shipwreck And Maritime Archaeology You Might Be Interested In
- 6 Latest Shipwrecks Found Around the World
- 10 Great Lakes Shipwrecks
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