Modern cruise ships are incredibly safe. Not only is it in the best interests of the cruise lines themselves to invest in safer and less sinkable ships, but international safety standards demand that all cruise ships adhere to strict design standards. 

With that said, tragedy does happen. If you have ever wondered how many cruise ships have sunk in history, we have the answers you are looking for. Today, we are going to take a look at these rare yet tragic events. We will cover some of the most famous sinkings in the cruise industry’s history and explain how frequent these events are in the modern era. 

If you’re ready to learn about these tragic maritime events, let’s dive in.

While sinkings of large vessels are rare, these events are even more infrequent when discussing cruise ships. Over the past 100 years, there have only ever been 24 full-size cruise ships that have sunk.

In some of these cases, the sinking occurred while the ship was being towed for repairs or when the ship was on its way to a scrapping yard; many times, the ship was operating as a warship when the sinking occurred. 

It is also worth noting that most of these sinking events also took place before 1940, showing improved safety features and how innovations in ship design have reduced the likelihood of cruise ships sinking in modern times. Here, in chronological order, are the 24 cruise ships that have sunk in history:

Titanic Ocean Liner

Perhaps the most infamous cruise ship sinking took place on April 14, 1912, when the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg; it was completely underwater in roughly two hours. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough lifeboats on the ship, and most passengers did not survive. The Titanic sinking resulted in over 1,500 deaths.

Empress of Ireland (Photo Credit: HefePine23)

The Empress of Ireland was carrying nearly 1,500 passengers when it collided with the SS Storstad from Norway due to fog that limited visibility. In total, 1,012 people were killed. 

S.S. Lusitania (Photo Credit: Everett Collection)

When the RMS Lusitania belonged to the Cunard Line, it was the world’s largest passenger ship. On May 7, 1915, a U-boat hit the Lusitania with a torpedo near the Ireland coast. The ship went down quickly, and the crew only launched six lifeboats. Around 1,200 people died.

Britannic (Photo Credit: Zm05gamer)

Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic and another ship called the Olympic. She was supposed to sail as a passenger ship, but World War I started, and plans changed. She served as a hospital ship and was struck by a naval mine between the Makronisos and Kea Islands of Greece. Although she sank in only 55 minutes, only 30 people died as most of those on board got onto the lifeboats and escaped.

Principessa Mafalda

In 1909, the Principessa Mafalda, an Italian cruise ship, sailed between Buenos Aires and Genoa. In 1927, a broken propeller shaft damaged the ship’s hull and sank the ship off the Brazilian coast, killing just over 300 people.

On June 14, 1931, the Saint-Philibert sank off the French coast. The death toll was nearly 500; only eight people survived. 

Georges Philippar

Georges Philippar was a French ocean liner that sank near what is now Yemen on her maiden voyage. They considered delaying the launch due to safety concerns, but these were ignored to avoid any delay penalties. Ultimately, an electrical fault caused a fire in a luxury cabin. The ship sank, and 54 people lost their lives.

SS Morro Castle (Photo Credit: International News Photos, Inc)

On September 8. 1934, the SS Morro Castle caught fire and ran aground while traveling to New York City from Havana, Cuba. The evening before, the ship’s captain died suddenly, and Chief Officer William Warms took command. In all, 137 people died. Many people blamed the crew. They didn’t seem to know how to handle the emergency; lifeboats could hold 408 people, but the crew launched them with fewer people on board.

The Empress of Britain was a steam turbine ocean linker that carried passengers between Canada and Europe between 1931 and 1939. She was the largest, fastest, most luxurious ship traveling this route during this time. On September 2, 1939, the United Kingdom declared war on the Nazi Empire in World War II.

Empress of Britain (Photo Credit: Stewart Bale)

On November 25, the Empress of Britain was requisitioned to transport troops. She made multiple transatlantic trips carrying troops from Canada to England during her service. On October 26, 1940, the Empress of Britain was bombed, and on October 28, she was sunk by a German U-boat.

While on her way to New York City, the Stockholm passenger liner collided with Andrea Doria, and the ship immediately started to list and take on water. Half of her lifeboats were underwater, which could have led to a significant loss of life, but the ship did not sink immediately.

Andrea Doria (Photo Credit: Pil56)

It stayed afloat for over 11 hours. Thanks to the actions of the crew, improved communication technology, and the rapid response of nearby ships, 1,660 crew and passengers were rescued. Around 50 people died.

Bianca C

The Germans first sank Bianca C during the Second World War. Workers raised her hull and refitted it as a cruise ship. On October 22, 1961, when docked near the Grenada coast, an explosion occurred in the engine room. Fires broke out onboard, and the ship sank. Nearly everyone made it off this ship. There was only one casualty.

Angelina Lauro first sailed in 1939. She was meant to be a ferry but was converted to a hospital ship during the war. When the war was over, the Angelina Lauro served as a passenger ship, cruising the world. She was sold in 1964 and refitted into a cruise ship and took her maiden voyage on March 6, 1966.

Angelina Lauro in Tilbury, 1976 (Photo Credit: Tony Garner)

In March of 1979, the Angelina Lauro caught fire while she was docked in St Thomas. The fire continued for days, weakening the hull. The ship filled with water and sank on March 30th.

In 1972, the MS Mikhail Lermentov entered service as an ocean liner; a decade later, she became a cruise ship. The ship departed Sydney on February 6, 1986, headed for a two-week New Zealand cruise.

Mikhail Lermontov (Photo Credit: U.Gomez)

The MS Mikhail Lermentov struck rocks near Cape Jackson ten days into her journey. Most of the 743 passengers and crew on board escaped in a lifeboat. Paval Zagladimov, a crew engineer, was the only casualty.

SS Admiral Nakhimov (Photo Credit: SergBuilo)

In 1925, the SS Admiral Nakhimov sailed as a passenger liner called the SS Berlin. It was then a hospital ship and a passenger ship. In August 1986, the ship was involved in a collision in Tsemes Bay on the northern coast of the Black Sea. The ship sank quickly, and 423 people died.

Originally named the Moledet, this Greek cruise ship first sailed in 1961. On October 21, 1988, the MV Jupiter was hit by an Italian freighter off the coast of Greece while on a two-week Mediterranean study cruise, sinking shortly after. Counting the students, crew, and adults onboard, there were about 600 people onboard. Two crew members, one teacher, and one student were killed.

The MTS Oceanos, a Greek-registered ship, sank while traveling from East London, South Africa, to Durban through rough seas. The storm got worse as the ship sailed on.

MTS Oceanos

There were also some issues with the ship’s waste disposal system, and a vital ventilation pipe was broken. The pipe burst, and the ship filled with seawater. The captain and the crew abandoned the vessel. Thankfully, the entertainers on board took over the rescue efforts, and there were no fatalities.

The sinking of the MS Estonia (also previously named as Viking Sally) was one of history’s worst maritime disasters. The ship was sailing through the Baltic Sea when passengers and crew heard a bang followed by similar noises over the next few minutes.

MS Estonia

Around 1:15 am, the bow visor on the front of the ship separated, the loading ramp opened, and the ship flooded. People in their cabins had a difficult time reaching the boat deck; in all, 850 people died.

In 1965, an ocean liner called Willem Ruys was changed into a cruise ship and renamed MS Achille Lauro. The vessel experienced multiple incidents. In 1953, she collided with the Angelino Lauro, though neither ship suffered extreme damage.

MS Achille Lauro

In 1975, she struck a cargo ship, and in 1985, she was hijacked. Multiple explosions and fires occurred onboard in 1965, 1972, and 1981, but the last fire, in 1994, would be the one to sink her. On November 30, a fire occurred while the ship was en route to South Africa. The ship began to list, and most of the 979 people on board evacuated the next morning. Two people died, and the ship sank on December 2. 

Sun Vista entered service in 1963 and sailed for multiple cruise lines as the SS Galileo Galilei until she sank on May 20, 1999. She served as the Meridian, the first ship for Celebrity Cruises, and became Sun Vista in 1997 when she sailed for Sun Cruises.

Sun Vista (Photo Credit: Svend Raether)

There was a fire in the engine room, and the ship sank in the Strait of Malacca, the main shipping channel between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. All of the people on board made it off safely.

The Britanis entered service in 1932 as the SS Monterey, an ocean liner. Eventually, in 1971, the vessel sailed for Fantasy Cruises, but Chandris, who operated Fantasy Cruises, switched its focus to another brand and stopped Fantasy Cruises operations.


Seventeen years later, in 1988, the ship was sold and renamed. Plans changed, and she was sold for scrap. The ship began leaking when heading to the scrap yard. The ship was empty, so it was allowed to capsize off the South African coast near Cape Town.

This ship set sail in 1958 for Costa Cruises as Federico C. She transferred to Premiere Cruises in 1983. While sailing for them, she was renamed three times. In September 2000, Premier Cruises ceased operations, and the SeaBreeze was laid up.

SeaBreeze sinking off of Cape Henry

Cruise Ventures III purchased her, and while traveling to Charleston, South Carolina, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the boiler broke, causing significant damage. The ship sank near the coast of Virginia. All 34 members of the crew were saved.

The MV Explorer started life in 1969 as the MS Lindblad Explorer, a unique ship that sailed the Antarctic Ocean. She left for a 19-day cruise from Argentina on November 11, 2007, and crashed into an iceberg in the Bransfield Strait near the Falkland Islands 12 days later.

MS Explorer (Photo Credit: Reinhard Jahn)

The iceberg caused significant damage to the ship’s hull, and water started filling it. All 153 people onboard were able to escape in lifeboats, and they were rescued by the MS Nordnorge five hours later.

MS Sea Diamond (Photo Credit: Wikiphilip)

The MS Sea Diamond first sailed as the Birka Princess for Birka Line cruises. She was renamed the Sea Diamond when she was bought by Louis Cruises in 2006. In 2007, she ran aground near Santorini and eventually sank. Almost all crew and passengers escaped safely, with two people unaccounted for.

The Costa Concordia entered service in 2006. She departed for a week-long Mediterranean cruise on January 13, 2012, with about 3,229 people onboard. The captain veered off course when en route to its first port, sailing close to Giglio Island off the coast of Tuscany. It hit a large rock hours after it set out to sea.

Cruise Ship Tipped Over (Photo Credit: MZeta / Shutterstock)

The ship sustained severe damage to its hull; it flooded and lost power, and the rudder was positioned so the ship couldn’t be steered. Everyone on board had to be evacuated, and 32 people died.

In the last 100 years, just shy of 2,000 people have lost their lives as a result of a cruise ship sinking. While tragic, it is worth noting that many of these losses occurred before the 1940s. 

When discussing maritime disasters involving a passenger vessel, it is only natural that the mind is immediately drawn to the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. While it is true that 1,517 lives were lost as a direct result of the sinking, it is also worth clarifying that the Titanic was not technically a cruise ship. Instead, it was a mail-carrying ocean liner. 

When discussing how many cruise ships have sunk, this distinction is actually quite important. Cruise ships are designed specifically for leisure and exploration, so they return passengers to the original departure point; ocean liners, like the RMS Titanic, were designed primarily as a mode of transportation.

They carried passengers from one side of the ocean to the other in the same way that modern transatlantic flights carry passengers from North America to Europe and vice versa.

Put simply, once you remove ocean liner, cargo ship, ferry, and other types of vessel accidents from the equation, the number of cruise ships that have sunk emerges as a relatively small number. 

Looking at the past 100 years, roughly one cruise ship has sunk every five years. While this may sound alarming, most of these occurred in the first half of the previous century. With that said, there have been some highly publicized cruise ship sinkings recently. 

Part of why these events become such captivating international news stories has a lot to do with their infrequent nature. When you take a look just at the last 50 years, there have been a total of 15 cruise ships that have sunk. Of these, five sinkings occurred when the cruise ships were carrying no passengers. 

Since 2000, only four cruise ships have sunk while at sea. These events, like the sinking of the Costa Concordia in 2012, always make international news and are very much in the public eye. Even casual observers will be familiar with these events, a testament to their rarity. 

The most recent time that a cruise ship sank was in August of 2020, when the Orient Queen was severely damaged during the Beirut explosion. At the time, the ship was moored in the Port of Beirut and was not carrying any passengers.

Although two crew members were killed as a result of the explosion, things could have been much worse if the ship was fully loaded with passengers and crew. The explosion caused the ship to capsize and eventually sink. While the loss of the cruise ship was undoubtedly newsworthy, its sinking was completely due to unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances.

Read Also: What Does SS Stand for on Ships?

Being caught up in an explosion unrelated to the ship itself was more just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time than a result of any fault in the ship’s design or the crew’s decision-making. This explains why the Mar Lines cruise line is involved in a lengthy lawsuit that caused the deadly explosion with the warehouse owners.

While cruise ship accidents that result in sinking have occurred, they are incredibly rare, especially when considering the number of cruise ships that set sail each year without incident.

By studying the mistakes from the past, safety regulators and ship designers have been able to develop increasingly safe ships that keep their passengers and crew safe and dry, even in the roughest waters.

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