For most travelers, cruise ships hold the promise of a journey filled with adventure and luxury in equal measure. Passengers can visit several different ports, meet fellow travelers, and experience the world aboard a vessel that comes complete with bars, restaurants, crafting classes, and climbing walls. A modern cruise is like taking a trip inside a super mall, only on the water. Of course, there’s a dark side to traveling the world in an enclosed environment run by human beings. If anything goes wrong, real calamity can follow. From an unforeseen technical malfunction to an outbreak of disease, any number of problems can arise while you’re out exploring on a cruise ship. That’s when your dream vacation can become a waking nightmare. Here, for your consideration, are history’s most devastating cruise ship disasters.
1. Titanic, 1912
Consider this one the mother of all cruise ship disasters. On April 14, 1912, the supposedly unsinkable ship carrying 2,200 people sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean. As it happened, the only unsinkable thing on the Titanic was Molly Brown, a newly wealthy Denver citizen who rallied the remaining lifeboats and helped pluck several survivors from the frigid waters. In the end, more than 1,500 people met their fate aboard the doomed cruise liner.
2. MTS Oceanos, 1991
In 1991, the MTS Oceanos left the South African port city of East London bound for the city of Durban. Along the way, the cruise ship encountered increasingly rough waters. The growing waves began tossing the vessel from side to side. An explosion below decks saw water start flooding into the boat. Rather than raise the alarm and follow procedure, however, the captain and several members of the crew abandoned the ship, leaving hundreds of passengers to their fate.
3. Louis Majesty, 2010
Human error isn’t the only reason that disaster can strike a cruise ship. In 2010, the Louis Majesty ran into rogue waves reaching as high as 26 feet. Though the boat was in top condition, it proved no match for three massive waves that rose high enough to break windows and claim the lives of two male passengers.
4. S.S. Eastland, 1915
Though the SS Eastland was never designed to reach the open waters of the ocean, that didn’t stop this leisure vessel once called the “Speed Queen of the Great Lakes” from malfunctioning to horrible effect. On the day the SS Eastland was scheduled to take 2,500 Western Electric employees and their families on a company picnic, the Eastland tipped over in its port. Eight hundred and forty-four people were killed, including the members of 22 entire families.
5. M.S. Black Watch, 2007
Call this one a takeaway cruise ship disaster. When Audrey and Robert Heath took a trip aboard the M.S. Black Watch, the ship became host to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease. Though both members of the couple felt fine on their return, Robert began to experience symptom’s shortly after that, and ultimately succumbed to the disease on August 3. Eventually, the parent company of the M.S. Black Watch, Fred Olsen cruise, was found liable for the disease.
6. Seabourn Spirit, 2005
Here’s a cruise ship disaster that turned out worse for the pirates who figured the boat for an easy target. About 100 miles off the coast of Somalia, pirates fired an RPG at the Seabourn Spirit and attempted to board. Thinking quickly, the captain rammed one of the pirate’s boats, changed course, and outran the attacking ships. None of the 151 passengers aboard the Seabourn Spirit were injured.
7. Pacific Sun, 2008
In late July 2008, the cruise ship Pacific Sun was assaulted by 25-foot waves and 50-plus-mile-an-hour winds when the vessel was 400 miles north of New Zealand. Passengers were thrown from one side of the ship to the other, items fell from shelves, and all of the 1,732 passengers and 671 crew feared for their lives. In the end, there were reports of several broken bones along with a variety of cuts and gashes.
8. Carnival Triumph, 2013
In early 2013, a fire in Carnival’s Triumph cruise ship knocked out power to the entire vessel, leaving the 4,000 passengers plus crew largely without power, water, and food. The ship’s toilets were also rendered inoperable, meaning that for four days while the powerless boat drifted on the open sea, passengers were forced to relieve themselves in bags. The Triumph’s voyage has since become known as the “poop cruise.”
9. Costa Concordia, 2012
For anyone suffering from the mistaken belief that cruise ship disasters are a thing of the past, there’s the Costa Concordia. The mighty cruise ship ran aground in 2012, killing 32 and injuring 64. Another individual from the boat went missing entirely. The Costa Concordia lay on its side for the better part of a year before it was finally hoisted upright, transferred to a safe harbor, and then scrapped. It stands as the most expensive cruise ship disaster in history.
10. Star Princess, 2006
In 2006, a mysterious fire sprung up on the decks of the Star Princess, a cruise ship headed for Montego Bay and carrying more than 3,800 passengers. Fortunately, the fire was contained quickly, however, not before the blaze spread across three decks, 100 cabins, and claimed one life.
11. Explorer of the Seas, 2014
When the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Explorer of the Seas pulled into port in 2014, it was already running behind schedule. At least, that was one of the reasons given for the rampant stomach virus that toppled 700 passengers and crew when the ship left port. The problems got so dire that the crew of the Explorer of the Seas had to set up makeshift infirmaries.
12. Celebrity Mercury, 2010
A particularly nasty strain of norovirus popped up aboard the Celebrity Mercury in 2010. The disease inflames the stomach lining and intestines and causes violent diarrhea and vomiting. The worst part is that norovirus hit the Celebrity Mercury three times over the course of a few weeks. On February 15, 411 of the ship’s 1,833 passengers fell ill. Eleven days later, on February 26, 182 out of 1749 passengers fell ill, and then another occurrence in early March caused passengers to fall ill once more.