Sunken Ships and Submarines That Disappeared Into the Depths of History


| LAST UPDATE 06/22/2023

By Sharon Renee

The ocean has always been a formidable force, sometimes swallowing entire vessels whole! From the Titanic to the USS Scorpion, here's a look at sunken ships and submarines that have captivated the world.

RMS Titanic - (1912)

We're all familiar with the unfortunate events of April 15, 1912. The Titanic, called unsinkable, met with a catastrophic end during her maiden voyage across the North Atlantic, leading to the loss of over 1,500 lives.

Titanic sunken shipwreck history Titanic sunken shipwreck history
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

The ship, which had been touted as the epitome of oceanic luxury, collided with an iceberg, causing a rupture in her hull and flooding her compartments. The Titanic's story has since become one of the most infamous and captivating narratives in maritime history.

SS Edmund Fitzgerald - (1975)

On November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald, a massive ore carrier measuring 729 feet long and 75 feet wide, sank in Lake Superior during a severe storm. The entire 29-man crew perished, making it one of the most notorious shipwrecks in the history of the Great Lakes.

 Edmund Fitzgerald  shipwreck history  Edmund Fitzgerald  shipwreck history
Greenmars, CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons

The severe storm was classified as a gale-force storm, featuring wind gusts up to 50 knots (92.6 km/h), which made it too difficult for the captain and crew to maintain the course. The Edmund Fitzgerald was carrying about 26,000 tons of iron ore pellets on its way to Detroit, Michigan when it sank.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Wilhelm Gustloff - (1945)

On 30 January 1945, the German cruise ship Gustloff, which had been converted to a military transport, was attacked by a Soviet submarine in the Baltic Sea. In what has been documented as the deadliest disaster at sea, an estimated 9,000 people lost their lives. This tragedy occurred during the closing stages of World War II.

Wilhelm Gustloff shipwreck historyWilhelm Gustloff shipwreck history
A. Hudson / Stringer via Getty Images

The horrific event has been the focus of many books and documentaries, exploring the ill-fated attempt to evacuate civilians and military personnel from East Prussia across the Baltic Sea. Despite the passage of time, the sinking of the Gustloff remains a poignant reminder of the human cost of war, and the devastating impact on the world's population.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MS Estonia - (1994)

The Estonia passenger ferry, on September 28, 1994 capsized and sank during a storm, resulting in 852 fatalities. Investigation into the incident revealed that the bow visor failed, leading to water leakage into the cargo hold. Due to the rapid flooding of the hold, the vessel was capsized and subsequently sank within minutes.

MS Estonia shipwreck historyMS Estonia shipwreck history
Leif Jorgensen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although some passengers were able to get into the life rafts, most could not due to the lack of time and appropriate instructions given. The disaster ranks as one of the deadliest peacetime maritime incidents in European waters, highlighting the importance of safety measures in the face of natural calamities.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

USS Thresher (SSN-593) - (1963)

On April 10, 1963, the United States Navy nuclear-powered submarine, Thresher, was lost during a deep-diving test off the coast of Massachusetts while carrying 129 crew members. The crew, due to suspected flooding or mechanical failure, perished.

USS Thresher shipwreck historyUSS Thresher shipwreck history
Pictorial Parade / Staff via Getty Images

From the lessons learned in the aftermath of the tragedy, the legacy of the Thresher remains an ongoing subject of research and study in naval engineering and preservation. It has left a lasting impact on safety regulations and technological advancements for submarines worldwide.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

USS Indianapolis (CA-35) - (1945)

In July 1945, the USS Indianapolis, after delivering essential bomb components, was attacked by a Japanese submarine. Its hull was breached, and the ship sank deep into the Pacific Ocean. Due to communication failures and incorrect coordinates, the survivors spent almost 5 days adrift without help in the shark-infested ocean.

USS Indianapolis shipwreck historyUSS Indianapolis shipwreck history
Interim Archives / Contributor via Getty Images

Sadly, out of the 1,196 crew members, only 300 survived the event. This tragedy led to historical changes, including improvements in communication and better survival equipment for those at sea. Today, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis stands as a somber reminder of the sacrifices made during wartime and of the perils of the sea.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

RMS Lusitania - (1915)

On May 7 of 1915, during World War I, a German U-boat attacked the British ocean liner Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. This attack caused the death of over 1,100 people, including many Americans, and played a major role in the United States joining the war.

RMS Lusitania shipwreck historyRMS Lusitania shipwreck history
MPI / Stringer via Getty Images

The Lusitania was on a trip from New York to Liverpool with over 1,900 people aboard, carrying cargo and passengers. The ship was commonly referred to as a "greyhound of the seas" because of its speed and size, making it a popular choice for transatlantic travel. But on this day, the Lusitania met its tragic fate.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Kursk Submarine Disaster - (2000)

On August 12, 2000, a Russian nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk, sank in the Barents Sea after an explosion in one of its weapon compartments. The incident was a tragedy, as it resulted in all 118 crew members on board losing their lives.

Kursk Submarine shipwreck historyKursk Submarine shipwreck history
MPI / Stringer via Getty Images

The cause of the initial explosion that led to the submarine's sinking was unclear, but subsequent explosions followed as the submarine was unable to surface due to its damaged hull. The event also raised serious concerns about the Russian Navy's rescue and recovery protocols.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

SS Andrea Doria - (1956)

On the evening of July 25, 1956, the Andrea Doria, a grand Italian ocean liner on a voyage from Genoa to New York, collided with the MS Stockholm off the coast of Nantucket. The impact caused a giant gash in the side of the heavily-laden Doria and in just hours, the vessel began to tilt onto its side.

Andrea Doria shipwreck historyAndrea Doria shipwreck history
Paul Schutzer / Contributor via Getty Images

With close to 1,700 passengers and crew members aboard, panic struck as people scrambled for safety. The collision ultimately resulted in the loss of 46 lives. It remains one of the deadliest maritime disasters of the 20th century and has kept the public's attention for decades as investigations continue.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Doña Paz - (1987)

On December 20th, 1987, one of the world's worst maritime tragedies occurred. Over four thousand people lost their lives when the Cruise ship Doña Paz, collided with the oil tanker MT Vector, resulting in a devastating fire followed by the sinking of the ships.

Dona Paz shipwreck historyDona Paz shipwreck history
lindsaybridge, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It happened on Tablas Strait, a clear day with good visibility, but communication issues and human error contributed to the catastrophe. It remains a sobering reminder of the importance of diligent maritime safety, and today the disaster remains seared in the memory of the Filipino people.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

RMS Empress of Ireland - (1914)

On May 29, 1914, one of the world's greatest tragedies of the 20th century occurred when the Empress of Ireland, a Canadian luxury ocean liner, collided with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad. The impacts caused severe damage to the liner's starboard side, resulting in the ship sinking in 14 minutes.

Empress of Ireland shipwreck historyEmpress of Ireland shipwreck history
Hulton Archive / Stringer via Getty Images

Tragically, 1,012 of the 1,477 people aboard perished. The death toll was primarily due to the rapid flooding and inadequate lifeboat capacity. Most of the victims were immigrants from Britain and Ireland who were on their way to start a new life in Canada.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

USS Scorpion (SSN-589) - (1968)

On May 22, 1968, the USS Scorpion, a nuclear-powered submarine belonging to the United States Navy, was lost in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. At the time of its unfortunate sinking, the submarine was carrying a full crew complement of 99 members.

USS Scorpion shipwreck historyUSS Scorpion shipwreck history
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Despite extensive searches conducted by the US Navy and the Soviet Union's navy, the wreckage of the submarine was found only four months later, on October 30, 1968. The circumstances surrounding the sinking of the USS Scorpion remain unclear, with the exact cause of its sinking unknown.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MS Herald of Free Enterprise - (1987)

On March 6, 1987, the Herald of Free Enterprise, a roll-on/roll-off ferry operated by Townsend Thoresen capsized after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. The subsequent investigation found that the bow doors had been left open, causing the vessel to flood and capsize.

Herald Free Enterprise shipwreckHerald Free Enterprise shipwreck
Mirrorpix / Contributor via Getty Images

Unfortunately, 193 passengers and crew lost their lives due to the accident. Despite this tragedy, the disaster did lead to significant improvements in maritime safety procedures, with new regulations being implemented to increase safety on ferries.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MS Joola - (2002)

On September 26, 2002, the Joola, a ferry registered in Senegal, was carrying an estimated 1,900 passengers, twice its official capacity, when it capsized and sank off the coast of Gambia, during a violent storm. It was one of the deadliest maritime disasters in recent history, with an estimated death toll of around 1,800 people.

MS Joola shipwreck historyMS Joola shipwreck history
Yaamboo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The overloaded vessel reportedly lacked the necessary rescue equipment, with survivors forced to cling to the wreckage as they waited for assistance. The incident led to calls for stricter enforcement of safety regulations on West African ferries, as well as improved emergency response measures.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Costa Concordia - (2012)

On January 13, 2012, disaster struck the Costa Concordia, an Italian cruise ship, when it collided with a rock near the coast of Italy's Giglio Island. The impact inflicted severe damage to the ship's hull, leading to its partial sinking and tragically claiming the lives of 32 people.

Costa Concordia shipwreck historyCosta Concordia shipwreck history
Laura Lezza / Stringer via Getty Images

The incident was followed by widespread criticism of the captain for his handling of the situation. The Costa Concordia tragedy remains one of the most significant maritime accidents in modern history, serving as a critical reminder of the need for improved disaster response and management protocols in the cruise ship industry.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Derbyshire - (1980)

On September 9, 1980, the MV Derbyshire vanished during Typhoon Orchid in the South China Sea. The British vessel, which was one of the largest merchant ships in the country's history, disappeared along with its 42 crew members. The cause of the sinking remains unknown, with several theories surrounding the event.

MV Derbyshire shipwreck historyMV Derbyshire shipwreck history
PA Images / Contributor via Getty Images

None of these theories have been confirmed or refuted, leaving a pall of mystery over the fate of the Derbyshire and its crew. Despite exhaustive searches, no trace of the vessel or its cargo has ever been found since its disappearance. It remains one of the most haunting maritime mysteries in modern history.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

RMS Republic and SS Florida - (1909)

On January 23, 1909, the Republic, an American passenger liner with a crew of 374 and 742 passengers, was sailing towards New York City from Savannah, Georgia when it collided with the SS Florida in dense fog off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

RMS Republic SS Florida RMS Republic SS Florida
Conklinj, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Florida was a freighter traveling from Philadelphia to Boston. The Republic was traveling at 14 knots while the Florida was moving at only 11 knots when they collided broadside. The collision opened a gash in the Republic's starboard side, causing water to flood in the ship's compartments.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Sewol - (2014)

On the day of April 16, 2014, the South Korean passenger ferry named Sewol, met a dreadful end. While cruising through the Yellow Sea, the ship took a sharp turn that ultimately led to it capsizing and sinking, resulting in the loss of 304 lives.

MV Sewol shipwreck historyMV Sewol shipwreck history
Handout / Handout via Getty Images

Most of the victims were high school students on a field trip. The tragic incident sparked a nationwide sense of loss and prompted an investigation into the suspected safety negligence. It aimed to ensure such a disaster would never repeat and to improve the regulation of safety standards for future passengers.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

USS S-4 (SS-109) - (1927)

On December 17, 1927, the USS S-4, a United States Navy submarine, collided with a US Coast Guard cutter off the coast of Massachusetts. The accident occurred around noon when the S-4 was surfacing. Over 30 men aboard the S-4 were killed instantly, while several others were trapped inside the damaged vessel.

USS S-4 shipwreck historyUSS S-4 shipwreck history
Arkivi / Contributor via Getty Images

The crew of the Coast Guard cutter swiftly sprang into action and worked tirelessly to rescue the trapped sailors. The first attempts to free the trapped men involved tapping on the submarine's outer housing in order to communicate with them and tell them that help was on the way.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

RMS Empress of Britain - (1940)

On October 28th, 1940 the British ocean liner, the Empress of Britain, was destroyed by fire during World War II and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was attacked and set alight by the enemy, leading to a tragic end. Fortunately, the majority of the bold passengers and crew managed to be rescued.

Empress Britain lost shipwreckEmpress Britain lost shipwreck
Akera at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Although this crisis inflicted significant damage and loss, it remains an important reminder of the bravery and survival skills of the affected individuals. Today, this event is considered one of the most important episodes of the war, setting forth maritime policies and regulations that influenced safety standards for years to come.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Al-Salam Boccaccio 98 - (2006)

On the 3rd of February 2006, one of the deadliest maritime disasters in the Red Sea occurred. The Egyptian passenger ferry, Al-Salam Boccaccio 98, caught fire and sank shortly after departing from the Saudi port of Duba. Almost 1,000 people lost their lives in the incident.

MV Al-Salam Boccaccio shipwreckMV Al-Salam Boccaccio shipwreck
KHALED DESOUKI / Stringer via Getty Images

Despite ongoing search and rescue operations, the toll of the event made it difficult to find survivors. The magnitude of the catastrophe emphasizes the importance of maritime safety and the need to take all necessary precautions when traveling by sea.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Princess of the Stars - (2008)

On June 21, 2008, the Princess of the Stars, a passenger ferry bound for Manila, capsized off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon, during Typhoon Fengshen. The ill-fated ferry was carrying 626 passengers and 121 crew members when it was hit by strong winds and waves.

Princess Stars shipwreck historyPrincess Stars shipwreck history
ROMEO GACAD / Staff via Getty Images

With a gross tonnage of 2,992 GT and a length of 195 meters, the 23-year-old ferry was one of the largest vessels in its class, providing interisland transport in the Philippines. Tragically, only 32 people survived the disaster, making it one of the worst maritime tragedies in Philippine history.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

USS Wahoo (SS-238) - (1943)

On October 11, 1943, during World War II, the USS Wahoo, a United States Navy submarine, sank in the Sea of Japan after hitting a mine. The loss of the Wahoo and all 80 of its crew constituted a significant setback to the U.S. war effort in the Pacific.

USS Wahoo shipwreck historyUSS Wahoo shipwreck history
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago / Contributor via Getty Images

Commanded by experienced submariner Dudley "Mush" Morton, the Wahoo was on its third patrol in the Sea of Japan when disaster struck. Although the boat had successfully sunk four Japanese ships during the patrol, including a destroyer, it hit a mine while attempting to leave the dangerous waters.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

K-129 - (1968)

On March 8, 1968, the Soviet submarine K-129 sank in the Pacific Ocean. The cause of its sinking is still a mystery to historians and researchers today. There are speculations that it was a result of a catastrophic explosion, although the theory remains unverified.

K-129 shipwreck history sunkK-129 shipwreck history sunk
CIA photo!/story/14

The incident was transformative as it led to a secret recovery mission by the US government named Project Azorian. The mission, which is considered the most ambitious submarine rescue operation in history, was a response to the event's geopolitical implications.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

SS Eastland - (1915)

The SS Eastland was a passenger ship that met with disaster on July 24th, 1915. Once at the port in the Chicago River, the ship capsized due to stability issues. Tragically, 844 people perished in the accident, many of whom were gravely impacted due to the ship's proximity to the shoreline.

SS Eastland shipwreck historySS Eastland shipwreck history
Chicago History Museum / Contributor via Getty Images

The ship, which was docked, became top-heavy and unstable when passengers moved to one side. The vessel tilted too far and ultimately rolled over into the river. Those who were able to escape found themselves in water too shallow for the lifeboats and rafts to function properly.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

USS Lexington (CV-2) - (1942)

During the Battle of the Coral Sea in World War II, the USS Lexington, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, sustained significant damage in a naval engagement that led to its eventual scuttling by accompanying destroyers. The ship was hit multiple times, underscoring the dangers faced by naval vessels during wartime.

USS Lexington shipwreck historyUSS Lexington shipwreck history
Underwood Archives / Contributor via Getty Images

The Lexington's role in this battle was significant; it marked the first carrier-to-carrier combat against the Imperial Japanese Navy and halted their intended invasion of Port Moresby, which could have led to disastrous consequences for the Allies.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

SS Sultana (1865)

The SS Sultana was a steamboat that suffered a tragic fate on April 27, 1865, in the Mississippi River. The vessel, which was designed to carry around 375 passengers, was overloaded with Union soldiers returning home after the Civil War. One of its boilers exploded, leading to a devastating fire that engulfed the ship.

SS Sultana shipwreck historySS Sultana shipwreck history
Thomas W. Bankes /Library of Congress

It resulted in the loss of around 1,800 to 2,400 lives, making it one of the deadliest maritime accidents in United States history. The SS Sultana incident underscored the dangers of overcrowding and poor safety practices on steamboats during that era, prompting improvements in regulations and safety standards for passenger's vessels.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

SS Morro Castle (1934)

The Philippine passenger ferry MV Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker, MT Vector, on December 20, 1987, near Mindoro Island. Often referred to as the "Asia's Titanic," the collision resulted in a massive fire that rapidly engulfed both vessels, leading to a catastrophic loss of life.

SS Morro Castle shipwreckSS Morro Castle shipwreck
Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images

Over 4,000 people perished in the disaster, including passengers and crew members from both the ferry and the oil tanker. Sparking widespread grief and outrage, it prompted investigations into the safety standards of the maritime industry and the need for improved regulations to prevent such devastating accidents in the future.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Arctic Sea (2009)

The mysterious disappearance of the cargo ship MV Arctic Sea in 2009 captured international attention and led to a large-scale search operation. The vessel, which was carrying timber, vanished in the Atlantic Ocean under puzzling circumstances. The incident raised concerns about maritime security and the threat of piracy.

MV Arctic Sea shipwreckMV Arctic Sea shipwreck
Loop Images / Contributor via Getty Images

Eventually, it was revealed that the disappearance was not due to piracy but rather a hijacking orchestrated by a group seeking to smuggle illegal narcotics. The case highlighted the vulnerabilities of global shipping routes and emphasized the need for enhanced measures to ensure the safety and security of maritime trade.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MV Conception (2019)

The MV Conception diving boat fire shocked the world and left a profound impact on the maritime community. On September 2, 2019, when the vessel caught fire while passengers were sleeping below deck. The blaze rapidly engulfed the boat, leaving its 34 occupants, including crew and passengers, with no means of escape.

MV Conception shipwreck historyMV Conception shipwreck history
Ken Goudey, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The loss of life was devastating, and the incident highlighted the critical importance of stringent safety measures, fire prevention protocols, and comprehensive emergency response plans for passenger's vessels. The incident underscored the need for continuous vigilance in ensuring the well-being of those traveling on the seas.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Sewolho Ferry (1970)

The Sewolho ferry disaster is etched in the collective memory of South Korea as one of its most tragic maritime incidents. On April 16, 1970, the ferry carrying mainly high school students capsized and sank off the southeastern coast of South Korea. The loss of 325 lives, predominantly young students, shook the nation to its core.

Sewolho Ferry shipwreck historySewolho Ferry shipwreck history
NurPhoto / Contributor via Getty Images

The incident raised significant concerns about maritime safety protocols and disaster response, leading to comprehensive reforms and stricter regulations to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The Sewolho ferry disaster serves as a solemn reminder of the importance of prioritizing passenger safety within the maritime industry.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MS Express Samina (2000)

The MS Express Samina ferry tragedy shocked Greece and the international community in 2000. While navigating the Aegean Sea, the Greek passenger ferry struck rocks and quickly sank near the island of Paros. The accident resulted in the loss of 80 lives.

Express Samina shipwreck sunkExpress Samina shipwreck sunk
Peter J. Fitzpatrick, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Passengers and crew found themselves in a race against time to escape the sinking vessel. The MS Express Samina disaster spurred efforts to improve safety standards, including enhanced training for crew members, more comprehensive emergency drills, and rigorous inspections of passenger ferries.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

MS Norman Atlantic (2014)

The MV Norman Atlantic ferry fire remains a harrowing maritime tragedy etched in the memory of those affected. During a voyage from Greece to Italy, the Italian passenger ferry became engulfed in flames in the Adriatic Sea. Chaos and panic ensued as passengers and crew members faced the desperate challenge of escaping the inferno.

Norman Atlantic shipwreck disasterNorman Atlantic shipwreck disaster
Alexander Koerner / Contributor via Getty Images

Despite courageous rescue efforts, the incident claimed the lives of 32 people. The MV Norman Atlantic disaster highlighted the critical importance of robust fire safety measures and effective emergency response procedures on board passenger vessels.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below