Merchant Navy Accidents: Five of The Worst Accidents In The History of Merchant Navy

If there are people operating machinery then accidents always tend to occur. The world’s oceans are no exception to this. For a thousand years, ever since the ships have been put out, these accidents at sea have been a major consequence of maritime tradition.

Top reasons for accidents of ships

Working in the maritime industry comes with many risks and dangers. Many of the times, accidents and injuries happen out of the blue resulting in devastating outcomes. There are many reasons that contribute to the accident at sea, some of the most common reasons are given below:

Collision at Sea

Despite the evolution of technology in the field of navigation and communications such as ship-to-ship radios,  radar, GPS, and computerized navigation charts, collisions at sea are still a major cause of maritime disasters. One of the major reasons for collisions at sea is mainly busy ports and crowded shipping lanes, especially near the coast or in narrow straits and inlets. These accidents are often the result of amateur watchstanders on the bridge, navigational errors, malfunctioning or misused radar systems, and poor decision-making by overworked personnel.

Poor Maintenance

Many crewmen have been injured or killed, and many vessels and cargos have been damaged or lost, as a result of poor maintenance. Trip and fall accidents occur frequently when loose or rusted metal ladders are not properly secured. Seamen have lost fingers and other body parts due to the malfunctioning of watertight doors, and poorly maintained fuel lines that have caused fatal shipboard fires.

Equipment Failure

Maritime equipment is usually well-designed and built to tolerate all the stresses that the vessels undergo while navigating in the waterways. Due to this, the complexity of the equipment increases. Many sea accidents are caused due to the sudden engine breakdowns,  problems with electronically systems, and other types of equipment failure. There is a possibility that the equipment failure is a result of natural phenomena such as bad weather or heavy seas, but in many instances, there are other causal factors that come into play.

Human Error

From the studies done by the Mariners Alerting and Reporting Scheme (MARS), human error accounts for the majority of accidents at sea. Most of the accidents occur because a crew member or a ship’s officer does not react quickly or properly in an emergency situation while trained and experienced seamen do not panic and can perform required actions according to the scenario. But even if they are properly trained, overworked seamen and officers are more likely to have poor judgments or have delayed response, or even might misread or misinterpret warning signals and navigational charts.

Top five deadliest ship disasters:

5. RMS Empress of Ireland

RMS Empress of Ireland - Wikipedia

The Canadian ocean liner, RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River. Due to dense fog, there was a collision with the starboard side of the Empress and a small Norwegian collier in the early hours of May 29, 1914. This accident claimed the lives of around 840 passengers and 172 crew members making it a total of 1,012 people dead. Many people in the lower portion of the ship drowned instantly and there were only 465 survivors. This is the most horrible shipwreck Canada had ever faced.

4. RMS Lancastria

Flashback in history: RMS Lancastria: Worst Loss of Life on a British Ship,  June 17th, 1940 (Video) - MaritimeCyprus

The RMS Lancastria, a British ocean liner was commandeered by the government during World War II. It was sunk on June 17th, 1940, resulting in the loss of over 4,000 lives, hence it is termed as the bloodiest single engagement for UK forces in all of WW2. This disaster claimed more lives than the combined losses of the Titanic and Lusitania.

3. RMS Lusitania

Sinking of the RMS Lusitania - Wikipedia

The RMS Lusitania, another British ocean liner during World War I, had got hit by a German torpedo on May 7, 1915, and then sank within just 18 minutes of being hit. This sea disaster resulted in the deaths of 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard, leaving only 761 survivors. The sinking then further result in the turning of public opinion in many countries against Germany.

2. MV Doña Paz

VIDEO: The Tragic Story Of Asia's Titanic, MV Dona Paz

MV Doña Paz, a Philippine-registered passenger ferry sank after colliding with the MT Vector on December 20, 1987. While most of the passengers slept during the night of December 20th, the ferry collided with the Vector, which was carrying 8,800 barrels of gasoline. This collision caused a fire that quickly spread to the Doña Paz and also spread to the water surrounding it. The life jackets aboard the Doña Paz were reportedly locked up, forcing passengers to jump into flaming shark-infested waters in order to attempt escape. This horrendous mishap resulted in the possible death of about 4,375 people, the collision resulted in the deadliest ferry disaster in history during peacetime.

1. MV Wilhelm Gustloff

Wilhelm Gustloff | History, Casualties, & Facts | Britannica

The most deadly shipwreck in all of the time occurred in January of 1945. The German ship, MV Wilhelm Gustloff was hit by three torpedoes in the Baltic Sea while participating in the evacuation of civilians, military personnel, and Nazi officials who were surrounded by the Red Army in East Prussia. After being hit on the starboard side, the vessel sank in less than 45 minutes. Approximately 9,400 people lost their lives in the disaster, making it the largest known loss of life occurring during a single ship sinking in recorded maritime history.

Prevention of accidents in the high seas

The most common reason for the accidents occurring at the sea is fatigue. The crew members do not get an adequate amount of sleep hence this leads to human errors and lack of judgment. This can be prevented by making sure the shifts are covered properly and there are watchstanders to keep a check during the switching of shifts so that there is no possibility for mistakes to occur.

There should be periodic and frequent maintenance of all the machinery and equipment used in the ship. Standardized procedures should always be used when testing equipment. There also should be good medical facilities present in the crew to aid any sort of mishap on the ship. It’s vital for operators and owners to encourage their mariners to properly remain alert and to make sure they never underestimate the currents of the ocean.

If somehow due to unfortunate events the ship does have some accidents, the seamen should try their best to remain calm and think strategically of how they should overcome the problem. There should be enough escape boats and life jackets on the boat such that all the passengers on the boat can be accommodated and no one is left behind. 

From this, we come to know about how many complications a seaman face. We should learn from our past mishaps and make sure we do not let these accidents occur again by taking proper precautions. Also due to the progressive growth of technology in the world, we can make sure there is no room for doubt for such unfortunate incidents. Lastly, we should never forget and honor the lives lost due to these accidents at sea.

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