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Top 10 Shipwrecks

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Sailing the cruel seas can end in tragedy – even today. Though some of the most deadly and most heartbreaking shipwrecks took place centuries ago, there have been many in the last hundred years or so that have been equally disastrous. From the famed Titanic, to the Lusitania, to the attack on Pearl Harbor and other acts of war, to several deadly ferry rides and even a cruise ship catastrophe, shipwrecks are not a thing of the past. In honor of the anniversary of the sinking of the Costa Concordia on January 13th, 2012, counts down our picks for the ten most infamous shipwrecks.

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Top 10 Shipwrecks

Sailing the cruel seas can end in disaster. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the ten most infamous shipwrecks.

#10 – Costa Concordia (Sank: January 13, 2012 – Deaths: 32)

Kicking off our list is this avoidable disaster. The Costa Concordia embarked on its Italian cruise with over 4,200 souls aboard; but when the captain apparently tried to thrill shore-side observers with a sail-by, he misjudged and ran aground in the Tyrrhenian Sea. This negligence later got him charged with crimes like manslaughter and abandoning ship, while the wrecked boat became a hot tourist destination for those with morbid curiosity.

#9 – SS Edmund Fitzgerald (Sank: November 10, 1975 – Deaths: 29)

The Great Lakes are prone to shipwrecks, and the biggest was the Edmund Fitzgerald. No distress calls were sent before she sank in Lake Superior, so it’s unclear what felled the ore freighter and killed its 29-member crew; but 35-foot waves and hurricane-force winds were likely to blame. Despite her tragic end, Mighty Fitz would never have been as famous had Gordon Lightfoot not told her tale.

#8 – MV Wilhelm Gustloff (Sank: January 30, 1945 – Deaths: 9,400 est.)

The Nazis used this former hospital ship to evacuate German civilians and military during World War II’s Operation Hannibal; but soon three Soviet torpedoes hit, sinking the Gustloff into the Baltic Sea within 45 minutes. Though passenger manifests were not kept, it is known that thousands of women and children perished and that this was history’s deadliest maritime disaster. Today, the wreck is honored as a war grave.

#7 – MS Estonia (Sank: September 28, 1994 – Deaths: 852)

As it sailed through the Baltic Sea from Estonia to Sweden, this ferry experienced significant distress when its visor broke, allowing water to flood in. She quickly tilted dramatically, and anyone inside likely went down with the ship – only 137 survived. Whether the Estonia was transporting drugs or was sabotaged as suggested by conspiracy theorists, we may never know. Regardless, the Estonia’s failure changed safety guidelines forever.

#6 – SS Mont-Blanc (Sank: December 6, 1917 – Deaths: 2,000)

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia was devastated when the SS Imo crashed into the SS Mont-Blanc, with its cargo of wartime explosives. The Halifax Explosion killed roughly 2,000, injured 9,000 more, caused a tsunami and destroyed everything in its wake; in fact, it remains one of history’s largest man-made explosions. Today, the event is one of many memorialized at Halifax’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

#5 – RMS Lusitania (Sank: May 7, 1915 – Deaths: 1,198)

During World War I, the luxurious Lusitania carried passengers and government shipments through Atlantic Ocean war-zones. However, on a voyage from New York to Liverpool, she was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in 18-minutes. The British government was condemned when it was eventually discovered that she was secretly hauling weapons on that ill-fated trip. However, American deaths in the tragedy spurred the U.S. to join the war, causing a turning point in the battle.

#4 – U.S.S. Arizona (Sank: December 7, 1941 – Deaths: 1,177)

This catastrophe forced the U.S. into World War II: the Arizona was downed by the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, killing almost two-thirds of its crew. Still visible from the surface, the ship remains in astonishingly good shape despite its decades under the saltwater. The memorial museum erected there is one of the world’s most well-known war graves, and serves as a symbol of American determination.

#3 – MV Le Joola (Sank: September 26, 2002 – Deaths: 1,863+)

The Joola embarked on its fateful trip from southern Senegal to Dakar at three times overcapacity. An hour after reporting favorable conditions, the ferry encountered a storm which caused it to capsize in minutes. Rescuers finally turned up the following morning, but by then most survivors had already drowned. The government was heavily criticized for mishandling the rescue effort.

#2 – MV Doña Paz (Sank: December 20, 1987 – Deaths: 4,375 est.)

Though most passengers were undocumented, this is considered history’s deadliest peacetime sea disaster. While sailing in the Philippines, this ferry collided with the MT Vector oil tanker, causing a fire that engulfed and sank both ships. Survivors braved fiery, shark-infested waters filled with scorched bodies, but even so only 26 lived. An inquiry later deemed the Vector unseaworthy and partially blamed her inexperienced crew for the tragedy.

#1 – RMS Titanic (Sank: April 15, 1912 – Deaths: 1,517)

Taking the top spot on our list is the unsinkable ship. Within three hours of hitting an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, the pride of the White Star Line had sunk into the Atlantic. The wreck was not located until 1985, but the Titanic had deteriorated so much that it was decided she will spend her final days on the ocean floor.

Do you agree with our list? Which shipwreck do you find the most memorable? For more historical top 10s, be sure to subscribe to

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