The Worst Maritime Accidents of the 20th Century

At Arnold & Itkin, our offshore injury attorneys highlight the importance of eliminating negligence on the part of employers and ship owners in the maritime industry. Doing this provides a safe environment for the thousands of offshore workers and passengers that utilize seagoing vessels daily. Examining the following maritime accidents reveals the importance of accountability and reveals how negligence harms innocent lives.

The Doña Paz

On December 20, 1987, the Philippine-registered ferry Doña Paz was traveling from Leyte Island to Manila. The ferry collided with an oil tanker, causing a fire on both ships. Though the accident was terrible, negligence made the situation worse. Passengers on the ship reported that lifejackets were inaccessible, and the Doña Paz had no operating radio system to call for help. The ferry was severely overcrowded, and though its manifest claimed 1,493 passengers and 59 crew members, over 4,300 people are estimated to have lost their lives. Only 24 people survived the incident. Eventually, the oil tanker was found at fault for the accident. However, severe neglect on the part of operators of the Doña Paz made for the worst maritime disaster not caused by acts of war.


The SS Kiangya was a passenger steamship that sank on December 4, 1948 after an explosion near the Huangpu River in China. The ship was carrying people fleeing from the People’s Liberation Army. An estimated 2,500 – 3,920 people were killed. The official capacity of the ship was 1,186. The cause of the explosion is believed to be a mine left over from World War II.

The Mont-Blanc

On December 6, 1917, an explosion shook Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The incident occurred when a vessel collided with the SS Month-Blanc, a French ship that was packed with explosives. The blast had so much force that part of the ship’s anchor was launched 2 miles away. An estimated 2,000 people were killed and over 9,000 were injured.

RMS Titanic

With attention from Hollywood productions, the sinking of the HMS Titanic is as well-known as it is tragic. Famously thought to be unsinkable, the RMS Titanic lacked adequate safety equipment. When the ship struck an ice burg during its maiden voyage, passengers and crew quickly discovered that the ocean liner lacked adequate numbers of lifeboats and life vests. It is thought that between 1,490 and 1,635 people died in the disaster and just over 700 passengers and crew members survived. Sadly, if the ship had proper safety equipment, the number of survivors would have been much higher. The incident led to sweeping reforms regarding passenger safety.

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