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March 5th, 2020

Top Worst Cruise Ship Disasters

A cruise is supposed to be a luxurious, relaxing experience. Unfortunately, accidents—and sometimes cruise line negligence—have been known to turn vacations into nightmares. Here are some of the worst cruise ship disasters in history, as well as why these accidents happen and what a good personal injury attorney can do for victims.

R.M.S. Titanic

Likely the most famous cruise ship disaster of all time, the R.M.S. Titanic was a tragedy of a truly massive scale. In 1912, it was the largest passenger ship ever built, carrying a total of 2,208 people on its inaugural voyage.¹ In April of 1912, the Titanic was traveling from Southampton to New York City when it struck an iceberg and suffered damage to five of its watertight compartments—one too many to stay afloat.

More than 1,500 people died in the sinking of the Titanic, largely due to hypothermia in the icy water. Experts have since identified a variety of failures that might have saved lives, such as inefficient use of lifeboats. Only 20 lifeboats were available, some of which left the ship under capacity due to poor crew coordination.²

Costa Concordia

In January 2012, the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4,000 passengers on a route through the waters of the Mediterranean. When the ship suddenly ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, water began pouring into the ship through a 165-foot gash.³ The ship eventually tipped onto its side.

30 people were killed and 64 were injured in the incident. One passenger went missing and was never found by authorities.⁴ Later, Captain Francesco Schettino was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges that he abandoned the sinking ship and failed to issue a timely evacuation order.⁵

The Costa Concordia was the most expensive cruise line disaster in history, and it took over a year and a half to get the ship upright again in order to transport it for dismantling.⁴

Explorer of the Seas (Royal Caribbean)

In January 2014, around 700 people aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas were affected by a ship-wide outbreak of norovirus, a common stomach virus that causes unpleasant symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. As afflicted passengers began to accumulate, onboard medical staff struggled to handle the influx of patients. One passenger reported waiting as long as three hours to be seen.⁶

The exact cause of the outbreak aboard the Explorer of the Seas might not ever be identified, but some have speculated that the ship’s late arrival at the start of the cruise could mean they were behind schedule and did not have time to sanitize the ship properly. Since the incident, Royal Caribbean has adopted more aggressive sanitizing procedures.

Triumph (Carnival Cruise Lines)

In 2013, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Triumph made headlines with the worst possible nickname: “The Poop Cruise.” On its voyage back to the United States from Mexican waters, a fire broke out in the vessel’s engine room, which caused the ship to lose its propulsion. When the Triumph switched to emergency generator power, passengers were left with no air conditioning and very few functional bathrooms.

With more than 4,000 people aboard the ship, the bathroom facilities were now insufficient to meet their needs, leading the crew to instruct passengers to start using biohazard bags instead.⁷ Combined with the heat and the duration of the trip, passengers were left to deal with a growing odor that, according to reports, could be smelled from the dock when the ship pulled into port.

Later, Triumph passengers with allegations of PTSD and other long-term damage sued the cruise line, leading to a settlement of $118,000.²

S.S. Eastland

In 1915, a passenger ship known as the S.S. Eastland became a disaster cruise before it even left port. The vessel, which had been chartered to take 2,500 Western Electric employees on a Lake Michigan cruise, was just 19 feet away from the dock when it tipped onto its port side. Though the ship had barely cast off and was in only 20 feet of water, many passengers on the port side were trapped and 844 people died of drowning or suffocation.⁸

Before the incident, the ship was already well known for having a tendency to tilt from side to side. The risks of this tendency were clearly ignored, and the addition of lifeboats to the top of the ship (inspired by the Titanic) only worsened the issue. Today, a plaque in Chicago serves as a memorial to those lost and a cautionary tale for ship designers and cruise lines.

Seabourn Spirit

On the morning of November 5th, 2005, passengers aboard a Bahamian cruise ship called the Seabourn Spirit were rudely awakened by gunfire. The ship was sailing off the coast of Somalia when it was attacked by heavily armed pirates in two inflatable boats. The pirates assaulted the cruise ship with powerful weapons like machine guns and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Incredibly, crew members were able to push back the pirates with sound wave blasts from a large acoustic device. This allowed them to escape with minimal damage to the ship and only one crew member was injured by shrapnel. The cruise liner was ultimately deemed safe for continued operation, and it eventually continued on its voyage.

Although this was a harrowing experience for those aboard, the Seabourn Spirit disaster is in some ways an example of how a well-prepared crew and protective technology can save both passengers and ships.

R.M.S. Lusitania

In May 1915, the British ocean liner R.M.S. Lusitania was attacked by a German U-boat. The vessel, which was carrying around 2,000 passengers, was sailing along the coast of Ireland when a torpedo sank it, leading to around 1,200 deaths.¹⁰


The Germans argued the Lusitania was carrying munitions and was, therefore, a naval vessel that was appropriate to target when it entered a declared war zone. Though officials have since admitted there were munitions aboard, the ship was not armed for battle. Of those killed, 128 were American citizens, and their deaths played a role in the U.S.’s decision to enter World War I.¹⁰

Why Does This Happen and Who Is at Fault?

Though cruise ship disasters aren’t a major area of study, researchers at Texas A&M University at Galveston have some ideas about why these accidents happen. After an evaluation of report data from cruise ship incidents, they concluded that common possible causes include poor ship design, crew error, and lack of proper maintenance.¹¹

While it might be easy to argue that cruise lines can’t predict acts of nature, they do have a responsibility to prepare for and address these accidents properly. When design flaws and human error are found during an investigation, companies’ negligence becomes clear.

If You’ve Been Hurt in a Cruise Ship Incident, You Need a Trusted Personal Injury Attorney

When a relaxing cruise turns into an unexpected disaster, the passengers’ lives are placed in the hands of cruise line employees. Those who are injured or lose a family member in such an accident can be left struggling with things like costly medical bills, PTSD, lost income, and serious pain and suffering.

Unfortunately for many victims of cruise accidents, insurance coverage isn’t enough and the cruise companies do very little to help. The top personal injury lawyers at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers are dedicated to holding negligent cruise lines accountable and seeking compensation for those harmed.

If you’ve suffered losses as a result of a cruise ship incident, schedule a consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.


  1. https://www.ship-technology.com/features/featurethe-worlds-deadliest-cruise-ship-disasters-4181089/
  2. https://www.oyster.com/articles/the-7-worst-cruise-ship-disasters/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jan/14/italian-rescue-bid-cruise-liner
  4. https://www.ranker.com/list/worst-cruise-ship-incidents/katherine-ripley
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/14/captain-jailed-costa-concordia-disaster-says-will-go-back-ship/
  6. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/royal-caribbean-illness/index.html
  7. https://www.cnn.com/2013/12/17/travel/carnival-cruise-triumph-problems/index.html
  8. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/s-s-eastland-memorial
  9. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i/lusitania
  10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210539514000923
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