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8 Real Stories of Cruise Ship Disasters in Recent History

Jenny is a girl who loves many things. She loves street foods, traveling, nature, music, cats, and dogs. She's crazy about purple & writing!


Cruise ships are often thought of as a luxurious getaway from a busy and monotonous lifestyle. It is often advertised as an ideal escape from tedious urban living. These grandiose, moving and all-in vacation package offer relaxation like no other, adventures that are rarely afforded on land, entertainment , fine dining, and panoramic views and sights beyond compare. Cruise ships are indeed fantastic. But when disaster happens; this enormous world of fun turns into a world of panic. Passengers and crews cannot easily leave their cabins and confined rooms because there are not much safer grounds to turn to, stocks and supplies are limited and there are no available help and rescue in an open sea. There are no police and security officers to prevent crimes, accidents and suicides from happening. All too often when a person goes missing, the Cruise lines don’t even recognize it. Although crimes and accidents happen all the time in every place possible, we cannot rule out the fact that Cruise ships are not 100% safe after all.

Let’s take a look at some unfortunate events that may happen on a cruise ship:

Costa Concordia turned over after hitting rocks at the bottom...

Costa Concordia turned over after hitting rocks at the bottom...

Cruise Ships Collission and turning over

Cruise ships just like all the other ships are vulnerable at sea when it comes to weather disasters and climate changes. There are times when due to strong winds and storms at sea, the ships are forced to land and when they do, they run aground, hitting some huge rocks at the bottom and eventually sinking. This was the case of Costa Concordia which suffered one of the biggest blows in recent cruise liner history. It ran aground in January of 2012 off the coast of Tuscany. Among the 4,229 on board, dozens of crews and passengers died. It was reported that the cruise ship was only 3 hours into its voyage through the Mediterranean when it collided with rocks at the bottom. Survivors said that there was a loud banging sound and the next thing they knew, they were already subdued by darkness and everything went still. When the vessel announced what happened, the ship was filled with utter terror and panic. Everyone wants to survive, stealing life jackets from each other, while others opted to jump off the ship with no intention to wait for life boats. The scene was likened to titanic as one of the survivors recalled.

Cruise Ship Melody attacked by Somali pirates

Cruise Ship Melody attacked by Somali pirates

Ambush attacks at sea, hijackers and pirates

You heard it right. Pirates still exist up to this day. This was the case of the cruise ship Melody in April 2009 when they were surrounded and pirates launched an open fire. With about 1,000 passengers and 500 crews, the luxurious cruise ship was set off for a 22-day cruise from Durban, South Africa to Genoa Italy. Not long after the ship was set off, while passing the waters of Seychelles, the hijackers attempted to ambush the ship. The cruise ship’s security returned fire and a distress call was made to alert nearby coast guards. The returned fire kept the pirates at bay and the coast guards together with the Spanish navy escorted the cruise ship to safety. The nine attempted hijackers were later apprehended.


Fire and explosion onboard

As much as cruise ships are terrific, they are also very dangerous when an accident happens. When a fire breaks out or if there’s a failure in the engine room, everyone aboard the ship is affected. This contained environment makes it difficult for passengers and crews to survive largely because there are actually no safer grounds to hide into. Life jackets and life boats are not always accessible to everyone. And this is likely the case of the Carnival Cruise Triumph when it labored to an Alabama port carrying 4, 200 passengers and crews ashore after 5 horrific days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently, there was a fire in the engine room which caused the ship’s air conditioning system, propulsion, sewage and power to malfunction. The passengers spent 4 nights sleeping on sewage-soaked beddings and carpets, eating no buffet meals but buns sprinkled with ketchup and carrying plastics bags for their poops. There was no reported death but such experience could have traumatized a lot of prominent passengers and such horrible memory of what happened can hunt them for the rest of their lives.

Safe or not?

Norovirus outbreak in one of the cruise ships

Norovirus outbreak in one of the cruise ships

Viral outbreaks

It is not uncommon for passengers and crews of cruise ships to acquire flu and other viral diseases on board from time to time. It is fortunate if it’s just a common flu or cold but if it’s more potent and contagious, then all the other passengers and crews that the carrier may come in contact with are at high risk of being infected as well. This may be life-threatening. Such incident happened in an Emerald Princess cruise ship where 5% of the total passengers got infected with a gastro-intestinal flu. It was over Christmas holiday when many of the passengers were quarantined in their rooms and were not allowed to go out for fear of spreading the contagious disease. Those who were able to get out from the virus’ nauseating effects were required to only eat at the restaurants and not on buffet tables. The same thing also happened in Mary the Queen Cruise liner but this one is more tragic and worse. 2, 194 passengers and 11 crew members were infected with a Norovirus which was highly contagious and some of those infected died from the disease.


Another most recent viral outbreak in a cruise ship is that of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan where 6 people have reportedly died of Covid-19 even after the 14-day quarantine of the entire ship. Out of 3711 passengers and crew, 705 contracted the virus.

Superfast II collides with another cruise ship...

Superfast II collides with another cruise ship...

Collisions with other ships

If you think collisions only happen on land and not in waters, think again. Ships do not only collide with icebergs (like in the case of Titanic) or rocks at the bottom (like in the case of Costa Concordia). They also collide with fellow ships especially in extreme weather conditions and foggy atmosphere. This was the case of Silver Sea Cruises back in March 2012. Their luxury cruise ship collided with a Vietnamese container ship in deep fog about five miles from the Vietnamese coast. One passenger named Andrew Lock recalled hearing the cruise ship’s foghorn alarm, and when they looked out the window, they saw a container ship appear in front of them out of nowhere. In five seconds, they felt the huge impact of collision. Silver Sea Cruises claimed that the damage was limited but the passengers who saw what happened stated that the cruise ship literally crushed the ship when it rolled 90 degrees to its side. It felt like a “major collision” for most of the passengers.


Crimes on Board

Cruise ships are like isolated islands with no police and no security procedures being observed. There are no rules against criminals. There are no security officers to incarcerate the offenders. With this being said, a cruise ship becomes a perfect place for a perfect crime. Laws on a cruise ship are dependent on the location where the ship is, the nationality of the victims and offenders and the home port. Rules can shift with the tides. Crime prosecutions are difficult. The crime scenes are corrupted since there are no police onboard to isolate and investigate on the crime scene right away. If the ship is sailing on foreign waters, the captain can decide on what to do with the suspected offenders. All too often, such situation is overlooked and waived off. In cases where the victims or offenders are US citizens, the FBI will investigate and too many victims’ families say they are already too late. 16% of murders and 7% of all sexual assaults end up with plea bargains or convictions as per FBI statistics. And most go unsolved and left in mystery.

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Man overboard means a person falls from the ship due to sudden movement or ship's change of direction...

Man overboard means a person falls from the ship due to sudden movement or ship's change of direction...

Man Overboard and Missing people

Every now and then, there are various reports of people going missing aboard a cruise ship. This case is fairly common and most often, the investigations lead to nowhere. There are no bodies found, CCTV camera footage was corrupted, covered, destroyed or no footage at all, and things are cleaned or covered up. The cruise liner will often rule it as a suicide and will just presume that the missing person went overboard and disappeared. One case about this happened in April, 2011 when John Halford just vanished without a trace. He was reportedly on his last night aboard a week-long Egyptian cruise when he texted his wife (who was in Britain at that time) and told her that he will see her at the airport the next day. Such was their conversation. His bags were packed and he went off to dinner. Some witnesses saw him have a cocktail drink later that evening and he was gone. That same year, unfortunately Halford’s case was not entirely new because 13 others were reported missing on a cruise ship. Since 1995, there were already 165 missing person’s cases filed by Cruise Victims Association. Unfortunately, although these cases were reported, most of it goes unsolved and families were often left with no clues or options at all. Some were even suspected as suicides, waved off as accidents and other were just though of as unsolved crimes.

The case of Viking Sky recorded on video by eye witnesses shows that nature can make or break your great cruise ship adventure. When the weather gets bad at sea, there is nowhere to hide and rescue doesn't come easy. Viking Sky had an engine failure on Saturday (March 23, 2019) while en route to Stavanger from Tromso. When the ship lost power, it started to drift towards inland. The captain sent out a distress signal. Rescue came with helicopters and ships but not all passengers can be rescued at once. The weather was extremely bad and one of the rescue ships also had an engine failure. The life boats also had to be called back. If the captain and his crew did not re-start the engine and fastened the anchor as fast as they could, the ship would have hit the rocks and turned over in a matter of few minutes. .

So, Is it safe or not?

Personally, It is still safe to go on a cruise...

However it is important to note that although cruise liners lawyers and investigators claim that accidents, murders and suicides on cruise ships are relatively low and can even be likened to the percentage of people being struck with lightning; a lot of people have started to weigh their options before embarking on a cruise. People have become more cynical especially due to the increasing reports of people missing and dying on a cruise ship. More Americans also opted to spend their vacation in a more enjoyable and safer place with their loved ones…their backyards.

Accidents happen anytime anywhere...but when disaster strikes it is still best if you have somewhere else to hide...and that is something a cruise ship cannot provide...

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2015 Jennifer Gonzales


Debbie from Florida on November 11, 2018:

How many cruises have you been on?

Travel Chef from Manila on June 25, 2018:

Yes, there are dangers when going onoboard the ship. However, these can be avoided if people will exhibit extra care to their actions. Nice list here!

Jennifer Gonzales (author) from The Hague, Netherlands on October 17, 2016:

Hello Gatorface, I am well-aware that dangers are everywhere and people know that as much as we do. And while i can write about dangers at home etc, i find it more interesting to write about cruise ships instead; which by the way, is my freedom to enjoy. You are of course right to say that dangers lurk everywhere. You can even die while asleep. But, the reason i wrote about this topic is not to discourage people but to inform them...not only those who have the money and time to enjoy cruises but also those who aren't capable of doing it. While i agree with what you said, i think the comparison you made is not very appropriate. Comparing "living in a house" with "embarking on a cruise ship" is irrelevant because the environment and the living conditions are entirely different. People go on cruises mainly to enjoy a much needed holiday. And it is always unfortunate when these holidays end in disasters. Why do you think movies with this kind of "theme" always appeal to people? I think the exclusivity and remoteness coupled with danger is always an interesting topic to talk, watch, read or write about.

GatorFace on October 16, 2016:

You might as well write an article about the dangers of living in houses, driving cars, and staying at resorts. There are dangers everywhere, and while you give valid information, cruise ships have procedures for almost all of these, which all passengers are required to attend ( "muster drills" ) to review procedure. All people on cruises are well aware of what can happen, just like all people who can drive, own homes, and vacation at resorts instead, are well aware of what can happen.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 20, 2015:

You did a very good job of raising awareness of the possible dangers aboard the cruise ship. Excellent article.

Still, I wouldn't hesitate to go cruising, because there are dangers everywhere, even at home. Hope your trip is safe, if you ever go an a cruise.

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