Shipwrecking is the event that caused the wreck, such as the striking
of something that causes the ship to sink, the stranding of the ship
on rocks, land or shoal, poor maintenance, or the destruction of the
ship at sea by violent weather.
1.1 Design and equipment failure
1.2 Instability and foundering
1.3 Bad weather
1.4 Rogue waves
2 See also
4 Further reading
5 External links
Factors for the loss of a ship may include:
poor design or failure of the ship's equipment or hull - pressure hull
instability, due to poor design, improperly stowed cargo, cargo that
shifts its position or the free surface effect.
navigation errors and other human errors, leading to collisions (with
another ship, rocks, an iceberg, etc.) or running aground
bad weather and powerful or large waves or gale winds: This often
leads to capsizing, also referred to as foundering.
warfare, piracy, mutiny, or sabotage including: guns, torpedoes, depth
charges, mines, bombs and missiles.
Biofouling such as polychaete and other tube worms on wood hulls.
overloading - either cargo or icing, and displacement exceeding the
intentional sinking (scuttling)
to form an artificial reef
for wreck diving
use as a target ship for training or testing weapons
as a blockship to create an obstacle to close a harbour, river, etc.
against enemy ships
to prevent a ship from falling into an enemy's hands (e.g. Graf Spee)
to destroy a derelict ship that poses a menace to navigation
as part of an insurance scam
Design and equipment failure
The hallmark of a shipwreck due to poor design is the capsize of
Swedish warship Wasa in
Stockholm harbour 1628. She was too narrow,
had too little ballast and her lower cannon deck had too low
free-board for good seaworthiness. Poor design allowed the ferry MS
Herald of Free Enterprise to put to sea with open roll-on/roll-off bow
doors, with tragic consequences. Failure or leaking of the hull is a
serious problem that can lead to the loss of buoyancy or the free
surface effect and the subsequent sinking of the vessel. Even the
hulls of large modern ships have cracked in heavy storms. Leaks
between the hull planks of wooden vessels are a particular
Equipment failure caused the shipwreck of cruiseferry Estonia in 1994.
The stress of stormy seas on hull and bow especially caused the bow
visor to break off, in turn tearing the watertight bow door open and
letting seawater flow onto the car deck. She capsized with tragic
consequences. Failure of pumps can lead to the loss
of a potentially salvageable ship with only a minor leak or
Failure of the means of propulsion, such as engines, sails or rigging,
can lead to the loss of a ship. When the ship's movement is determined
only by currents or the wind and particularly by storms, a common
result is that the ship is unable to avoid natural hazards like rocks,
shallow water or tidal races. Loss of propulsion or steering can
inhibit a ship's ability to safely position itself in a storm, even
far from land. Waves attacking a ship's side can overwhelm and sink
Instability and foundering
Instability is caused by the centre of mass of the ship rising above
the metacenter resulting in the ship tipping on its side or capsizing,
which is often referred to as foundered or foundering. This can lead
to a sinking if the openings on the upper side are not watertight at
the time of the capsize. To remain buoyant, the hull of a vessel must
prevent water entering the large air spaces of the vessel (known as
downflooding). Clearly for the ship to float, the submerged parts of
the hull will be watertight, but the upper parts of the hull must have
openings to allow ventilation to compartments, including the engine
room, for crew access, and to load and unload cargo. Large ships are
designed with Compartments to help avoid foundering.
The Ninth Wave
The Ninth Wave painting shows a handful of survivors
clinging to the mast of a sunken ship.
Bounty awash in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy
approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., 29 Oct. 2012.
On 25 October 2012, the tall ship Bounty (a replica of the original
HMS Bounty) sank in a hurricane. The vessel left New London,
Connecticut, heading for St. Petersburg, Florida, initially going on
an easterly course to avoid Hurricane Sandy. On 29 October 2012 at
03:54 EDT, the ship's owner called the
United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard for
help during the hurricane after losing contact with the ship's master.
He reported she was taking on water off the coast of North Carolina,
about 160 miles (260 km) from the storm, and the crew were
preparing to abandon ship. There were sixteen people aboard, two of
whom did not survive the sinking. An inquiry into the sinking was
held by the
United States Coast Guard
United States Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Virginia from 12
to 21 February 2013; at which it was concluded that Captain
Walbridge's decision to sail the ship into the path of Hurricane Sandy
was the cause, and the inquiry found this to have been a "reckless
Poor weather can cause several problems:
Wind causes waves which result in other difficulties. Waves make
navigation difficult and dangerous near shallow water. Also, waves
create buoyancy stresses on the structure of a hull. The weight of
breaking waves on the fabric of the ship force the crew to reduce
speed or even travel in the same direction as the waves to prevent
damage. Also, wind stresses the rigging of sailing ships.
The force of the wind pushes ships in the direction of the wind.
Vessels with large windage suffer most. Although powered ships are
able to resist the force of the wind, sailing vessels have few
defences against strong wind. When strong winds are imminent, sailing
vessels typically have several choices:
try to position themselves so that they cannot be blown into danger
shelter in a harbour
anchor, preferably on the leeward side of a landform
Many losses of sailing ships were caused by sailing, with a following
wind, so far into a bay that the ship became trapped upwind of a lee
shore, being unable to sail into the wind to leave the bay. Low
visibility caused by fog, mist and heavy rain increase the navigator's
problems. Cold can cause metal to become brittle and fail more easily.
A build-up of ice can cause instability by accumulating high on the
ship, or in severe cases, crush the hull if the ship becomes trapped
in a freezing sea.
According to one scientist who studies rogue waves, "two large ships
sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same
detail as an air crash. It simply gets put down to 'bad weather'."
Once considered mythical and lacking hard evidence for their
existence, rogue waves are now proven to exist and known to be a
natural ocean phenomenon. Eyewitness accounts from mariners and
damages inflicted on ships have long suggested they occurred; however,
their scientific measurement was only positively confirmed following
measurements of the "Draupner wave", a rogue wave at the Draupner
platform in the
North Sea on January 1, 1995, with a maximum wave
height of 25.6 metres (84 ft) (peak elevation of 18.5 metres
(61 ft)). During that event, minor damage was also inflicted on
the platform, far above sea level, confirming that the reading was
valid. Their existence has also since been confirmed by satellite
imagery of the ocean surface.
Fire can cause the loss of ships in many ways. The most obvious way
would be the loss of a wooden ship which is burned until watertight
integrity is compromised (e.g. Cospatrick). The detonation of cargo or
ammunition can cause the breach of a steel hull. An extreme
temperature may compromise the durability properties of steel, causing
the hull to break on its own weight. Often a large fire causes a ship
to be abandoned and left to drift (e.g. MS Achille Lauro). Should it
run aground beyond economic salvage, it becomes a wreck.
In extreme cases, where the ship's cargo is either highly combustible
(such as oil, natural gas or gasoline) or explosive (nitrates,
fertilizers, ammunition) a fire onboard may result in a catastrophic
conflagration or explosion. Such disasters may have catastrophic
results, especially if the disaster occurs in a harbour, such as the
Shipwreck of SS Harvard on Point Arguello, California, 1931
Many shipwrecks have occurred when the crew of the ship allowed the
ship to collide with rocks, reefs, icebergs, or other ships. Collision
has been one of the major causes of shipwreck. Accurate navigation is
made more difficult by poor visibility in bad weather. Also, many
losses happened before modern navigation aids such as GPS, radar and
sonar were available. Until the 20th century, the most sophisticated
navigational tools and techniques available - dead reckoning using the
magnetic compass, marine chronometer (to calculate longitude) and
ships logbook (which recorded the vessel's heading and the speed
measured by log) or celestial navigation using marine chronometer and
sextant - were sufficiently accurate for journeys across oceans, but
these techniques (and in many cases also the charts) lacked the
precision to avoid reefs close to shore.
The Scilly naval disaster of 1707, which claimed nearly 2,000 lives
and was one of the greatest maritime disasters in the history of the
British Isles, is attributed to the mariner's inability to find their
longitude. This led to the
Longitude Act to improve the aids available
for navigation. Marine chronometers were as revolutionary in the 19th
GPS is today. However the cost of these instruments could
be prohibitive, sometimes resulting in tragic consequences for ships
that were still unable to determine their longitude, as in the case of
Even today, when highly accurate navigational equipment is readily
available and universally used, there is still scope for error. Using
the incorrect horizontal datum for the chart of an area may mislead
the navigator, especially as many charts have not been updated to use
modern data. It is also important for the navigator to appreciate that
charts may be significantly in error, especially on less frequented
coasts. For example, a recent revision of the map of South Georgia in
South Atlantic showed that previous maps were in some places in
error by several kilometres.
Over the centuries, many technological and organizational developments
have been used to reduce accidents at sea including:
International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea
Pilotage aids including lighthouses and sea marks
Basic navigation tools such as the magnetic compass, nautical chart,
marine chronometer, sextant, log and sounding line
Advanced navigation tools such as radio communication, radar
navigation, gyrocompass, sonar, hyperbolic
Radio navigation and
Inspection of shipbuilding quality and maintenance of seaworthiness of
the ship such as "A1 at Lloyd's"
Intelligence and better defences to protect the ship from acts of
violence, war and piracy
Use of fireproof/nonflammable materials to prevent fires from
spreading rapidly, and modern fire-fighting agents such as gases and
foams that do not compromise the buoyancy and stability of the vessel
as quickly as water.
Built-in devices to delay flooding long enough for rescue ships to
retrieve survivors and/or tow the ship to the nearest shipyard for
repairs, such as watertight compartments and pumps.
Flotsam and jetsam
List of shipwrecks
List of disasters
List of maritime disasters
^ Morgenstein, Mark (29 October 2012). "Sandy claims 'Bounty' off
North Carolina". CNN. Retrieved 2012-10-29.
^ "Coast Guard finds ill-fated ship Bounty avoided tighter safety
standards, repair warnings by Maine shipyard". Bangor Daily News.
Retrieved 9 June 2015.
^ "US Coast Guard Media Advisory, January 10, 2013". US Coast Guard
Newsrom. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved 31 January
^ "Sinking of Tall Ship Bounty". Marine Accident Brief. National
Transportation Safety Board. 6 February 2014. Retrieved 11 February
^ "Ship-sinking monster waves revealed by ESA satellites". European
Space Agency. July 21, 2004. Archived from the original on July 24,
^ "Freak waves spotted from space". BBC News. July 22, 2004. Retrieved
May 22, 2010.
Shipwreck with Spectator: Paradigm of a Metaphor for
Existence (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997)
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shipwrecks.
Shipwreck Database (Downloadable Excel file)
NOAA Wrecks and Obstructions Database
Shipwrecks and Smuggling - a learning resource from the British
Shipwrecks UK, providing context, thematic information and detail for
more than 45,000 shipwrecks in the seas surrounding Britain and
Ireland, including revealing maps.