Whether you’ve seen the Titanic, heard about Costa Concordia, or are thinking of booking a cruise, one of the most common questions new cruisers ask to assess their safety is how often cruise ships sink.
To give you a quick insight into how often cruise ships sink, we list below the vessels that have sunk and then go over each in more detail so you get a full understanding of the situation and the likelihood of a cruise ship ever sinking again.
How Many Cruise Ships Have Sunk?
16 cruise ships have sunk since 1912, which was the year the Titanic sank.
The first 6 sinkings up to 1956 were technically all ocean liners rather than cruise ships, but many people think of them as the same because they both can carry thousands of passengers.
See the post was the Titanic a cruise ship for a look at the key differences, some of which made ocean liners more likely to sink than a modern-day cruise ship.
Of the 16 cruise ship sinkings, one was a Chinese River cruise ship, and another was an Estonian cruiseferry, so not technically a cruise ship, but still similar in many ways with the capacity for carrying hundreds of passengers.
Of the ocean-going cruise ships, not all sunk while out at sea. In some instances, they didn’t even have passengers onboard.
Depending on what angle you are asking the question, the below table of cruise ship sinkings should help you find your answer.
Cruise Ship Sinkings Since the Titianic (1912)
The table below details 16 cruise ships of various cruise vessel types that have sunk since the Titanic in 1912.
We have included vessel type, as arguably it said some of the vessels weren’t technically cruise ships, but we think most people think of the Titanic as a cruise ship, so we have included it and other similar ocean liners.
|Ship Name (& Year Sunk)||Vessel Type||Cause of Sinking||Deaths|
|RMS Titanic (1912)||Ocean Liner||Hit Iceberg||1500+|
|RMS Empress of Ireland (1914)||Ocean Liner||Collision with a steam cargo ship||1014|
|HMHS Britannic (1916)||Ocean Liner||Hit a German mine||30|
|Principessa Mafalda (1927)||Ocean Liner||Propeller shaft fractured||314|
|MS Georges Philippar (1932)||Ocean Liner||Caught fire from a luxury cabin||54|
|SS Andrea Doria (1956)||Ocean Liner||Collision with an Ocean Liner||46|
|MTS Oceanos (1991)||Cruise Ship||Uncontrolled flooding||0|
|MS Estonia (1994)||Cruiseferry||Bow doors locks failed in storm||852|
|Sun Vista (1999)||Cruise Ship||Engine room fire||0|
|SS SeaBreeze (2000)||Cruise Ship||Boiler broke off (insurance job?)||0|
|Belofin-1 (SS Monterey) (2000)||Cruise Ship||Set for scrap (empty ship)||0|
|MS Sea Diamond (2007)||Cruise Ship||Ran aground and sank||2|
|MV Explorer (2007)||Cruise Ship||A small cruise ship hit an iceberg||0|
|Costa Concordia (2012)||Cruise Ship||Struck an underwater rock||34|
|Dongfang Zhi Xing (2015)||River Cruise||Heavy storm caused capsize||442|
|Orient Queen (2020)||Cruise Ship||Port Explosion (docked ship)||2|
Considering there are more cruise ships than ever on the seas today, it’s clear that not many cruise ships have sunk in recent times.
How Many Cruise Ships Sink a Year?
With 16 cruise ship sinkings from 1912 to 2022, we can determine that a cruise ship sinks every 6 years 10 months.
On average, that works out as a lot less than 1 cruise ship a year. Just 0.15% of a cruise ship, to be precise.
The answer to this question will vary depending on your chosen timeframe, vessel type, and the reason for sinking.
For example, do you want to include ocean liners and a cruiseferry and do you want to include cruise ships that were empty and on the way to being scrapped?
When Was the Last Time a Cruise Ship Sunk?
The last time an ocean-going cruise ship sank was in 2012, when the Costa Concordia hit a reef off the coast of Italy. Thirty-two people died in the incident. 4200 were rescued.
The sinking of the Costa Concordia is probably the most familiar cruise ship people think of when they ask this question. Although the cruise ship only partially sank, it did not become completely submerged beneath the surface of the water.
Since 2012 there have been no other recorded sinkings of ocean-going cruise ships.
Although the almost empty moored Orient Queen cruise ship sank in 2020 when it was damaged in a huge explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, it capsized that same night. Two crew members died.
How Often Do Cruise Ships Sink?
Thankfully the answer is very rarely, but there have been a few notable instances where cruise ships have met with accidents leading to sinking.
From the table, we can see that in 110 years, 16 cruise ships have sunk. This means, on average, 1 cruise ship sinks every 6.8 years.
However, in more modern times, since 2000, only 4 cruise ships have sunk while out at sea, an average of once every 5.5 years.
It does depend on what type of cruise ship you are considering and the situation in which it sank, at sea or empty at the port, destroyed in an explosion (Orient Queen) or awaiting to be scrapped anyway (Belofin-1 ).
Thankfully, when you think of the number of cruise ships launched into the water and currently sailing oceans, rivers, and great lakes all over the world cases like these are rare. Cruise ships have become much safer over the years and much less likely to ever sink.
As you can see, it’s very rare for a cruise ship to sink, but it does happen on occasion. In most cases, the cause is weather-related or due to hitting an obstacle like a reef or iceberg. However, there’s always the chance of a rogue wave event, which has been suspected of sinking other ship types, but thankfully not a cruise ship.
So now that we’ve answered the question of how often cruise ships sink, let’s take a more in-depth look at each of the four major instances where this unfortunate event has happened.
Well-Known Cruise Ships That Sunk
Here’s a look at some of the most famous (or infamous) cases of cruise ships sinking.
The Titanic is, without a doubt, the most famous cruise ship to ever sink. The vessel hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912 and went down, taking over 1,500 passengers and crew with it, partly because it did not have enough lifeboats for all passengers.
At the time, the Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship ever built. It was meant to be an unsinkable vessel, but of course, we all know now that no ship is truly unsinkable.
The sinking of the Titanic is a tragic story that has been told time and time again. It’s one of the most famous maritime disasters in history and has been the subject of numerous books, movies, and TV shows.
4 years later in 1916, the Titanic sister ship, the HMHS Britannic, which had been turned into a hospital ship, was famously sunk by a German mine.
Some people might question, was the Titanic a Cruise Ship? Technically it was an ocean liner, but because it carried thousands of passengers and is thought to be a cruise ship by many, we have included it.
In the past, many ships that sank 100 or so years ago were ocean liners and nothing like the mega-cruise ships carrying thousands of passengers at a time.
The Costa Concordia was a much more recent example of a cruise ship sinking of the large modern-day design many of us know and love.
The vessel hit a reef off the coast of Italy in 2012 and capsized, killing 32 people.
The Costa Concordia was carrying 4,229 passengers and crew at the time of the incident. Thankfully, most people were able to evacuate the ship before it sank.
The captain of the Costa Concordia was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison. One year of that sentence was for leaving the ship early instead of being the last to leave as per one of the duties of a highly-paid cruise captain salary.
In 1994, the MS Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea after hitting a storm, killing 852 people.
The MS Estonia was a cruise ferry carrying 989 passengers and crew at the time of the incident. It was traveling from Tallinn, Estonia to Stockholm, Sweden, when it hit a storm and started taking on water.
The MS Estonia quickly sank, and only 137 people were able to be rescued from the frigid waters. It is considered one of the deadliest maritime disasters of the 20th century.
Dongfang zhi Xing (Oriental Star or Eastern Star)
The Dongfang Zhi Xing (translated as Oriental Star or Eastern Star) was a Chinese river cruise ship that capsized in 2015 during a heavy storm. 442 people were killed in the incident.
The Dongfang zhi Xing was carrying 454 passengers and crew at the time of the accident. Only 12 people were able to be rescued from the ship.
The cause of the capsizing was determined to be a severe storm that caused the ship to lose stability and tip over.
Other Cruise Ships That Sank
Prior to 1991, only ocean liners, like the Titanic and cruiseferries had sunk.
Since the year 1991, there have been 8 cruise ship sinkings, or partial sinkings (not including the cruiseferry MS Estonia)
Excluding Costa Concordia and Dongfang zhi xing, which we covered above, there have been 6 other cruise ship sinkings.
MTS Oceanos (1991)
The Oceanos was a French-built Greek-owned cruise ship that sank off the coast of South Africa in 1991. The vessel started taking on water after a series of leaks in the hull.
The ship had a capacity of 550 passengers and 250 crew.
All passengers and crew were successfully evacuated from the ship before it completely sunk. No one was killed or injured in the incident.
However, the captain and some crew members were later arrested and convicted of negligence for fleeing the ship while passengers were still on board.
Sun Vista (SS Galileo Galilei) (1999)
The SS Sun Vista was a cruise ship that caught fire and sank in 1999. The fire started in the vessel’s engine room while it was sailing from Malaysia to Singapore.
All 1,090 passengers and crew were evacuated from the ship before it sank. No one was killed but some people were injured in the incident and needed hospitalization.
Sun Vista was the name at the time of the sinking. The ship was originally built as the ocean liner SS Galileo Galilei and later converted to a cruise ship.
Passengers reportedly sang music from the Titanic movie to keep their spirits up. (Source).
MS Sea Diamond (2007)
The MS Sea Diamond was a Finnish cruise ship that sank off the coast of Santorini, Greece, in 2007. The vessel hit a volcanic reef and started taking on water.
The cruise ship had a capacity of 1537 passengers, with 1,195, mostly American and Canadian onboard at the time of the incident.
All passengers and crew were evacuated from the ship before it completely sunk. 2 people were killed in the incident.
This short video captures the cruise ship sinking in its final moments.
SS SeaBreeze (2000)
The SeaBreeze cruise ship sank off the coast of North Carolina in December 2000. This was allegedly due to a boiler breaking off and damaging the ship and the engine room flooding.
Coast guard rescuers at the time did not expect the ship to sink and thought it could be towed to shore by tug boats, but the captain demanded everyone be extracted from the ship as soon as possible.
Subsequently, the ship sank in Panamanian waters, which was potentially convenient as any investigation would have expected to have been much less stringent than those carried out by American investigators had it sunk in very nearby American waters.
There was much suspicion around the sinking because the scrap value of the ship was estimated to be around $5 to $6 million, which was much less than its insurance payout value of $20 million.
The cruise ship had a capacity of 840 passengers and 400 crew.
At the time of the incident, there were 34 people all onboard who were all extracted to safety.
Belofin-1 (SS Monterey) (2000)
The Belofin-1 had recently been sold for scrap and was meant to be being towed to India, but went via Mexico from Ukraine in 2000 when it sank near just over 90km from Cape Town, South Africa.
The vessel started taking on water and listing, so the tug boats cut here free and allowed how to sink.
The ship was previously known as the SS Monterey and had a capacity for 701 passengers and 360 crew.
MV Explorer (2007)
The MV Explorer was a small Liberian cruise ship and the first of its kind to sail the Antarctic waters.
The ship had departed from Argentina, attempting to follow the route of 19th-century explorer Ernest Shackleton through the Drake Passage,a route well known for its rough seas.
The vessel sank in early November 2007 after hitting an iceberg which made a gash in the hull, allowing water to enter.
The ship had a capacity for a total of 104 passengers and 54 crew.
On the day of the incident 154 passengers, guides and crew were successfully evacuated from the ship before it sunk.
There were no fatalities or injuries as a result of the incident.
The video news report below shows photos of the listing ship and passengers being rescued.
Orient Queen (2020)
The Orient Queen was a Spanish cruise ship that was berthed in Beirut, Lebanon, at the time of a huge explosion of a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port.
The ship suffered severe damage and capsized that night before partially sinking.
It was quite small by modern standards, with a capacity of 370 guests.
Two crew members were killed.
How Many Carnival Cruise Ships Have Sunk?
Carnival is one world’s largest cruise lines, but since it has existed, only one of its vessels has ever sunk, the Costa Concordia in 2012.
Although Costa is an Italian cruise ship company, it is owned by Carnival Corporation.
From its fleet of Carnival brand cruise ships, none have ever sunk or capsized.
There have been less serious incidents, such as in 2010, the Carnival Splendor had to be towed to port after an engine room fire disabled the vessel.
A more recent and well-known incident was that of a fire on Carnival Triumph, since renamed Carnival Sunshine. The ship was left stranded and without power after the generator caught fire.
Infamously the incident led to the ship being referred to as “the poop cruise” because raw sewage backed up onto the passenger decks and passengers had to use plastic bags as a makeshift solution. It’s no wonder they renamed it.
Why Don’t Cruise Ships Tip Over or Sink?
There are many reasons why a cruise ship sinking is such a rare event, and that’s because of how they are designed.
Although many modern-day cruise ships look top-heavy, with relatively small proportions of the ship underwater, it’s no surprise people wonder if a cruise ship can tip over.
They are designed to have a low center of gravity, with most of the weight at the bottom of the ship. A wide, stable hull and other stabilizing factors, such as ballast tanks, stabilizing fins, and bilge keels, keeps a ship upright in even the roughest of sea conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Cruise Ships Have Sunk in the Last 5 Years?
In the last 5 years since 2017, only one cruise ship has sunk, the Orient Queen, which was damaged in a port explosion in Lebanon.
How Many Royal Caribbean Ships Have Sunk?
There have been no recorded instances of a Royal Caribbean cruise ship sinking.
Has a Disney Cruise Ship Ever Sunk?
No Disney cruise ships have ever sunk or capsized.
Conclusion: What Can We Learn From These Incidents?
While it’s certainly tragic when a cruise ship sinks, it’s important to remember that these incidents are rare.
The Titanic is the most famous example of a cruise ship sinking, but it happened over 100 years ago.
The Costa Concordia, MS Estonia, and Dongfang zhi Xing are more recent examples, but they are still relatively rare.
When you compare the number of cruise ship passengers to the number of incidents, it’s clear that cruising is a safe way to travel.
Of course, no one wants to be on a ship that sinks, so it’s important to do your research before booking a cruise. If you are concerned, check the ship’s safety record and ensure it meets all required safety standards.
Cruising is a great way to see the world and is generally very safe.