The five deadliest shipwrecks in history with devastating death tolls

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The world’s oceans have laid claim to countless shipwrecks over the centuries. While some have garnered considerable notoriety, such as the Titanic, there are many less known but far more deadly sea excursions that caused the deaths of thousands, many that have never been recovered. What are the most deadly shipping accidents in history?

SS Kiangya

Thousands of refugees were killed in the explosion of the SS Kiangya as they attempted to flee Shanghai in the Chinese Civil War.

The ship was officially carrying 2,150 refugees – almost double its capacity – but several thousand more had crowded onto the steamer before it set sail, and subsequently hit a leftover World War 2 mine.

The true number of dead has never been agreed upon, but estimates vary anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 people died.

SS Sultana

The deadliest maritime accident in US history took place on April 27, 1865, just after the American Civil War ended.

Repatriated Union prisoners were making their way back north, paid for by the federal Government.

The handsome paycheck given to steamship operators – on a basis of each soldier carried – led to widespread corruption, meaning boats were in poor condition and overcrowded.

Ultimately a boiler explosion on the SS Sultana caused the death of 1,800 of 2,300 passengers and crew.

RMS Lusitania

A British ocean liner was the highest-profile casualty of World War 1 Germany’s submarine warfare.

On May 7, 1915, RMS Lusitania was attacked by a U-boat, sinking in just 18 minutes.

All 1,198 passengers and crew died in the attack, including 128 Americans, leading to US involvement in the war.

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MV Doña Paz

The sinking of the Doña Paz in 1987 was the deadliest civilian maritime disaster in history.

The passenger ferry collided with an oil tanker in the Tablas Strait, approximately 110 miles south of Manila, the Philippines capital.

The ship was overcrowded by more than double its capacity, with an estimated 4,300 aboard.

The Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker, setting alight 8,800 barrels of oil – only 26 people were rescued from the waters.

MV Wilhelm Gustloff

The deadliest shipwreck in history took place during World War 2 when Soviet Union forces attacked the Wilhelm Gustloff, a Nazi ocean liner.

Built to hold 1,900 people, the Gustloff left Poland in January 1945 with an estimated 10,000 refugees on board.

The liner slipped under the Baltic Sea after three torpedoes were fired by a Soviet submarine, killing 9,000 of those onboard, making it the deadliest in history.

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