Navigating Disaster: Worst Cruise Ship Tragedies in History

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Stephanie is a cherished member of the Sampling America writing team, dedicated to crafting captivating narratives that transport readers to thrilling adventures across the country and beyond.

Spending your vacation on a luxurious cruise ship is the safest way to travel these days. All-inclusive amenities in a vast floating hotel are the best ways to relax.

Modern cruise ships are equipped with top-notch safety equipment, and if a nasty storm is on the horizon, captains will always stay at port for another night to avoid disaster.

But sometimes tragedy is unavoidable. Follow along for some of the worst cruise disasters in recent history.

Carnival Cruise Line, Triumph

Carnival Cruise Ship
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

In 2013, the Carnival Cruise ship Triumph had a small fire in the generator room that left the ship powerless in the Gulf of Mexico.

The worst part about the loss of power was that the plumbing and toilets also ceased to work. Unfortunately, when out at sea, the bathroom situation is essential, and unlike smaller boats where you can do your business in the water, on a massive cruise ship, there’s no jumping into the ocean for a minute.

Passengers were made to go to the bathroom in small bags and drop them off into hazardous waste bins in the hallways, beginning the nickname “The Poop Cruise” for the horrible event.

Soon the bathroom became the least of the passengers’ worries, as food was beginning to run out as the ship had no power to move or dock at their intended locations.

The ship’s upper decks soon began to look like a shanty town with haphazard living structures and food rationing systems, and after four long days, the boat was towed to Mobile, Alabama.

The boat is still afloat today, though, and after several deep cleanings, it’s now called the Sunrise.

Costa Concordia

Costa Concordia
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

The Costa Concordia is one of the biggest passenger shipwrecks in history, with room for almost 4,200 passengers on board, including a movie theatre, six restaurants, and 17 decks.

In 2012 off the coast of Italy, upon request of the ship’s maître d’, who was a local of the town in Italy that they were cruising past, wanted to wave to the locals. Unfortunately, the ship struck the rocks close to the shore, the boat capsized, sank, and killed 32 passengers.

The old saying that a captain must go down with their ship is true of maritime law. However, the captain aboard the Concordia left the boat. But he was ordered to re-board the ship while the boat was still sinking. He was later charged with manslaughter for his participation in sinking the ship.

Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

In 2014, the Explorer of the Seas cruised from New Jersey to the Caribbean and was quickly named the ship with the most sick passengers.

A cruise ship is much like an airplane in that the air is being recirculated in the common areas, so if one person is sick with an infectious illness, it’ll most likely spread quickly. You can also wind up touching a lot of germs at the buffet, on door handles, and in the pool.

A quickly spreading infectious illness is exactly what happened on this Royal Caribbean cruise. Over 700 crew and passengers became sick with norovirus (stomach bug). Although it’s unknown who patient Zero was, it’s safe to say a rampant sickness like this most likely affected everyone on board.

Carnival Sunshine

Cruise Ship Disembarking 1
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

Recently, in May of 2023, a Carnival cruise returning from the Bahamas to Charleston was hit with a major storm. 

The passenger decks soon started filling with water due to the heavy rains and high waves. The first four crew decks (which are normally under sea level) had to be evacuated due to safety concerns. Many passengers became ill due to the rocky nature of the boat trip. 

But the captain decided to pursue through the storm, despite the chaos being caused by the storm. Thankfully, the boat arrived safely to its destination without any major injuries. 

Covid-19 on the Grand Princess Hawaii Cruise

Cruise ship under the Golden Gate Bridge
Image Credit: Depositphotos.

In February 2020, a Grand Princess Hawaii cruise became one of the first hot spots for Covid-19, and unfortunately, it became a substantial legal disaster as well.

The cruise first departed San Francisco but soon became a hotbed for the illness.

Several guests had previously come from Japan and Mexico, both places already heavily affected by the outbreak. The cruise line stated that they took rigorous health checks, but within a few days, guests who had traveled abroad discovered they had been in contact with someone sick with Covid-19.

Passengers now claim that the boat did little to inform them about the health status of many people feeling ill aboard, and many are waging legal battles with the cruise line.

On their way home to the U.S., several passengers were officially sick, and the situation on board soon devolved. Passengers were quarantined to their rooms with several armed guards and helicopters keeping an eye on the open decks.

President Donald Trump refused to let the passengers back on land in the port of Oakland, saying he didn’t want to increase the Covid-19 numbers in the U.S.

Passengers remained quarantined in their rooms for weeks, being brought meals by the staff. Only when a couple faced extreme illness were they allowed to disembark and visit the hospital. Unfortunately, one of these passengers passed away.

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