Thursday, May 29, 2014

May 29, 1914 – The ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the St. Lawrence River after colliding with the Storstad, killing 1,012 on board.

I learned about this wreck when I read Clive Cussler's novel Night Probe.

The above is a sketch of what might have happened. The Empress of Ireland was keeping to the shoreline before making her dash to the open seas. The Storstad (a double-hulled Norwegian ship) was coming into the St. Lawrence River. Now, when you look head-one at a ship, it has a green light on the ship's starboard side (my left) and a red light on its port side (my right). The two ships sighted one another when they were four miles apart. The captain of the Empress of Ireland said he could see by the lights that the Storstad was moving to his right, so that the ships could pass starboard-to starboard. The captain of the Storstad said he saw the Empress of Ireland coming head-on. Traditionally, ships pass one another port-to-port, so the Storstad turned toward its starboard to give the Empress of Ireland room.

Then the fog came in. The captain of the Empress of Ireland claims he stopped his ship, and gave three blasts of his horn to indicate he had stopped. The Storstad responded with three blasts, indicating it acknowledged this. The captain of the Empress of Ireland then claims the Storstad rammed his ship's starboard side.

In fact, the condition of the Empress of Ireland and the Storstad indicates that the Empress of Ireland was moving when she was rammed. Her captain probably decided to dash for the sea, rather than wait several hours for the fog to lift. In doing so, he moved his ship right into the Storstad's path.

This is a painting from the book Lost Liners showing what the Empress of Ireland probably looked like in the early 1990s. The St. Lawrence River is too dark and too dirty to really see the ship.

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