16 Shipwrecks Where Women And Children Didn’t Do So Well

You know how when a ship sinks, women and children are supposed to escape first? Well, a Swedish study of 18 shipwrecks, published this week, found that men often fared as well as, if not better than, women (it was harder to study children), with a 10-percent better survival rate than the “sea-fairer” sex. And you thought chivalry died recently.


The SS Arctic sank in 1854 in the North Atlantic, off the coast of Canada, after colliding with another ship. All the women on board died, according to the study, and only 41 of 262 passengers survived.


The SS Golden Gate sank in a fire off the Pacific coast of Mexico back in 1862. Of 378 on board, 172 survived.


The Northfleet was rammed by another ship in the English Channel in 1873. Eighty people survived, out of 367 on board.


The RMS Atlantic ran aground in 1873 near Halifax, Canada in a storm, killing 538 and leaving 330 survivors.


The SS Princess Alice, a pleasure craft carrying 837 people, was rammed by a cargo ship in the Thames River in September 1878. Only 140 survived, eventually prompting London police to switch from serving in rowboats to steam-powered boats.


The SS Norge ran aground on a small island far northwest of Scotland in 1904. Of the 795 passengers and crew only 160 survived, including one prominent Norwegian poet, according to Wikipedia.


The RMS Empress of Ireland was hit by the same kind of cargo ship as the Princess Alice, though this time in Canada’s St. Lawrence River in 1914. Just shy of a thousand died and 465 survived. Legend has it that the ship’s faithful tabby cat suddenly couldn’t stand the thing, and resisted any attempt to bring it back on board for its fateful, final journey.


The RMS Lusitania was torpedoed in the North Atlantic by a German U-Boat in 1915. The ocean liner carried 1,958 people, and while there were enough lifeboats for all, it sunk so quickly that only 768 survived.


The SS Principessa Mafalda suffered a technical problem in the Atlantic close to Brazil in 1927. Eight hundred and seventy-seven survived the ocean liner’s foundering, but 309 didn’t.


The SS Vestris succumbed to bad weather in 1928 off the coast of Virginia, on its way to Argentina. One hundred and twenty-five of the 308 people on board died.


The SS Morro Castle caught fire off the coast of New Jersey in 1934, spreading quickly and foiling the acting captain’s efforts to save the ship. Of 542 passengers and crew, 130 died, and the charred hulk of the ship washed up on the shore at Asbury Park, where it served as an attraction for a few months before being towed away.


The MV Princess Victoria was caught in a storm in the English Channel in 1953. Only 44 survived of the 179 on board, and contrary to what the photo caption implies, the average women or children on the ship probably didn’t make it out, according to the results of the study.


The SS Admiral Nakhimov, an old Russian passenger liner, was struck by a freighter as it set out into the Black Sea in August, 1986, ultimately losing 423 of the 1,243 passengers and crew.


The MV Estonia, an Estonian ferry bound for Stockholm in 1994, found the door at the front of the ship—the one that cars use to board and debark from—breaking open. Along with the ship sank 852 people, of 989 on board.


The MS Princess of the Stars was overtaken by a typhoon in the Philippines Sea in 2008. The cruise ferry capsized; 59 escaped but 791 didn’t.


The MV Bulgaria, a small Russian cruise ship, sank in the Volga River last year under shady circumstances. Of 186 people on board, 76 survived.

The only two wrecks studied where the “women and children first” order was both given and followed, according to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences were the two that made it famous: the HMS Birkenhead (1852), where the expression is said to have been coined, and the RMS Titanic (1912), which made it famous. Of course, it helped in the former case that only 1.4 percent of the people on the ship were female. To Captain Edward Smith’s credit, 35 percent of his charge was female, and almost three quarters of them survived.

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