May 29

This Day in History

General Interest

May 29, 1914:

The sinking of the Empress of Ireland

In one of the worst ship disasters in history, the British liner Empress of Ireland, carrying 1,477 passengers and crew, collides with the Norwegian freighter Storstad in the gulf of Canada's St. Lawrence River. The Storstad penetrated 15 feet into the Empress of Ireland's starboard side, and the vessel sunk within 14 minutes, drowning 1,012 of its passengers and crew.

The tragedy came two years after the Titanic sunk after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic, leaving more than 1,500 people dead but galvanizing public demands for maritime safety standards. With structural precautions superior to those on the Titanic, crews trained extensively in emergency procedures, and with more than enough lifejackets and lifeboats, the Empress was designed for optimum safety.

However, on the morning of May 29, 1914, a heavy fog blanketed the St. Lawrence as the Empress set out from Quebec Harbor on its transatlantic journey to Liverpool, England. The Empress and the Storstad spotted each other several minutes before the collision, but altered courses and confused signals brought them into their fateful embrace. Only seven lifeboats escaped the rapidly sinking vessel, but thanks to the efforts of the crew of the Storstad, scores of survivors were pulled out of the icy waters.

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