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Author Topic: OTD - 31st January (1953) - Loss of Princess Victoria off Stranraer  (Read 403 times)
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« on: January 30, 2022, 10:31:40 pm »

On 31st January 1953, the "Princess Victoria" - a Stranraer to Larne car ferry - capsized with the loss of 133 out of 177 on board. Not a unique event, but a shocking one where others such as the Herald of Free Enterprise remain etched on our mind, and are the highlighted disasters when we search online.

There are excellent articles around and rather that echo a long report here, I'm going to "top and tail" it and recommend you to the original arricle onHistoric UK (United Kingdom) which I have echoed (a snapshot of the current page that's there) (here) in our member's archive for posterity.

Princess Victoria was one of the first of a new type of ferry to be used in UK and European waters. Weighing in at 2694 tons, the ferry could carry up to 1500 passengers as well as cars and lorries. The ferry was designed to serve between Stranraer in Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland and was equipped with the most up-to-date navigational equipment.


This was in itself a dangerous manoeuvre, since it would put the ship first broadside and then stern-on to those terrifying waves. The engines were slowed as the vessel prepared to turn to starboard for the return. Corkscrewing into the trough of a wave, the vessel managed to complete the turn but was pooped – smashed on the stern by the power of the waves – so that the car deck doors were damaged beyond repair and water flooded the deck.


Just 44 people survived the loss of the Princess Victoria. The Captain and his officers did not survive, nor did any of the women and children on board. David Broadfoot, who had courageously kept contact from the radio room until the sea flooded it, was awarded a posthumous George Cross. The captains of the merchant vessels were made members of the Order of the British Empire. Officers of the HMS Contest were awarded the George Medal for their bravery in entering the water to assist the survivors.

Among the dead were the Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and the MP (Member of Parliament) for North Down. The final death toll from the great storm in Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium was over 500, the foundering of the Princess Victoria being the largest single loss of life.

See also the Belfast Telegraph, Wikipedia and the BBC» (British Broadcasting Corporation - home page)

As I read this up, some other ferry disasters I have come across (and I have included Princess Victoria here for context) are:
-> Princess Victoria      31 Jan 1953   133
-> Eurpoean Gateway      19 Dec 1982   6
-> Herald of Free Enterprise    6 Mar 1987   193
-> Estonia         28 Sep 1994   852
-> European Causeway      18 Dec 2018   0
See (here) and (here) for some further data. But if you want to learn more, there is much more material out there.

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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2022, 12:26:53 am »

Worldwide there are far more, of course, and far worse too. I found a long study of the causes of ferry accidents that (with a minimum of 1 death) lists 139 conventional Ro-Ro ferry accidents, and 35 fast ferries. And that's only going back to 1966!

One of the causes is overcrowding, which unsurprisingly leads to large losses of life; up to 1863 (Le Joola, Senegal 2002) and 2976 (Spice Islander, Tanzania 2011).

Another compendium of not just ferry disasters is from Det Norske Veritas, and says it concentrates on the evacuations and rescue (but gives short summaries of the events as a whole). It starts with the Princess Victoria, flagging up that the rescuers took over four hours to find it due to having the wrong position. It also includes the Skagerak (ship and location), lost in 1966 in similar conditions (big storm stove in stern doors). However, that time everyone was recovered, though one passenger didn't survive. The difference is down to it staying afloat and upright for long enough to get everyone into lifeboats and rafts, and having more and better helicopters, as well as getting straight to it.
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