The bottoms of the world's oceans and seas are covered with sunken ships, some of which are thousands of years old. It is now estimated that there are around three million shipwrecks out there.
Many of these sunken ships are historically significant and even protected as underwater cultural heritage sites by UNESCO. In particular, UNESCO wants to protect famous lost shipwrecks, including sunken warships that might contain the remains of sailors killed in naval battles. This article will show you some famous shipwrecks of the world.
10 Famous Shipwrecks
The Royal Mail Ship Titanic
The RMS Titanic might be the most famous shipwreck of all. Her sinking captured public imagination because she was the largest liner of her time and she was on her maiden voyage when she struck an iceberg in 1912. The wreck of the RMS Titanic is located 370 miles southeast of the coast of Newfoundland. RMS Titanic was one of the world's most famous lost shipwrecks until she was located in 1985. The wreck is still visible but is deteriorating. The only remnants of the 1,517 passengers who died on the Titanic are their shoes: sea animals ate their bodies and their skeletons. The ship will one day share their fate because metal-eating bacteria are slowly consuming it. There have been several proposals to raise the Titanic, none of which are practical. Today the Titanic's watery grave, once a mystery, is now a tourist attraction.
The MV Dona Paz
This seemingly humble passenger ferry goes down as one of the world's deadliest shipwrecks. Her sinking in December 1987 claimed the lives of 4,386 people, making her sinking the deadliest maritime disaster in peacetime in history. The Dona Paz was originally a Japanese ferry named the Himeyuri Maru, which was designed to carry just 608 people. The Dona Paz was sailing between Manila and outlying islands when she was struck by an oil tanker called the MT Vector and caught fire. Both ships sank in the shark-infested Tablas Straight. The death toll was so high because rescuers did not arrive for eight hours. The Dona Paz now lies under 545 meters of water, where she is known as Asia's Titanic.
The MV Le Joola
Like the Dona Paz, the Le Joola was a ferry owned and operated by the armed forces of the African nation of Senegal. Also, the Le Joola was severely overcrowded when she went down: there were 2,000 passengers on board at the time of the sinking—three times the capacity for which the ship was designed. Ironically enough, La Jolla had just reentered service after repairs when she returned to service. The exact number of casualties from the disaster is unknown because many people did not have tickets. The Le Joola is the second worst peacetime maritime disaster in history after the Dona Paz.
The Vasa was a giant warship designed to be the flagship of Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus's Navy. Ironically enough, the Vasa foundered and sank on her maiden voyage just outside the harbor of Sweden's capitol of Stockholm in 1628. The ship never made it to Poland, where the king was waging war. The Vasa remained on the bottom of the sea until 1961, when she was raised and moved to a museum at the Vasa Shipyard. Since she was raised, the Vasa has become the world's most visited shipwreck: 29 million people have visited the ship since it went on display.
The MS World Discoverer
Built in Germany as a cruise ship, this vessel was designed for adventure cruises and visited many of the world's most remote locations, including the Falkland Islands and the Arctic Ocean. The World Discoverer struck something and sank in the Sandfly Passage in the Solomon Islands on April 30, 2000. The captain was able to sail the ship into a bay on Nggela Island, where it remains to this day. No attempt was made to salvage the World Discoverer because a civil war was waging in the area. It is believed that local pirates or rebels looted the wreck during the fighting. The World Discoverer is still there and is now a popular tourist attraction often visited by other cruise ships.
The MV Captayannis
Known as the "sugar boat" because she was carrying a load of sugar when she went down, this Greek freighter has been sitting in the middle of Scotland's River Clyde since 1974. The ship sank after the anchor chains of an oil tanker ripped out her bottom. British tugs were able to rescue the ship's crew. The sugar boat is still visible from the shore, but she has been looted by salvagers. The sugar boat is now home to birds and marine life. The sugar boat's remains sit near the location where a French warship called the Maille Breze sank during World War II. That ship was salvaged for scrap in 1956.
The USS Arizona
The USS Arizona, the America's most famous and visited shipwreck, is a Pennsylvania class battleship. The Arizona was sunk during the Japanese surprise attack on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941. Ironically, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had sent the Arizona to Hawaii to deter Japanese imperialism. A total of 1,117 US Navy personnel died when the Arizona sank. The ship's sinking was caused by a massive explosion, probably in the powder magazines that powered her big guns. When the Navy could not salvage her, the Arizona's superstructure was removed and placed on the battleship Nevada, which fired them at Japanese territory. Some of the guns were also used as battery to defend Hawaii. A floating memorial now marks the site of the Arizona. The ashes of many survivors of the Arizona's sinking have been interned on ship. Oil still leaks from the Arizona's hull, making her a threat to the environment.
The Royal Mail Ship Lusitania
After the Titanic, the RMS Lusitania is the world's most famous sunken liner. Like Titanic, Lusitania had once been the world's biggest ship. She entered history in 1915, when the German submarine U-20 fired a torpedo into her 11 miles off the coast of Ireland in the Celtic Sea during World War I. Most of the passengers, 1,198 people, on the ship died in the sinking. Many historians believe the sinking of the Lusitania helped propel America's entry into World War I. The wreck of the Lusitania lies in 300 feet of water. Three of the ship's four propellers were removed in 1982. Since then the British government has made unsuccessful legal actions to stop salvaging. Divers who visited the Lusitania discovered that German contentions that she was a legitimate target were correct: the liner was carrying four million rounds of rifle ammunition, which would have been used to kill German soldiers.
The Schooner Sweepstakes
The Schooner Sweepstakes is one of the world's most visited sunken ships because she is located in the Fathom National Marine Park in Tobermory, Ontario. The Sweepstakes sunk in Big Tub Harbor in 1885 while a tug was trying to bring her into port. Thousands of divers have visited the Sweepstakes and another popular wreck—the City of Grand Rapids—since the Fathom Five National Marine Park opened. The Sweepstakes wreck is so popular that park authorities have had to put up fences to protect the wreck from divers.
The Bismarck was only one of two full-sized German battleships launched during World War II. Ironically enough, the Bismarck was only in service for eight months. She was launched in August 1940 and scuttled by her crew in May 1941 to prevent Britain's Royal Navy from seizing her. Even though the Bismarck was one of the largest and most modern warships in the world, she was badly damaged in attacks by Fairey Swordfish, a kind of obsolete British torpedo bombers. After a bombardment from British warships, the Bismarck's crew decided to sink her to keep her out of enemy hands. The Bismarck's remains were discovered by Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the Titanic, in 1989. Surprisingly, the Bismarck's hull is still intact despite being hit by several 14-inch shells fired by the British Battleship King George V in 1941.