Thursday, May 29, 2008

Today In History; Empress of Ireland Sinks

1914: While the 1912 sinking of the Titanic made headlines, the sinking of the Empress of Ireland was relatively unpublicized - even though its disastrous collision with the Norwegian coal freighter Storstad cost more lives. The Empress was not as fashionable or expensive as the Titanic, its passengers not as well known, but the damage was of epic proportions.

As the Empress sailed the icy St. Lawrence River, a thick fog rolled in suddenly. When the captain of the Empress saw the Storstad coming, he sounded the whistle to tell the Storstad he was altering course to pass the ship on the starboard (right) side. But the helmsman of the Storstad, confused by the bright lights of the cruise ship in the fog, thought the Empress was passing on the port (left) side. The bow of the Storstad, fashioned to slice through ice, cut into the Empress's side. Within minutes the Empress of Ireland sank. Of the 1,477 passengers, 1,012 died - eight more than in the Titanic tragedy. The wreck of the Empress of Ireland still lies at the bottom of the St. Lawrence, off the shore of St. Luce, Quebec. It was proclaimed a protected historic and archeological site by Quebec in 1999. Today the Empress of Ireland has become a popular attraction for scuba divers, but she is still claiming lives. The frigid temperatures, fast changing currents, and low visibility make this shipwreck dive one of the most dangerous in the world.

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