Most ships sunk by a volcano
Last updated: June 2, 2018 at 15:39 pm
The eruption of Mount Pelée on the island of Martinique is believed to have sunk more than 200 vessels, including 18 large ships, on May 8, 1902. The pyroclastic flow that swept down the mountainside and destroyed the city of Saint-Pierre smothered the small fleet of 18 ships as well as dozens of fishing vessels in the harbour. All were instantly engulfed in flames. Only the British steamer Roddam managed to escape, although its captain and several sailors later died from severe burns. Passengers and crew aboard the Montreal-registered steamer Roraïma, which had sailed into the harbour less than 90 minutes earlier, raised their heads in horror when the volcano exploded with a frightful roar. When the ship’s cooper emerged from a hatch in a bid to escape, he found that most of the 68 souls on board were either dead or horribly injured strewn across the deck and covered in steaming mud. Those still alive begged for water that their burned, ash-choked throats could not swallow. Ships were sinking all around the Roraïma amidst patches of water alight with burning rum from the flattened distilleries and ruptured barrels. Her own cargo of potassium burned for three days before she sank. Read more about this disaster in our feature story: Deep rumblings shape modern Martinique.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau‘s exploration of the wrecks of Saint-Pierre was featured in his 1980 documentary film, Lost Relics of the Sea.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Minoan eruption of Thera (circa 1600 BCE), a.k.a. the Santorini eruption, and its related tsunami likely destroyed more vessels than the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902. However, in the absence of records and due to the range of the destruction, the number of vessels lost is impossible to accurately quantify.
Météry, M. 2011. Tamaya: Les épaves de Saint-Pierre. Editions du Rocher, Monaco.
Observed by Diving Almanac & Book of Records official
ABOVE: The Cousteau Odyssey: Lost Relics of the Sea (1982). Go to 00:40:15 for the segment on Équipe Cousteau exploring the shipwrecks of Saint-Pierre.
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Jeffrey Gallant is the Editor-in-Chief and Records Keeper of the Diving Almanac. He is also a contributing editor of DIVER Magazine, and the scientific director of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG). Jeffrey started diving in 1982.