The Shocking Cruise Ship Disasters You Need to Know About

For the most part, cruise ships are incredibly safe. For every disaster that occurs on a ship, there are many, many more completely safe voyages. However, cruise ships aren’t untouchable.

We’re not trying to dissuade you from taking a vacation at sea, but, for those who are curious, here are some of the biggest disasters to happen on a cruise ship through the years.

1. The poop cruise

Carnival cruise ship
It was a total nightmare. | Paul McConnell/U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

This cruise disaster earned its horrifying name when, thanks to an engine fire, the Carnival Triumph lost power and had to collect all of the on-board sewage waste into biohazard bags. Then, the crew piled up the bags next to guest cabins. What’s worse? We now know that the ship set sail with full knowledge that it had an ongoing problem with the engine. Thus, the voyage turned into an eight-day nightmare of floating in the Gulf of Mexico without power, air-conditioning, or a working septic system.

2. Engine fire number two

Stranded cruise ship fire
Tug boats towed them back to shore. | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Similar to the first disaster, this Carnival Splendor cruise also experienced an engine fire. As a result, 4,500 passengers had their seven-day trip to Mexico cut to three days of getting towed back to the San Diego Bay. Passengers had no working toilets and had to eat rations of food (apparently, lots of spam) because the refrigerators were down.

3. The Costa Concordia

Costa Concordia cruise ship
32 of the passengers died. | Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

In 2012, a luxury cruise ship ran aground on a reef just off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. According to The Guardian, there were 4,200 passengers on board. Of those passengers, 32 died and 64 suffered injuries. Helicopters had to be called in to rescue a number of the passengers trapped inside. The evacuees were taken to the Tuscan island of Giglio, where they stayed in schools, hotels, and churches until they were able to return home.

4. Pirates

3D Cruise Destination Ocean
Thankfully, they were able to scare off the pirates. | Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images

In 2015, 100 miles off the coast of Somalia, a pirates attacked a Seaborn Spirits ship. The pirates fired with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades before the captain was able to change course and escape. Thankfully, no one was hurt. When the attack began, the crew ushered guests into the ballroom for safety and created a loud bang to make the pirates believe they were firing back.

5. The Norovirus outbreak

Norovirus cruise ship
It affected a large group of passengers. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On a Celebrity Mercury cruise in 2010, there was a Norovirus outbreak (a virus that spreads quickly in close quarters) that affected more than 400 of the 2,600 passengers and crew. The symptoms included “vomiting and other gastrointestinal ills.” The ship had to bring on additional doctors and nurses to help those affected.

6. Flooded cabins

Stormy Cruise Ship Deck
Many passengers chose to disembark. | Welcomia/iStock/Getty Images

In 2005, at least 62 cabins were flooded when a 70-foot wave smashed into a Norwegian Dawn ship, which was sailing from New York City to the Bahamas. The wave was so big and powerful, it reached up to the tenth deck. 300 of the ship’s passengers opted to leave early in Charleston, South Carolina, as soon as the storm passed.

7. The S.S. Eastland

chicago river bridge
The accident was a direct result of regulations imposed after the Titanic. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

All the way back in 1915, just three years after the Titanic sank, the S.S. Eastland rolled over onto its side while still at dock. The ship was carrying Western Electric employees to celebrate their fifth-annual employee picnic. Tragically, out of the 2,500 passengers and crew members, more than 800 people died, including 22 entire families.

8. Missing man

The Carnival Freedom
He fell over the side after drinking. | Karen Bleier/Getty Images

A young man named Daniel Dipiero went missing on a Royal Caribbean ship in 2006. He had been on the cruise with friends. After 18 hours of not being able to locate Dipiero, his family was notified of his missing status. Later, looking at the security footage, the tapes show Dipiero falling asleep on a lounge chair on the deck after one of the ship’s bartenders cut off his drinking. He got up to vomit off the side of the ship only to fall over into the water.

9. An allegedly drugged drink

cruise passenger by pool
Someone took advantage of a woman sitting alone. | Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

On the International Cruise Victims website, a young woman wrote about her experience being drugged on a Carnival cruise. She says she was drinking by the pool alone when the waiter delivered her a drink she didn’t order. She said the ones she had been ordering were pink, and this one was blue. However, the waiter insisted that she ordered it and that she must have forgotten. The woman had a couple sips of the blue drink only to immediately start feeling sick. She reported vomiting, blacking out, and waking up in her room. “I believe a date rape drug had been slipped into my last drink,” she said.

10. Legionnaires’ disease

MSC Musica cruise ship approaching the port in Kotor
A Fred Olson cruise ship caused the death of one passenger. | Makinwa/iStock/Getty Images

A Fred Olsen cruise was cut short in 2007 when there was dangerous bacteria found on the ship. Days after returning home, passenger Robert Heath began to feel sick. Though doctors prescribed him antibiotics, he died a few days after returning home from his trip. It turns out, he had been exposed to Legionnaires’ disease on the ship. The cruise line ended up paying over $100,000 to settle the case.

11. Norovirus strikes again

Another outbreak caused more illnesses. | iStock/Getty Images

In 2010, over 350 passengers became ill on a Caribbean cruise ship, as well as 27 crew members. Symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea and upset stomachs. They didn’t officially name Norovirus as the culprit. However, the symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea, and upset stomach) matched, and the virus has a tendency to spread rapidly in close quarters.

12. A sudden jolt

Cruise Ship Vacation Holiday Summer Illustration
There were 16 passengers injured. | Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Getty Images

A Seattle-based ship heading to the Straight of Juan de Fuca injured 16 passengers in May 2017 when the captain made a sudden maneuver. After the jolt, the ship started to lean to one side, worrying the passengers that the ship was about to capsize. There was major damage to the interior of the ship, but passengers reported that the crew did the best they could. 

13. Crew member death

The cruise liner "Harmony of the Seas" is towed by tug boats into its new moorings at the STX Shipyards
The violent death was a traumatizing shock. | Georges Gobet/Getty Images

In January 2016, a Caribbean cruise employee died while working on an elevator. 66-year-old electrician Jose Sandoval Opazo was working on an electrical issue in the elevator shaft when the elevator came down and killed him. Guests found the tragic scene: A sheet of blood pouring down from the broken elevator.

14. Stormy weather

Cruise Ships in The Port of Miami, Florida, United States
They had to avoid flying objects. | Jirivondrous/iStock/Getty Images

In February 2016, a Royal Caribbean cruise set sail knowing a violent storm could hit them. (They had planned to outrun it but were unsuccessful.) The journey ended early after 125-mile-per-hour winds knocked the boat around. One passenger said the water were so rough at one point that the boat was at a 45 degree angle. For almost 12 hours, passengers had to hunker down in their rooms to avoid any flying furniture and glassware.

15. The Titanic

Raise the Titanic
Raise the Titanic | Associated Film Distribution

You can’t talk about cruise ship disasters without mentioning the Titanic. Over 1,500 of the “unsinkable” ship’s 2,200 passengers and crew died after the boat hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912. After hitting the iceberg, the ship sank into the icy water. It was the Titanic’s maiden voyage.