Princess Victoria Disaster

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James Maxwell

Former Member
Hi to all you guys,

Hi to all you guys,
Just a short note to remind all the folk out there with a N.Ireland connection that today is the Anniversary of the sinking of the Princess Victoria off the mouth of Belfast Lough.
For those who don't know the story, The Princess Victoria was a car ferry sailing between the Scottish port of Stranraer and Larne on the coast of N.Ireland. She set sail at 07:45 on 31st Jan. 1953 and as she came out of the mouth of Lough Ryan was hit my an enormous storm, which burst her badly designed cargo doors.
She sent out maydays,which were answered by lifeboats in the area. However when the lifeboats arrived at her stated position they could not find her as she had continued to make what progress she could on one engine and was therefore quite some distance from her given position. She foundered off the Copeland Islands near the mouth of Belfast Lough with the loss of 133 souls. 44 were rescued. The skipper of the Donaghadee lifeboat at the time was awarded the British Empie Medal for his efforts in the rescue. At the time this was the greatest British maritime disaster for a quarter of a century.
Jim Maxwell
My mum sailed on her as a child. My grandparents have a picture of my mum on the deck I think.
I sailed on the Herald Of Free Enterprise a couple of years before it capsized.
I wonder How many of us have sailed on ill fated ships??
I sailed on the Herald in June 1986, it capsized the following March. It was a school trip and so we were running around all over the ship, taking photos, picking fights with kids from other schools etc. There were 7 survivors of the Herald from my home town. I've looked before on the 'net but there doesn't appear to be a site dedicated to the victims or survivors from the Herald, or even indeed the Princess Victoria. Is this right?


I was only young about 4 or 5, probably still 4 though.
I remember the foyer area a little and being on deck.
Being so young my memories of the ship are not so good.
We have a cine film from he holiday that includes her. Its in a cupboard somewhere!

In response.. When I was 5 (in 1967) my family crossed twice on the new car ferry T.E.V. WAHINE.
She was built at Farfields on Clyde and was to have only a life of 18 months.
I still have vivd memories of being on her and thinking, as a child, how solid she was. On April 10 1968 she was caught by a sudden and violent storm of Hurricane strength while entering the harbour. After going aground on a reef she drifted to her anchors up the harbour to capsize six hours later. During the ensuing struggle to make shore 51 lives were lost.

It is an event we have never forgotten here and it was one that would have a deep impact upon me.
In part it is responsible for my presence in Encyclopedia Titanica.

I thought this had a familier ring to it. I heard about this a few years ago on Discovery UK documentary when I was stationed in Iceland. Thanks for posting that Martin.

Michael H. Standart
Dear Michael,

Thanks for the connection.

I have that doco on tape. Not too bad .
3 funnel rating with the 4th falling.
The re-enactments didn't quite work as I have a great familiarity with this ship's interior and exterior decks. I did extensive research with the aid of my local mariime museum for an illustrated history I planned to write. She was a beautiful ship and even if it were not for 51 people who died it would have still been a sad loss.

The connections between Wahine, Estonia, Princess Victoria and Herald of Free Enterprise are disturbingly similar.

thanks again
Yep...ferries don't seem to do all that well when they get in trouble and that part about free surface action in the lengthy vehical deck seems to be a common denominator in the losses of nearly every single one.

I wouldn't be too hard on some of the re-enactments and interiors as they didn't have the Wahine available to do it with. Generally, these documentaries use any old ship they can get their hands on and resort to photographic trickery to muddy the waters some.

Michael H. Standart
I am slightly concerned that, in an earlier posting, it was suggested that the Stranraer-Larne cross-Channel motor vessel Princess Victoria was poorly designed. This ship, which had been built in 1947 to replace a very similar vessel that had been lost in WWII, was overwhelmed by the worst storm in living memory. The stern doors were damaged by mountainous waves when the captain attempted to return to Stranraer, and the vessel then drifted, out of control, towards the mouth of Belfast Lough, were she foundered with the loss of 133 lives.
The stern was closed in by gates of 5'6" height.
an equal gap above is open to the weather. A guillotine type sheild could be lowered to enclose this gap. I understand it was not employed on the day.

I am sure she was design to the best known standards of the time. We have since discovered this to be inadequate. This disaster revealed the grave danger posed by water of any sizable quantity getting onto the car deck.

All of our ferries here have been fitted with a hinged door that can be lowered to seal off the entire opening in the stern. This was the case when we ordered the ARAMOANA from Dennys [who also built the Princess Victoria]. Never have these doors failed, not even in the case of the Wahine which mention in this thread.

The important thing here is that we have learned from the lessons of that day in 1953 just as we here had to learn from that day in 1968.

all the best

David Broadfoot was the radio operator on the Princess Victoria and he was posthumously awarded the George Cross (the UK’s highest civilian award for bravery) for staying at his post transmitting the Morse distress signals.
My initial response was prompted by references to the disaster by authorities such as J.R.Currie and David L.Smith. The latter wrote that "The Princess Victoria had been well esteemed - a grand sea boat". However, the vessel was one of the first car ferries, her inward-opening stern doors being intended to do little more than stop passengers from falling into the sea. The additional steel door shown in the view of the stern was added around 1949, but the stern arrangements remained her great weakness and, as such, the design was criticised at the subsequent enquiry.

Nevertheless, when all is said and down, the Great Storm of 1953 was a natural event of apocalyptic proportions, over 2,000 people being being killed on the night of 31 January by the storm, or the associated tidal surge. In should also be remembered that, having been badly damaged by heavy seas at about 9.45 am, the MV Princess Victoria remained afloat for a further four hours before foundering (in contrast to the Herald of Free Enterprise went down in a few minutes).

The most tragic part of the disaster was the fact that ALL of the women and children were drowned - a fact that appears to have been particularly shocking to a nation schooled in the traditions of the Birkenhead and the Titanic.
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