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Accidents and the lessons learned

Disaster on the Thames, Princess Alice 1878

Improving safety at sea has followed two principles: making accidents less likely to happen and making the consequences of any accident less serious for the ship and particularly for those on board. Here are some examples of serious accidents to ships and the efforts that have been made to prevent them happening in the future.

On the evening of 3rd September 1878, the excursion steamer Princess Alice was returning from Gravesend, Kent, to London with over 800 passengers on board. A sudden change of course by her captain meant that she was hit by the cargo steamer Bywell Castle which was outward bound down the river Thames. The Princess Alice was cut in two, her bow [definition] section sinking immediately and the stern [definition] section five minutes later. Because the Bywell Castle was empty and high out of the water, no one could scramble aboard her. Despite boats going to their assistance, over 640 persons were lost, including her captain.

[20384] 'Princess Alice raised from the Thames'

Magnifying glass'Princess Alice' raised from the Thames

On the assumption that collisions will always happen, ships` hulls began to be fitted with watertight bulkheads [definition], although this took a number of years to happen. The principle is that, if one section of the hull is holed [definition] and fills with water, the other sections should have enough buoyancy [definition ] to keep the ship afloat, or at least delay its sinking until most of those on board can take to the lifeboats or be rescued.


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