Wednesday, 15 April 2009

97 years ago

The SS Titanic went down in early hours of 15 April 1912 with the loss of 1517 lives, although 706 survived. Only one of that number is left alive today - a lady now aged 97, then aged only 9 weeks. In remembering those who drowned in Titanic, I would like to point to other maritime disasters in peacetime which claimed large numbers of lives as well.

SS Norge was holed on Rockall in June 1904 and sank in minutes, taking 635 emigrants to the bottom with her. Lifeboats did manage to take 160 to safety, but there were nowhere near enough lifeboats on the Norge to take all. Nine casualties made it ashore at Stornoway, but did not survive. They lie buried at Sandwick Cemetery, 20 minutes' walk from the town. The lessons that should have been learned from her sinking (which was to provide sufficient lifeboats and rafts for all on board) could have saved hundreds of lives on Titanic. But false economies meant that the recommendations, drawn up by the Danish maritime authorities in the wake of the tragedy, were never implemented.

HMY Iolaire went down on rocks just outside Stornoway Harbour on 1 January 1919. She was carrying 300 sailors from the Outer Hebrides home after four years of war. The two lifeboats were useless, as they were smashed against the rocks immediately after launch - and would never have been enough to carry all on board.

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