Empress of Ireland remembered 100 years on, with surprise cruise ship appearance

The 100-year anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic garnered much media attention and even included a commemorative cruise aboard a chartered Fred Olsen Cruise Lines ship following the exact course Titanic took across the Atlantic, with the same First Class menus served throughout the voyage.

However, another peacetime maritime disaster that saw the loss of almost as many lives is often forgotten as a mere footnote in history, yet it had a significant impact on ship design in the years to come. The RMS Empress of Ireland sank on the 28th of May, 1914 after colliding with a coal carrier, she went under in just 14 minutes, taking more than 1,000 people with her.

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On 28th May, 2014, at 00:55 hours, the exact time the two ships collided, church bells in Rimouski and Sainte-Luce-sur-Mer rang out over the St. Lawrence River in the darkness. Their haunting echo on the night air was a small tribute to the lives of those who were lost aboard Empress of Ireland, 138 of whom were children.

The descendants of those lost had gathered at Pointe-au-Père Marine Historic Site and as the bells rang out over the river, they noticed a cruise ship passing over the exact spot where Empress of Ireland had sunk. It was the 238m, 1252-passenger luxury cruise liner Oceania Marina, which had departed the Port of Quebec, just as the Empress of Ireland had done a century earlier.

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Oceania Cruises intimate commemoration of the RMS Empress of Ireland sinking did not make world headlines, but it was a touching reminder that the industry does not forget the painful mistakes from which it is forced to learn. The Empress of Ireland sinking led to naval design changes that called for a swept forward bow, rather than the vertical bow common to ships in the early 20th century.

So next time you look at the beautiful tapered bow of a modern cruise liner, spare a thought for Empress of Ireland and the 1,012 you went down with her. Oceania Marina was visiting Quebec as part of a 16-night New York to Dover trans-Atlantic cruise. Luckily on that night, unlike 100 year ago, the air was clear and the waters were calm.

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