The SS Morro Castle received its name from the towering fortress that guards Havana Bay.
The massive ocean liner set sail on its final voyage in August 1930 from New York to Havana and back again. For many guests aboard the luxury ship, sailing was a means of escaping the Great Depression and Prohibition to enjoy a few drunken days at sea.
The ship had taken the same sea route for years, but as the Morro Castle headed back to New York on Sept. 5, 1934, no one anticipated the disaster that would soon unfold.
Heading north toward the States, the ship began to fight strong wind gusts that came ahead of a raging storm.
Two days after leaving Havana, Captain Robert Wilmott began experiencing severe stomach pains following dinner service that evening. A few short hours later, the sea captain was found dead in his cabin after suffering an apparent heart attack. At this time, Chief Officer William Warms took over command of the ship as it steered closer to home.
As the ship continued on its journey, the nor’easter created choppy waters. In the early hours of the day, a fire had broken out in a storage locker found on one of the decks.
Under the command of an inexperienced captain, the crew tried to put out the flames. The strong winds proved to be a direct obstacle for the crew, since the winds strengthened the fire and carried it through most of the deck’s interior.
After failing to put out the blaze and multiple attempts at sending out an SOS, many crew members abandoned the ship, leaving the confused passengers to fend for themselves.
As the fire and smoke grew stronger, most passengers were unable to find lifeboats and instead opted for plunging into the sea.
Responders to the SOS were slow to arrive at the ship due to the less than ideal weather conditions. Once the media caught on to the disaster aboard the Morro Castle, civilians began lining the Jersey coast to help receive drifting lifeboats and any survivors from the disaster.
The next day, the charred remains of the luxury cruise liner washed ashore on the beach at Asbury Park.
Of the 549 passengers and crew members aboard the ship, a total of 86 passengers and 49 crew died.
During an investigation into how the fire aboard the Morro Castle started, it was discovered that the ship didn’t meet safety standards. Nearly the entire boat was covered in wooden veneers and coated with flammable paint. The emergency fire doors were ineffective and water pressure in the water system was barely enough to operate more than a few hoses and fire hydrants at a time.
Some speculate that George W. Rogers, the chief radio engineer aboard the Morro Castle, might have been involved in starting the fire.
Some conspiracy theorists believe that the man was hired by the steamship company to set fire to the ship in an attempt to collect the large insurance policy. After working on the ship, he was convicted of attempted murder at another job.
Regardless of how and why the Morro Castle disaster occurred, the incident did bring about much-needed change to maritime safety standards.
If you feel like trolling a loved one who’s about to take a relaxing cruise, be sure to share this with them! They’ll definitely appreciate it.