Quick, list the top three shipwrecks in history. Titanic, Lusitania and ..? The Empress of Ireland was built in Scotland to take part in the lucrative cross-Atlantic market. The Empress was so fast that it could routinely make the cross in 6 days.
One fateful day in 1914 the Empress left Quebec City, with passengers and crew totaling more than 1400 souls, bound for Liverpool, UK. A few hours after they left port the Empress was struck broadside by a Norwegian collier, the Storstad. The Empress sunk in less that 14 minutes taking 1078 to a watery grave. Only 300 bodies were ever found.
What happened to cause the collision is still a Mystery of Canada.
The two vessels actually saw each other when they were about 3 miles apart, but the Empress then moved into a fog bank which had moved onto the waterway from shore. When the Empress emerged from the fog, it was struck by the Storstad. The bow of the Storstad ripped a long gash on the starboard side between the two funnels and just a few feet aft of watertight bulkhead Number 5. This separated the forward and aft boiler rooms. The Storstad was estimated to have penetrated 12 to 15 feet into the Empress’ side between Shelter Deck and the double-bottom hull on Orlop Deck. Water rushing in listed the vessel very quickly. Within 3 minutes the lighting failed and 11 minutes later the Empress slipped under the surface and came to rest on its starboard side at about 145 feet.
In 1914 salvage divers using the ship’s deck plans exploded a section out of the port side of the Empress, where they removed mail and salvaged the purser’s safe. Today, experienced scuba divers dive the wreck during the summer months when conditions are at their best.