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Shipwrecks

1922 The sunken liner the Egypt – and her gold bars

The elegant Edwardian P&O liner the Egypt was bound for Bombay on her very last voyage when, in the Bay of Biscay, she found herself in such dense fog, she almost came to a standstill. Knowing the ship was now close to a main trading route, the captain ordered the liner to travel slowly and carefully.

But at 7pm, she was rammed by the French cargo steamer the Seine, whose bows were strengthened to deal with Baltic ice. The Egypt keeled over from the impact, and sank within 20 minutes.

The Egypt would probably be long forgotten had she not been carrying about ten tons of silver and five tons of gold bars – in all, a fortune worth over £1m.

Most of this precious cargo was insured at Lloyd‘s and at a depth of 400ft was deemed unsalvageable. However an Italian crew, lead by the irrepressible salvage expert Giovanni Quaglia and using a state of the art diving suit, managed to locate the wreck, detonate explosives to find a path to the strongroom and – the weather broke. During the winter, most of the crew, but not Commander Quaglia were killed on another operation. But then, in 1932, the Lutine Bell rang to announce that two gold bars had been found. Within the next four years, 98 per cent of the fortune had been recovered.

1909

White Star Line’s RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Republic collided with the Florida in thick fog off Nantucket, Massachusetts, in shark-infested water. The Republic was equipped with the new Marconi telegraph system, and became the first ship in history to issue a telegraphed distress signal. It was successfully picked up so, although the ship (which was loaded with gold and jewellery) sank, no lives were lost.

1914

The Empress of Ireland was rammed in fog in the St Lawrence River, and sank in 15 minutes, with the loss of over 1,000 lives.

1956

The Andrea Doria, a stunningly beautiful liner and an icon of Italian pride, was struck in fog by the Swedish-American Stockholm just off Nantucket Light. The ship stayed afloat for over 11 hours, so nearby vessels could rescue the majority of the passengers, though 46 people died. But this remains one of the worst maritime disasters to occur in US waters, and it cost underwriters $13m, and Lloyd‘s nearly $6m. 1958

Indonesia seized 40 Dutch ships. A Lloyd’s delegation flew to Jakarta – and managed to negotiate the ships’ return.

1989

The oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in the Gulf of Alaska, spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil onto the coastline: the second largest oil spill in US history