The Wreck

archival photograph NAC 579/e004410591
The damaged Storstad, following the collision with the Empress of Ireland, 1914. Library and Archives Canada, Department of marine fonds, Marine Branch, vol. 579/e004410591.

Which ship caused the collision that sunk the Empress of Ireland? An official inquiry determined that the Storstad was at fault. Controversy plagued the inquiry, however, as each captain accused the other of changing course in the fog.

Recent research proves that both captains gave honest testimony.

While port-to-port (left) passes are the norm according to nautical regulations, the Empress was en route to make a starboard pass. But Captain Kendall of the Empress had to correct his ship's trajectory in order to sail the fastest route to Liverpool. Given her size, a course change required a dramatic turn. The helmsman steered the Empress first to the starboard (right) side, then corrected the ship's course by swinging to the left, or portside. It was as the Empress was making her starboard turn that Storstad Chief Officer Alfred Toftenes spotted her portside light.

Due to the looming fog, Toftenes failed to notice that the Empress had corrected herself to make the portside turn. Thinking that the ships would make a portside pass, Toftenes swung his ship to the starboard side to further distance himself from the liner. In so doing, he crashed into the Empress.

graphic of the collision
Graphic of the collision.

last review/update: Jun. 11, 2015