Empress of Canada catches fire and sinks at Liverpool

canada tilted + fire engineCanadian Pacific’s Empress of Canada had arrived at Liverpool on 10th January 1953 for her annual refit. Once complete, on 24th January she was moved from the drydock to Gladstone Dock. She was already well-booked for the coming season, as it was the Coronation Year in the UK. The next day, 25th January, there were around 250 workers aboard completing the final cleaning, plus a skeleton crew.

canada-fireThat afternoon fire broke out on B Deck, and quickly spread. The fire was so intense 18 pumps were called in as well as a fire and salvage tug. Eventually there were over 40 units and 200 firemen on site. Firefighters had to wear breathing apparatus. At 10.00pm the order was given to abandon ship, and the firemen were ordered to concentrate on protecting the adjacent warehouses.

rolled post fireEarly the next morning Empress of Canada capsized. She was soon declared a total loss, and salvage operations began. After removing all top hamper and sealing any openings, on 6th March 1954 she was rolled upright and then raised. On 14th September the remains were sold for scrapping at La Spezia, but the tow proved extremely difficult and she didn’t arrive until 10th October 1954, where she was finally demolished.

25th January 1917 –
Laurentic sunk, 354 lost

Laurentic grey CanadianEn route from Liverpool to Halifax, on 25th January 1917 White Star’s Laurentic hit two mines that had been laid by German submarine U80 in Lough Swilly. She had 479 passengers aboard, mainly naval personnel, and £5 million in gold bullion, to be used to purchase war munitions. All told, 354 aboard died, many dying of exposure in their lifeboats in the freezing weather that night.

A few weeks later attempts were made to recover the gold, but bad weather prevented them salvaging very much. In 1919, salvage operations began to try to recover the bullion and eventually virtually all of it was eventually lifted.

Laurentic at BelfastLaurentic had been launched at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, on 9th September 1907, and could carry 230 in First, 430 in Second and 1,000 in Third, plus a large refrigerated cargo. She had a combination of two reciprocating engines and a low-pressure turbine, and was a test bed alongside her sister, Megantic, for the system to be installed in the Olympic Class. She had been requisitioned as a troopship on 13th September 1914.