5th March 1916 – Spanish tragedy in South Atlantic

Principe_de_AsturiasThe Príncipe de Asturias, built at Russells in Port Glasgow, was owned by the Spanish company Naviere Pinilllos. She was launched in April 1914, with an older sister, Infanta Isabel, launched in 1912. They were some of the most luxurious liners built in this Edwardian period of splendid ships! Sailing from Barcelona to Buenos Aires, they stopped at several intermediate ports en route. She was 460 feet long, with quadruple expansion engines and twin propellers giving a service speed of 18 knots, and was 8,371grt. Her maiden voyage was 16th August 1914, and she was an immediate success.

principe stairsPríncipe de Asturias sailed from Barcelona on 17th February 1916, her sixth voyage, stopping at Valencia, Cadiz and Las Palmas, with 558 passengers and nearly 200 crew aboard. Her cargo included several thousand ingots of tin, lead, iron and copper, plus 20 large bronze statues destined for a large statue to be erected in Buenos Aires to commemorate the centenary of its independence. However, on 5th March 1916, sailing at speed in dense fog near the island of Sao Sebastiao while heading for the port of Santos in Brazil, she ran onto a reef. Within minutes she was listing at such an angle it was impossible to launch the lifeboats, and the weather was too bad. In the resulting tragedy, 445 died, one of the worst maritime incidents of the early years of the 20th century.

The wreck of Príncipe de Asturias is still popular with sporting divers, although the currents are dangerous and the waters often very cold. Over the years various rumours have arisen, some claiming that up to 45,000 pounds of gold were aboard, and others that up to a thousand illegal emigrants escaping the war in Europe were aboard, hidden in a hold, and that all died in the wreck. Several salvage efforts have been attempted, using dynamite to open up the wreck to find any gold. Nothing has yet been found.