The Doomed Voyage

On a balmy tropical afternoon in October 1927, the Principessa Mafalda steamed towards the Albrolhos Islands, off the coast of the Brazilian state of Bahia. The liner was bound for Rio de Janeiro, with a final destination of Buenos Aires in Argentina.The ship, which had had a relatively uneventful career since its launch in 1908, was about to enter the history books as one of the worst shipping disasters of the Twentieth Century and arguably the greatest loss of life in a shipping accident in the Southern Hemisphere.

Under command of Capt. Simon Guli she left the Cape Verde Islands heading for Rio de Janeiro on 18th of October 1927 with 971 passengers and 288 crew-members.

On the afternoon of the 25th when nearing Abrolhos Island off the coast of Brazil, she passed the Blue Star steamship "Empirestar" under command of Capt C.R. Cooper. Only ten minutes later they recieved a SOS signal, stating engine trouble.They turned the ship back and found the stricken liner with the boats hoisted out. Hundreds of passengers were crowding the upper deck in panic, some jumping into the sea. Some boats were collapsing others swamped by people in panic.It seemed the only trouble was a broken propeller shaft which let water into the engine room as a result of which some boilers burst.When the ship settled down a bit with a slight list to port, panic broke out and crew were occupied in calming down the passengers instead of trying to save the ship. Anyway, the Empirestar's crew were trying to rescue as many people as they could. Later they were assisted by some other vessels which arrived at the scene.

The final result was that 314 people were drowned, a dramatically high number since the vessel stayed afloat for 4 hours and 20 minutes.


The Principessa Mafalda raised anchor in Genoa on the 11th of October 1927. She carried 300 tonnes of cargo including 600-700 mailbags. The ship also had 250,000 gold lira destined from the Italian government to the Argentine government. This was loaded on board by five armed guards.

The company reported straight after the accident that the passenger list consisted of three First class, 10 Second Class and 9 Third Class passengers for Rio de Janeiro, with 6 First Class, 4 Second Class and 48 Third Class passengers for Santos, with two First Class, four Second Class and 48 Third Class bound for Montevideo and finally 41 First Class, 55 Second Class and 711 Third Class passengers destined for Buenos Aires.

According to the Italian Embassy in Rio, there were included in the Third Class were 212 "foreigners". These were 118 Syrians, 38 Yugoslavs, two Austrians, one Swiss, one Argentine, one Uruguayan and fifty Spanish citizens. This may imply that the rest were Italians emigrating to Argentina and Brazil.





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