Princess Victoria disaster claimed lives of 135 in 1953 tragedy

Memorial services have been held in Larne and Stranraer to mark the 70th anniversary of the Princess Victoria disaster.

Disaster struck during a sailing between Stranraer and Larne on 31 January 1953 with the loss of 135 lives.


MV Princess Victoria was one of the first roll-on/roll-off ferries. The style of ferry is now a familiar one on the Irish Sea, allowing vehicles to drive on and off on their own wheels rather than being lifted.

It was completed in 1947 and made daily sailings between Larne and Stranraer.


The ferry departed the Scottish dock at 7.45am with 179 people on board, including 49 crew.

Despite strong winds, the decision was made to continue with the sailing and to head to sea.

However, as the ferry departed the shelter of Loch Ryan, it encountered rough seas which forced open the doors of the car deck. The area quickly flooded.

The ferry started to list to starboard (right) as the water came onboard.

The first distress call was made at 9:46am: “Hove-to off mouth of Loch Ryan. Vessel not under command. Urgent assistance of tugs required".

At 10:32am an SOS was sent as the ship was now in immediate danger and at 1:15pm the message was sent that the ship was being abandoned.

Captain James Ferguson is reported to have stood at salute on the bridge as the ship went down.


The rescue operation was hampered by the stormy conditions that had led to the ferry flooding. There was also confusion as to the location of the ship which has reported as being five miles north-west of Corsewall point, but was actually closer to the coast of Northern Ireland.

The actual position of the ship was transmitted at 1:35pm and four merchant ships located in Belfast Lough headed to see to assist with the rescue.

However, they were unable to rescue survivors from the lifeboats due to the danger of them hitting the larger vessel in the story conditions.

Instead they provided shelter from the raging sea, until the Sir Samuel Kelly lifeboat from Donaghadee arrived.

Captains of merchant ships involved in the rescue, James Kelly of Carnlough, Captain of the Pass of Drumochter, James Alexander Bell of the Lairdsmoor, David Brewster of the Eastcotes and Hugh Angus of Orchy were all made members of the Order of the British Empire.

Lieutenant Commander Stanley Lawrence McArdle and Chief Petty Officer Wilfred Warren of HMS Contest were both awarded the George Medal for diving into the water to help survivors.

Forty-four men were saved by lifeboats from Donaghadee and Portpatrick.

No women or children survived – it’s believed the lifeboat they were in flipped over. In all 135 people died, with 27 of the victims from Larne.

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