MV Princess Victoria Sinks

A car ferry has sunk in the Irish Sea in one of the worst gales in living memory claiming the lives of more than 130 passengers and crew.

The Princess Victoria, a British Railways car ferry, bound for Larne in Northern Ireland, had left Stranraer on the south-west coast of Scotland an hour before when the stern gates to the car deck were forced open in heavy seas.

Water flooded into the ship and as the cargo shifted, the ferry, one of the first of the roll on-roll off design, fell onto her side and within four hours she sank.

The Princess Victoria was built by William Denny & Brothers, Dumbarton for the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR). This was one of the earliest roll-on, roll-off car ferries to be employed in British coastal waters. The ship was no doubt part of the rebuilding program to replace the losses sustained during the Second World War. In fact her predecessor had struck a mine in the Humber estuary during 1940 and sunk. The new ferry was used on the short Stranraer to Larne service, with Stranraer being her port of registry.

At the very end of January 1953 a great storm moved south west from Norway across to Scotland, the high winds (100 mph+) combined with a high spring tide preceded by a coastal surge caused memorable and widespread flooding along the North Sea coasts, particularly in the Netherlands. Whilst many lives were lost in both the United Kingdom and the Low Countries, the Netherlands in particular, the largest single loss of life that occurred during this storm took place in the Irish Sea with the sinking of the car ferry Princess Victoria.

The loss of the Stranraer-Larne ferry Princess Victoria in a severe storm in the North Channel on 31st January, 1953, with the loss of 133 lives, was a great tragedy for the towns of Stranraer and Larne and their surrounding areas, where most of the victims lived, but it was also an event of national importance as the worst ferry disaster ever to occur in British coastal waters. However, it has arguably an even wider significance as possibly the world's first sinking of a roll-on, roll-off ferry and as such it occupies first place in a list which was later to include Herald of Free Enterprise and the Estonia.