SS Morro Castle Disaster

By | June 28, 2019

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SS Morro Castle. Source: (

The SS Morro Castle was a cruise ship that sailed between New York and Havana during the early 1930s. Despite existing during the Prohibition and therefore offering only alcohol-free entertainment, it was a successful enterprise until its tragic final voyage in September of 1934.

The 508-foot ship was named for the fortress guarding Havana Bay and could accommodate up to 489 paying guests in addition to the crew. When it departed Havana on September 5, 1934, it was carrying a total of 549 passengers on board. The ship encountered high winds on the journey but it wasn’t a storm that would be the ship’s undoing.

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The ship’s namesake, Morro Castle, Havana. Source: (

On the evening of September 7, the ship’s captain, Robert Wilmott, skipped dinner, complaining of an upset stomach. He was found dead later that evening of a heart attack allegedly caused by “acute indigestion.” Chief Officer William Warms took command of the ship as acting captain and they continued on their way to New York.

At around 2:50 a.m. on September 8, a fire broke out on B deck. The crew attempted to extinguish the fire, but several factors were working against them. For one, the high winds were fanning the flames and funneling them through pipes which were used to cool the ship as there was no air conditioning at that time. The fire doors were not activated, and the ship’s wood-paneled, lacquered walls fueled the fire. To make matters worse, there was gunpowder on board which exploded.