The sinking of the MV Goya was one of the worst ship disasters of all time. By “worst ship disaster,” we mean deadliest ship disaster, and deadly it was. When the Goya sank, nearly all of the approximately 7,000 passengers and crew members on board the ship died. With a death toll near 7,000, it is the second deadliest disaster in recorded maritime history. The most deadly ship disaster involved the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, and the sinking of this vessel shares many similarities with the sinking of the Goya. Both were German ships that participated in World War II (WWII), both were taken down by Soviet submarines, and both were catastrophic in terms of loss of human life. Below is an overview of the Goya disaster, as well as the Goya’s role in WWII.
[NOTE: Why is this article about the sinking of a vessel that is not a cruise ship on a site that is about pleasure cruises? Because we had such an overwhelmingly positive response to our articles about the sinkings of the Titanic, the Lusitania, and others, that we realize our readers are interested in this subject, and we aim to oblige.]
The Goya did not start out as a German ship. The ship was originally Norwegian, built in Oslo by a Norwegian company, but after Germany occupied Norway during the war, the ship was seized by German forces. It was a fairly large vessel, measuring 475 feet (145 meters) in length and 57 feet (17 meters) across, and it could travel at a speed of up to 18 knots (21 mph).
During the war, the Germans used the ship to both transport and evacuate troops. It sailed from the Eastern Baltic Sea, where Finland is located, to western Germany. On the day the ship was attacked, on April 16, 1945, it was in this part of the world. It was sailing from the Hel Peninsula, located near northern Poland, back to Germany. The ship was packed with troops and civilians who were fleeing from the Red Army, the Soviet Armed Forces, who played a key role in defeating the Germans during WWII. The ship was loaded as much as it possibly could be. Officially, the ship recorded 6,100 people on board, but hundreds more may have boarded the ship to utilize literally every available space.
As the ship was passing the Hel Peninsula, it was seen by a Soviet submarine that was carrying torpedoes. The Goya was technically faster than the submarine, but engine troubles slowed down the ship, and in fact the ship was even required to stop for 20 minutes for repairs. Late on the night of the 16th, the captain of the Soviet submarine, Vladimir Konovalov, ordered the ship to be torpedoed. (Konovalov was later awarded the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the highest honor given by the Soviet Union’s military.) Within minutes of being struck, the ship sank, killing well over 6,000 people according to many estimates. Many people died on or within the ship as a direct result of the attack, and a great many others died from drowning or hypothermia in the freezing waters of the Baltic Sea. Only 183 people survived the sinking, but since it is not known exactly how many people were on board, it is impossible to determine exactly how many people died because of the attack.
As is the case with the Wilhelm Gustloff, one’s reaction to the sinking of the Goya may be mixed. It was carrying German soldiers, the clear enemies in WWII from most of the world’s perspective, but the ship also had many civilians on board. Moreover, it occurred right at the end of the war, so it is natural to imagine that perhaps these lives didn’t need to be lost for the Germans to lose the war. In any case, it happened, and it will forever be remembered as one of the deadliest ship disasters in history.