Italian Steamship Principessa
Malafda Lost Off Brazil
By James Donahue
After 19 years at sea,
the Italian liner Principessa Malafda was reportedly making its final trans-Atlantic voyage. It was carrying 1,293 passengers
and crew members when it sank after self destructing off the coast of Brazil on the night of Oct. 25, 1927. An estimated
303 people, most of them Italian emigrants bound for Brazil and Argentina, perished.
The steamship, launched
in Genoa in 1908, held the distinction for many years as being the fastest liner plying between Italy and South America. But
after years of service, including a stint as a troop transport for the Italian Government during World War I, the Principessa
Malafda was falling into poor repair.
Plans were in the works
to sell the vessel for excursions on the Mediterranean after this final Atlantic crossing. Survivors said the ship was in
such poor condition that it broke down more than once and was forced to stop at sea for repair. Then as it was steaming along
the Brazilian coast off the Abrolhos Islands, disaster struck. The casing of the starboard propeller shaft ruptured and the
vessel took on a serious leak that overpowered the ship’s pumps.
They said the boilers
exploded when the cold Atlantic water flooded the engine room.
The first distress call
went out shortly after 7 p.m.. and the liner sank four hours later. Critics said all of the passengers and crew could have
been saved in that amount of time. The crew, however, got drunk instead of assisting in launching life boats and making sure
the passengers got away safely.
Some said there
were not enough lifeboats but the owners denied this.
Within hours vessels
in the area were standing by, all engaged in rescuing survivors in the water and in the lifeboats. Active in rescue operations
were the British steamers Avalona, Evening Star and Dadioleino, the German steamship Ethena, the French vessel Formone and
the Brazilian cruiser Rio Grande do Sul.