Ships 2

Principessa Mafalda

Ships 3

Principessa Mafalda

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.