World Famous Shipwrecks: How They Sank & Where They Lie Today

World Famous Shipwrecks: How They Sank & Where They Lie Today

Panagiotis - famous shipwrecks

As RMS Titanic is known as one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks, we set about exploring other well-known wonders below the water. From the thousands of sunken vessels all over the world, we selected the most famous shipwrecks to see what it is that draws people to the sea in search of sunken vessels.

Myths, legends, treasure and history, all the most famous shipwrecks have interesting tales to tell. Some are still being written.

Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes

Codenamed the Black Swan; Nuestra Senora was a Spanish Navy ship sank by the British in 1804.

The vessel was said to be carrying vast amounts of treasured goods, including gold, silver, quinoa and cinnamon from Uruguay to Spain, when the British intercepted it. Even though the two countries were at peace, Spain refused to detour for British inspection and, as a result, war was declared.

Treasure from Black Swan - famous shipwrecks
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Benj

The Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was sunk with one shot from the British fleet and only in 2007, was the ancient wreck discovered along with all its treasures.

Salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration recovered 500,000 gold and silver coins and other effects and brought them back to US soil. After a lengthy court battle, the treasures were officially claimed back by Spain in 2012.

Chuuk Lagoon

Chuuk Lagoon once served as an anchorage for the Imperial Japanese Navy in WWII and today holds the largest underwater graveyard of ships.

Sankisan Maru - famous shipwrecks in Chuuk Lagoon
Credit: flickr.com/photos/gratiartis – Stephen Masters

Likened to the US’s Pearl Harbour, Chuuk Lagoon was the largest forward naval base for the Japanese. At any one time, the bay could host battleships, cruisers, destroyers, tankers, gunboats, submarines and Yamato Musashi, the world’s largest ever warships.

In 1944, the naval base was destroyed by an air raid from the US, after which Operation Hailstone sank the remaining vessels and warplanes, turning the lagoon into an underwater graveyard filled with the sunken warships.

Queen Anne’s Revenge

In 1996, a very real pirate ship was discovered off the coast on North Carolina. Over 30 cannons were found on board along with a list of artefacts dating back to 1718. These included navigational instruments, a mortar and pestle for making medicines, a copper sword guard and bits of gold.

Queen Anne's Revenge replica
Credit: flickr.com/photos/frikitiki – Queen Anne’s Revenge replica

The find was later identified as the most notorious pirate ship in history, Queen Anne’s Revenge, the vessel that sailed under the command of the infamous Captain Blackbeard.

Blackbeard is said to have abandoned the Revenge in a ruse to escape with all the bounty onboard, leaving his crew marooned and shaking himself free of the Revenge’s reputation.

The vessel has since been listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.

MV Panagiotis

One of the most famous shipwrecks in the world can be found in the stunning secluded cove of Greek Island Zakynthos.

Panagiotis - famous shipwrecks
Credit: flickr.com/photos – Falco Ermert

A modern-day pirate ship, it is said that the Panagiotis was carrying contraband such as cigarettes, wine and women to Albania when authorities cornered the vessel it was looted and abandoned by the crew.

Today the shipwreck remains a popular tourist destination although, in recent years, viewing has been restricted due to rock slides, people still venture out to see what has affectionately become known as Shipwreck Cove.

RMS Lusitania

A famous shipwreck that is often forgotten, overshadowed by the RMS Titanic disaster, RMS Lusitania was a maritime tragedy that took place during WWII.

With only 771 survivors from the 1,962 passengers and crew list, the loss of life was devastating and encouraged US-allied forces to get involved in the plight.

Lusitania Arriving in New York - famous shipwrecks
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki – MaritimmeQuest – Lusitania arriving in New York

The British ocean liner had been ferrying passengers across the Atlantic for seven years, her plush interiors were well known among the upper classes and the journey was made in record time thanks to upgraded turbine engines.

By 1915, the seas around Britain and the entire North Sea had been declared a war zone and, despite being warned about German submarine presence, people still chose to sail back to Britain on Lusitania on May 7th.

Without warning, Lusitania was fired upon, and a second explosion sank the liner to the bottom of the ocean just off the coast of Ireland.

There the vessel remains and, after various salvage attempts, the ship is quickly deteriorating, faster than that of the Titanic due to the huge explosion that sank her and her prior years of service.

The Oldest Shipwreck in the world

As part of a project to map out the bed of the Black Sea, the discovery of the oldest intact shipwreck in the world was made.

The vessel, found 2km below the water’s surface is remarkably well preserved, thanks to the lack of oxygen in water at that depth.


Examinations and carbon dating place the ship as far back as 400 BC, and as yet, archaeologists are yet to discover what the ship’s cargo was.

Items onboard such as ropes, rudders and oars identify the vessel as a merchant trading ship and the structure resembles depictions of ships painted on ancient crockery dating back to 480BC.

Because of the depth of the wreckage, it is unlikely to fall prey to looters and remain intact, becoming the oldest and most famous shipwreck to be discovered to date.

RMS Republic

A world-famous shipwreck, thanks to the TV show and Billion Dollar Wreck, and ex-scuba store owner Martin Bayerle, RMS Republic captured the attention of shipwreck enthusiasts and treasure hunters around the globe.

Built by Harland and Wolff in 1903, the RMS Republic became a White Star Ship, known as one of the largest and most luxurious vessels of its time. Because of its high-class clientele, the vessel was nicknamed the “Millionaires Ship”, often carrying wealthy passengers to the Med on their summer holidays.

RMS Republic
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org – White Star Line

In 1909, RMS Republic left New York with its usual riches and was ran into by an Italian steamship which punctured its hull.

Sadly, two passengers died as a result of the impact, their cabins located near the puncture point. Otherwise, the rest of the crew and passengers made it safely off the sinking ship onto rescue liner, RMS Baltic.

Rumour has it that when the RMS Republic went down, it took with it a cargo of military supplies, relief supplies for earthquake survivors and a secret stash of $3 million American Eagle gold coins. This is thought to have been a secret loan to the French, to pay back Russian Czar Nicholas II and aid his efforts in defeating the Bolshevik-led revolution.

San José

Thought to be the richest treasure ship ever discovered, The San José was carrying a vast loot of gold, silver and gems amounting $17 billion in today’s money. Hauled from Spain’s South American colonies, to fund the ongiong war against the British, the huge treasure was lost beneath the waves.


The Spanish Galleon was launched in 1698 and sank during battle in the War of the Spanish Succession when powder magazines ignited onboard and caused a massive explosion

In 2015, the ancient wreck was finally discovered, nearly 2000ft beneath the water, in the Caribbean Sea by the Colombian Navy. Now a legal battle for ownership ensues between Colombia, an American salvage firm and the Spanish as to who can claim the lost treasure.

As of May 2018, the Columbian government were raising funds to build a lab for further exploration of the San José and a museum for the preservation of the ship and its lost treasure.

RMS Titanic

The most famous shipwreck in the world, RMS Titanic lies at the bottom of the ocean, threatening to disappear in a few short years.

The luxurious liner sank in 1912, after striking an iceberg on its maiden journey across the Atlantic. A tragic and senseless loss of life ensued after lifeboats considered unnecessary on an unsinkable ship were cut to make more room on the first class deck areas.

Titanic Bow - famous shipwrecks
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org – Courtesy of NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island (NOAA/IFE/URI). –

RMS Titanic became world famous in one night, claiming the lives of many rich and famous figures as well as hundreds of immigrants and crew members.

Over 1,500 people perished on RMS Titanic and the vessel lay undiscovered until 1985 when a secret military investigation unearthed its eventual wreck site.

Today the story of RMS Titanic still captures the interest of conspiracy theorists, and maritime aficionados, many of whom simply cannot fathom how such a catastrophic event could occur in the modern age.

RMS Titanic will most likely continue to be the most famous shipwreck of all time, despite there being thousands of other vessels lost at sea. Some holding huge amounts of treasure, others that mysteriously disappeared and few with long histories of their own.

Learn More at 30 James Street – Home of the Titanic

Not just a luxury Liverpool hotel, 30 James Street continues to explore and preserve the story of RMS Titanic and its place in Liverpool’s maritime heritage.

The stunning waterfront hotel rooms are themed around the vessels origins and associated city’s, as well as genuine passengers and fictional characters from Cameron’s ’97 movie.

Titanic turret room

30 James Street continues to honour the RMS Titanic, welcoming guests in to explore the original headquarters of the White Star Line and to dine in the elegantly themed Carpathia Champagne Bar and Restaurant.

Book your visit to 30 James Street on 0151 236 0166 or email info@sigantureliving.co.uk for more information.