The SS Morro Castle received its name from the towering fortress that guards Havana Bay.
The massive ocean liner set sail on its final voyage in August 1930 from New York to Havana and back again. For many guests aboard the luxury ship, sailing was a means of escaping the Great Depression and Prohibition to enjoy a few drunken days at sea.
The ship had taken the same sea route for years, but as the Morro Castle headed back to New York on Sept. 5, 1934, no one anticipated the disaster that would soon unfold.
Heading north toward the States, the ship began to fight strong wind gusts that came ahead of a raging storm.
Two days after leaving Havana, Captain Robert Wilmott began experiencing severe stomach pains following dinner service that evening. A few short hours later, the sea captain was found dead in his cabin after suffering an apparent heart attack. At this time, Chief Officer William Warms took over command of the ship as it steered closer to home.
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As the ship continued on its journey, the nor’easter created choppy waters. In the early hours of the day, a fire had broken out in a storage locker found on one of the decks.
Under the command of an inexperienced captain, the crew tried to put out the flames. The strong winds proved to be a direct obstacle for the crew, since the winds strengthened the fire and carried it through most of the deck’s interior.
After failing to put out the blaze and multiple attempts at sending out an SOS, many crew members abandoned the ship, leaving the confused passengers to fend for themselves.