SS Sirio was an Italian merchant steamer that had a shipwreck off the eastern Spanish coast on August 4, 1906, causing the deaths of at least 150 Italian and Spanish emigrants bound for Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The shipwreck gained notoriety because the captain, Giuseppe Piccone, abandoned ship at the first opportunity.[3] The wreck had a profound effect on communities in northern Italy and was remembered in popular songs of the era.

DC-1906-33-d Sirio.jpg
Steamship Sirio sinking
NameSS Sirio
OwnerNavigazione Generale Italiana
OperatorSocieta Italiana di Transporti Maritimi Raggio & Co
Launched24 March 1884[1]
Christened24 March 1884, by Lizzie Hamilton[1]
FateFoundered after colliding with a rock, 4 August 1906
General characteristics
Length380 feet (120 m)[2]
Beam42 feet (13 m)[2]
Draft33 feet 6 inches (10.21 m)[2]
Installed powerFour double-ended steel boilers, three-cylinder compound engines[2]
Speed14.87 knots (27.54 km/h) maximum[2]
Notes645 Passengers and 127 crew total 772 (estimated) of which 554 saved and at least 150 to 218 lost with the ship (estimated)


Sirio was a 4,141-ton, 5,012-horsepower steamboat built in 1883 in Glasgow and owned by Navigazione Generale Italiana of Genoa.[4] She sailed on the Raggio Line, operated by the Societa Italiana di Transporti Maritimi Raggio & Co.[5] She left Genoa on 2 August and picked up additional passengers in Barcelona,[4] and was en route for Cadiz,[5] carrying eight hundred[4] third-class passengers[6] migrating[3] to Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The captain later stated that there were 645 passengers (570 embarked in Genoa, the rest were picked up in Barcelona) and 127 crew members on board.[4]


The sinking of the SS Sirio, by Benedito Calixto

The ship ran aground on the Punta Hormigas, a reef off Hormigas Island, two and a half miles east[4] of Cape Palos, Cartagena, Spain.[3] According to an eyewitness, the captain of the French steamer Marie Louise, she was "taking a dangerous course" when he saw her stop, her bow lifting. The boilers exploded, and "dead bodies began to float past the French steamer, and those on board could hear the shrieks of the drowning." A boat was launched that saved 29 passengers, while the Marie Louise herself saved another 25.[7] Three hundred passengers, most of them Italian and Spanish, lost their lives.[4]

Among the passengers were a number of Catholic officials. The Bishop of São Paulo, José de Camargo Barros, "went down with the ship while blessing the drowning passengers."[4] The Archbishop of São Pedro, Cláudio Gonçalves Ponce de Leon, survived.[4] Boniface Natter, the first abbot of the rededicated Buckfast Abbey (a Benedictine abbey in England), drowned as well; his fellow traveler, Anscar Vonier, survived and became the next abbot.[8][9]

A panic broke out on the ship, with people being trampled and others throwing themselves in the sea while knife-fights broke out over the lifeboats.[10] Terrifying scenes of mothers grieving over their drowned children were described. One report claimed that the captain and his officers tried to restore order,[4] but it soon emerged that he had been the first to abandon ship.[11]

Rescue effortsEdit

Local fishermen launched boats to aid in the rescue, but it was reported that some of the rescuers also drowned. The captains of two ships, Joven Miguel and Vicente Llicano (which saved 300 and 200 passengers, respectively), were singled out for their heroism. Survivors were brought ashore and put up in the local poorhouse and a circus building.[4]


The ship broke in two after being grounded for nine days, and "dozens of decomposing corpses were released in the turbulence" including "the body of a very young girl still clutching her toy bucket."[12] While initial reports claimed three hundred had died, improper passenger lists made it difficult to determine the exact number, although some reports estimated that as many as four hundred died.[13] Later accounts put the death toll in excess of one hundred and fifty.[14]

The New York Times reported that Captain Piccone died of "grief" and "a broken heart" in Genoa less than a year after the disaster.[15]

Investigation of the captain's behaviorEdit

Newspaper reports quickly accused the captain and his crew of improper behavior. Days after the disaster it became known worldwide that the officers had abandoned ship immediately. The captain departed first,[11] causing a panic among the passengers.[16] It was soon reported, incorrectly, that he had committed suicide by shooting himself.[4] One explanation for the ship's unusual course was given by the Spanish newspaper España Nueva: the ship was alleged to have sailed so close because it "engaged in the clandestine embarkation of Spanish emigrants along the coast," in exchange for "large sums of money." This alleged "illicit traffic" was offered as one explanation for the captain's behavior, which "left much to be desired."[17]


Among these shipwrecked ones the priests prayed to heaven,
And they gave them their last benediction.
Fathers and mothers, they kissed their dear children,
And then they sank beneath the waves of the sea.

"Il Sirio" 9-12[18]

The wreck of Sirio had a major impact on the victims' communities.[19] According to sociologist Chiara Bondì, the accident was a "prototypical Italian disaster."[6] The effect on the northern Italian communities from which the emigrants came was profound, and the wreck was remembered in a popular ballad, "Il Sirio", which sings of the Sirio that "sailed away for America, and to its misfortune,"[18] "convey[ing] the agony of frantic parents looking for children who had gone under the waves."[20] Another ballad, "Mamma Mia, Dammi Cento Lire", possibly refers to Sirio as well—it tells the story of a young man who asks his mother for 100 lire so he can sail to America, but "out on the ocean wide, / The great ship sank beneath the tide."[18] The Spanish poet Santiago Delgado published a memorial "legend" about the disaster in a collection of eight pieces about the Mar Menor, the lagoon just north of Hormigas Island.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Launches–Scotch," Marine Engineer 5 (1883–84): 48.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Launches and Trial Trips," Engineering 35 (1883): 582.
  3. ^ a b c "Overal in Italië klinkt: 'Ga aan boord, eikel!'". de Volkskrant. 19 January 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "300 Sink With Ship, Blessed by Bishop; Liner Sirio, with 800 on Board, Strikes a Reef Off Cape Palos. Captain's Suicide Reported. Italian Immigrants Fight Women with Knives and Drive Them from the Lifeboats" (PDF). The New York Times. 6 August 1906. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  5. ^ a b Bonsall, Thomas E. (1988). Great Shipwrecks of the Twentieth Century. Gallery. ISBN 978-0-8317-7781-4.
  6. ^ a b Bondì, Chiara (2000). "Sirio: prototipo di un disastro italiano". Critica Sociologica. 134: 68–77.
  7. ^ "54 Saved by French Ship; Passing Vessel Rescues Them from the Sea as the Sirio Sinks" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 August 1906. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  8. ^ "The Benedictines in England". The Catholic Historical Review. 8 (3): 425–32. 1922. JSTOR 25011898.
  9. ^ "Notes". The Ampleforth Journal. Ampleforth College (2): 264–65. 1906.
  10. ^ One Italian-American protested in a letter to The New York Times against the portrayal of Italians fighting over the lifeboats, acting "as savages and bloodthirsty men": Lattarulo, V. Vincent (8 August 1906). "A Protest from an Italian who Refuses to Believe Stories of Cowardice" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2012. An article in The American Marine Engineer, repeating some of the horror stories reported in the media, claimed that "the lower class of emigrants from Southern Europe cannot be trusted with knives and pistols at any time....The officers and crew were powerless to cope with the horde of Italians who fought for the boats." "[Notes from the editor]". The American Marine Engineer. Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association. 1 (9). September 1906.
  11. ^ a b "Sirio's Officers Accused; Could Have Saved Those on Board--Captain First to Quit Ship" (PDF). The New York Times. 8 August 1906. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  12. ^ Hood, Jean (2007). Come Hell and High Water: Extraordinary Stories of Wreck, Terror and Triumph on the Sea. Burford Books. p. 242. ISBN 978-1-58080-143-0. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  13. ^ "[Notes from the editor]". The American Marine Engineer. Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association. 1 (9). September 1906.
  14. ^ Choate, Mark I. (2008). Emigrant nation: the making of Italy abroad. Harvard UP. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-674-02784-8. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  15. ^ "Captain Dies of Grief; He Commanded the Sirio, Which Was Lost with 300 Lives" (PDF). The New York Times. 22 April 1907. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  16. ^ "Blamed for Sirio Disaster; Spanish Official Inquiry Inculpates the Captain and Crew" (PDF). The New York Times. 9 August 1906. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  17. ^ "The Sirio Engaged in Illegal Traffic? Alleged Explanation for Why She Was Off the Usual Course" (PDF). The New York Times. 7 August 1906. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  18. ^ a b c Silverman, Jerry (1992). Immigrant Songbook. Mel Bay. pp. 198–201. ISBN 978-1-56222-282-6. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  19. ^ Earp, Edwin Lee (1908). Social aspects of religious institutions. Eaton & Mains. p. 90. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  20. ^ Greene, Victor R. (2004). A singing ambivalence: American immigrants between old world and new, 1830-1930. Kent State UP. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-87338-794-1. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  21. ^ "Cartagena Literaria: Ocho leyendas para el Mar Menor". Blogger. 29 July 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2012.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 37°39′6.73″N 0°39′10.31″W / 37.6518694°N 0.6528639°W / 37.6518694; -0.6528639