Empress of Ireland departed Quebec City for Liverpool at 16:30 local time (EST) on 28 May 1914 with 1,477 passengers and crew. Henry George Kendall had just been promoted to her captain at the beginning of the month, and it was his first trip down the St. Lawrence River in command of her.
The ship reached Pointe-au-Père, Quebec (or Father Point) near the town of Rimouski in the early hours of 29 May 1914, where the pilot disembarked. Empress of Ireland resumed a normal outward bound course of about N76E, and soon sighted the masthead lights of Storstad, a Norwegian collier, on her starboard bow at several miles distant. Likewise, Storstad, abreast of Métis Point and on a course W. by S., sighted Empress of Ireland's masthead lights. The first sightings were made in clear weather conditions, but fog soon enveloped the ships. The ships resorted to repeated use of their fog whistles. At about 02:00 local time Storstad crashed into Empress of Ireland's starboard side. Storstad remained afloat, but Empress of Ireland was severely damaged and began flooding.
Image: SS Storstad after the collision.
Empress of Ireland listed rapidly to starboard. There was no time to shut the watertight doors. Most of the passengers and crew in the lower decks drowned quickly; water entered through open portholes, some only a few feet above the water line, and inundated passageways and cabins. Those berthed in the upper decks were awoken by the collision, and immediately boarded lifeboats on the boat deck. Within a few minutes of the collision, the list was so severe that the port lifeboats could not be launched. Five starboard lifeboats successfully launched, while a sixth capsized during lowering.
Ten or eleven minutes after the collision, Empress of Ireland lurched violently on her starboard side, allowing as many as 700 passengers and crew to crawl out of the portholes and decks onto her port side. The ship lay on her side for a minute or two, having seemingly run aground. A few minutes later, about 14 minutes after the collision, the stern rose briefly out of the water and the ship finally sank. Hundreds of people were thrown into the near-freezing water. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 1,012 people.
Although the loss of Empress of Ireland did not attract the same level of attention as that of the sinking of Titanic two years earlier, the disaster did lead to a change in the design of ships' bows.The sinking of Empress of Ireland proved that the reverse slanting prow, so common at the time, was deadly in the event of a ship-to-ship collision because it caused massive damage below the waterline. The bow of Storstad struck Empress of Ireland like a "chisel into tin". As a result of the disaster, naval designers began to employ the raked bow with the top of the prow forward. This ensured that the energy of any collision would be minimised beneath the surface and only the parts of the bow above the waterline would be affected.