SS Egypt

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StateLibQld 1 141467 Egypt (ship).jpg
OwnerP&O-house flag.svg P&O Steam Navigation Co
OperatorP&O-house flag.svg P&O Steam Navigation Co
Port of registryUnited Kingdom London
BuilderCaird & Company, Greenock
Yard number285
Launched15 May 1897
FateSunk in collision 20 May 1922
General characteristics
Length499.9 ft (152.4 m)
Beam54.3 feet (16.6 m)
Draught26 feet 9 inches (8.15 m)
Depth24.5 feet (7.5 m)
Installed power11,000 ihp
Speedservice: 15 kn (28 km/h). Max: 18 kn (33 km/h)
  • Passengers: 301 1st class, 208 2nd class
  • Cargo: 171,303 cubic feet (4,851 m3)
Crew283 (116 Europeans and 167 Lascars)
NotesSister ships: Arabia, China, India, Persia

SS Egypt was a P&O ocean liner. She sank after a collision with Seine on 20 May 1922 in the Celtic Sea. 252 people were rescued from the 338 passengers and crew aboard at the time.[1] A subsequent salvage operation recovered most of the cargo of gold and silver.

Early career[edit]

Caird & Company built Egypt at Greenock on the River Clyde, launching her in 1897. She generally ran between United Kingdom and India, but also was a hospital ship in the First World War.

Final voyage[edit]

Egypt left Tilbury, Essex, on 19 May 1922 carrying only 44 passengers and a cargo that included gold and silver bullion and gold sovereigns worth over £1 million[2] (around £200 million at the 2012 gold price).

The voyage proceeded normally until the early morning of 20 May when fog was encountered. As a safety measure Captain Collyer greatly reduced the speed of the ship. Egypt remained in fog until the afternoon when the navigator was able to sight landmarks on the French coast and fix the ship's position.

After continuing the voyage for several hours a dense fog bank was suddenly encountered at around 7 o'clock. The engines were stopped but almost immediately afterwards a fog whistle was heard. The steamship Seine emerged through the fog and within seconds struck Egypt's port side in the Celtic Sea 28 nautical miles (52 km) off the Ar Men Lighthouse, Finistère, France.[3] Seine had a strengthened bow for ice-breaking, which penetrated deeply into Egypt′s hull before the ships drifted apart.

An SOS distress signal was transmitted and replies were received from the steamers Cahiracon and RMS Andes but Egypt sank in less than 20 minutes before either ship arrived.[4] Most of the passengers and crew were able to abandon ship in the lifeboats which were picked up by Seine, but 86 of the 352 people on board Egypt lost their lives.[citation needed]


Because Egypt had such valuable cargo, it was not long before salvage attempts began. However, the Egypt′s wreck was not found until 1930. She was found lying upright in a depth of 170 metres (560 ft), making the recovery very difficult with the technology of the time. Giovanni Quaglia from the Genoese company Società Ricuperi Marittimi (So.Ri.Ma.) was in charge of the operation and decided to use a diver in an armoured suit to direct the placing of explosives to blast through the ship to expose the strong room. The diver was then used to direct a grab which picked up the gold and silver. The salvage continued until 1935 by which time 98% of the contents of the strong room had been recovered.[5]


During June of 2001 a team of British technical divers known as the Starfish Enterprise left Plymouth, England aboard the 24m long Royal Navy fleet tender 'Loyal Watcher' in search of the wreck. The research position gave the wreck to be 150 nautical miles across the English Channel and into the Bay of Biscay. They discovered and positively identified the wreck laying 25 miles off the French island of Ushant, a place noted for those famous images of treacherous seas totally engulfing cliff top lighthouses. The divers had conducted their exploration mainly on the upright bow of the wreck but noted that the remaining sections although upright had considerably broken down to seabed level. Each of the divers recorded a maximum depth of 127 meters (420ft). Deep wreck photographer Leigh Bishop was able to photograph sections of the bellied hull suspended upright, a spare prop on the forward deck, porcelain marked with the P&O and numerous portholes with drip trays and square fastening dogs, a trademark of P&O liners.


  1. ^ Marriott 1987, p. 141.
  2. ^ Marriott 1987, p. 136.
  3. ^ "P&O liner sunk". The Times. No. 43037. London. 22 May 1922. col A-B, p. 10.
  4. ^ Marriott 1987, p. 138.
  5. ^ Pickford 1998, p. 152.


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