SS Oria (1920)
|Owner:||Fearnley & Eger, Oslo|
|Builder:||Osbourne, Graham & Co., Ltd., Sunderland|
|Identification:||Code letters: LCUS
|Fate:||Sank, 12 February 1944|
|Length:||86.9 m (285 ft 1 in)|
|Beam:||13.3 m (43 ft 8 in)|
|Propulsion:||1 × triple expansion steam engine|
|Speed:||10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
SS Oria was a Norwegian steamboat that sank on February 12, 1944, causing the death of some 4,000 Italian prisoners of war. This was one of the worst maritime disasters ever, and probably the worst loss of life caused by the sinking of a single ship in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Oria was built in 1920 by Osbourne, Graham & Co from Sunderland. It had a tonnage of 2,127 GRT, and was property of the Norwegian company Fearnley & Eger of Oslo. At the beginning of World War II, it was part of a convoy sent to North Africa, and was in Casablanca when interned in June 1940, shortly after the German occupation of Norway. One year later the ship was requisitioned by the Vichy French, renamed Sainte Julienne, and used in the Mediterranean. In November 1942 it was formally returned to its former owner and therefore renamed Oria, but soon after it was assigned to the German company Mittelmeer Reederei GmbH from Hamburg.
In the fall of 1943, after the surrender of Italian troops in Greece to the Germans, the Germans had to transfer tens of thousands of Italian prisoners over the sea. These transfers were made often using unseaworthy vessels, cramming prisoners into the hull of the ships, and without any safety standard. Several ships sank, by allied attack or by accident, causing the death of thousands of prisoners.
The Oria was one of the vessels chosen to transport Italian prisoners. On February 11, 1944, it sailed from Rhodes directly to Piraeus, carrying 4,046 Italian prisoners (43 officers, 118 non-commissioned officers and 3,885 soldiers), 90 Germans on duty or en route, and the crew. The next day the ship was caught by a storm and sank off Cape Sounion. Some tugs, arriving the next day on the scene, could only save 21 Italians, six Germans and a Greek. All the others, an estimated total of 4,074 people, lost their lives.