The Loss of the Morro Castle, 1934

The cause of the fire is a complete mystery. Some of the early survivors asserted that the ship had been struck by lightning, but this explanation is not given much credence, nor is it in accordance with the accounts of later survivors. The consensus of opinion is that the fire began in the library or smoking room, though there are some who declare it must have broken out in several places at the same time to have enveloped the entire ship with such terrifying speed.

The speed with which the fire spread is particularly striking in view of the fact that the Morro Castle was equipped with patented devices designed expressly to prevent such a conflagration. An 11,520-ton passenger liner built in 1930 at a cost of $5,500,000, the Morro Castle was regarded as one of the most luxurious and up-to-date ships in the American mercantile marine. She had undergone inspection by State officials as recently as last August. According to some of the crew, the rapid spread of the fire was due to the fact that the water pressure failed at the critical juncture, but this is not yet officially substantiated.

The all-important fact is, however, that the Morro Castle was reduced to a mere burning hulk in a matter of five hours or less. An attempt was made about noon yesterday to bring her into New York harbour, and two tugs and a coastguard cutter succeeded in taking her in tow. About 7 pm, however, the burnt-out liner broke away and, driven by high wind and strong currents, eventually ran ashore off Asbury Park, New Jersey.