Swedish Navy

Following entry is a record in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” – a list of failed and troubled projects from around the world.

Swedish Navy
Project name : Vasa
Project type : Military vessel design and development
Date : 1628 (filed under historical failures)
Cost :

Synopsis :
The Swedish Navy’s new flagship sinks on its maiden voyage after completing less than 1 nautical mile. Due to the ship being top heavy a gust of wind was able to capsize the ship resulting in the total loss of the ship and considerable lose of life. As one of the worlds first double deck gunboats, the Vasa had a significant amount of weight above the waterline. The balance problems were compounded by the vessel’s heavily decorated stern that featured carvings and statues designed to impress and intimidate those who saw the ship.

Stability tests undertaken before the maiden voyage had identified the problem, but no one wanted to inform the King of the issue. At the time stability tests were performed by having the crew line up on one side of the ship and then having them run from one side to the other. After the crew had made 3 such round trips, the ship was rocking alarmingly. The Admiral responsible for the project personally witnessed the testing and stopped the test part way through as it was clear the ship would capsize in port if the test was not stopped immediately.

Contributing factors as reported in the press:
Lack of technical knowledge needed to make the project a success (due to lack of prior experience with doubled-deck gun ships at that time). Pressure from senior management (the King) to get the project completed. Breakdown in communications (unwillingness of those responsible to tell those in power of the flawed design or results of the testing).  Some indications that requirements were changed in the middle of the project and the changes in the design contributed to the stability issues.

Note: The ship was salvaged in 1961 and is now housed in a museum in Stockholm. Despite its time at the bottom of the sea it is still in remarkable condition and the museum is well worth visiting.

Reference links :

  1. Vasa – Wikipedia page
  2. Vasa museum – Stockholm