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SS Morro Castle: An Inferno at Sea, a Burning Hulk on the Beach, and Many Unanswered Questions

On the morning of September 8, 1934, en route from Havana to New York City, the SS Morro Castle caught fire and burned, killing 137 passengers and crew members. The ship eventually drifted ashore at Asbury Park, and remained there for several months until she was towed off and scrapped. SS Morro Castle was an ocean liner of the 1930s that was built for the Ward Line for voyages between New York City and Havana, Cuba. The devastating fire aboard the Morro Castle was a catalyst for improved shipboard fire safety. Today, the use of fire-retardant materials, automatic fire doors, ship-wide fire alarms, and greater attention to fire drills and procedures resulted directly from the Morro Castle disaster.

Many unanswered questions remain: what was the cause of death of the ship’s captain, just hours before the storm? Was the radioman a hero, as some claimed at the time, or a villain, possibly responsible for starting the Morro Castle fire? Why weren’t all the lifeboats used? Investigators concluded that the fire was caused either by arson, or spontaneous combustion, involving improperly stored oily blankets.


Nagiewicz, Stephen D. (2016). Hidden History of Maritime New Jersey. The History Press, Charleston, S.C., 2016, P. 121-126.

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