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Report: it's everyone for themselves on sinking ships

Men are more likely to survive sinking ships than women and children – and captains are more likely to make it than their passengers, according to new research.

The Titanic leaving Southampton on April 10 1912
The Titanic leaving Southampton on April 10 1912
Image: AP Photo/File

ONE HUNDRED YEARS after the Titanic sank, two Swedish researchers have found when it comes to sinking ships, male chivalry is “a myth” and more men generally survive such disasters than women and children.

Economists Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixon of Uppsala University also showed in their 82-page study that captains and their crew are 18.7 percentage points more likely to survive a shipwreck than their passengers.

The authors wrote:

Our findings show that behavior in life-and-death situation is best captured by the expression ‘every man for himself’

The researchers analysed 18 of the world’s most famous maritime disasters, ranging from the HMS Birkenhead that grounded in the Indian Ocean in 1852 to the MV Bulgaria tourist ship that sank on Russia’s Volga River last year.

Analysing passenger lists, logs and registers, Elinder and Erixon found that men actually have a distinct survival advantage.

Out of the 15,000 people who died in the 18 accidents, only 17.8 percent of the women survived compared with 34.5 percent of the men. In three of the shipwrecks, all the women died, Elinder said.

What about the Titanic?

The report also referred to the Titanic, which sank in the North Atlantic in the early morning of 15 April 1912. The researchers called the Titanic an exception to their findings, mainly because its captain, Edward Smith, threatened to shoot men unless they yielded to women for lifeboat seats. Capt. Smith went down with his ship.

Of the 1,496 people that perished with the Titanic, 73.3 per cent of the women and 50.4 per cent of the children survived compared to only 20.7 percent of the men.

“Evidence from the Titanic is not representative of maritime disasters in general,” the report said.

The role of the captain was crucial, they said, stressing that only in five of the 18 disasters studied had captains given an order to prioritize the rescue of women and children.

The researchers noted that men, thanks to their physical strength, have better chances of surviving than women barring self-sacrifice. They wrote “when helping substantially increases the risk of dying, it would be rational for most individuals to save themselves.”

Read: Full coverage of the Titanic centenary anniversary >

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Associated Press

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