Humankind has a sad, horrible history of intentional mass murder and murder–suicide by airplane and road vehicle.

Are there known cases of a sailor or an officer on a ship trying to kill himself and all his crewmates?

More will probably be known about failed attempts to compromise a ship than "successful" ones.

Lars Bosteen and LangLangC have given good answers describing desperate acts in the heat of battle. I appreciate and upvoted these answers, but I'm reluctant to accept wartime acts as murder–suicides since the victims were already in immediate danger of losing their lives.

Before asking, I did several keyword searches on combinations of terms like ship, sabotage, sinking, sailor, and of course, murder–suicide. Needless to say, I didn't find any examples of same, thus the question.


3 Answers 3


Two borderline but interesting cases stemming from the appalling conditions slaves were subjected to, and the dire future they faced.

In 1773, slaves aboard the ship New Britannia blew up the ship after a failed escape attempt, killing almost everyone:

...enslaved African children managed to slip tools to the men chained in the ship's cramped middle deck. The men used them to break out of their chains, cut through the wall of their wooden prison, and take possession of the gun room and the weapons inside.

For more than an hour they fought a pitched battle with the ship's crew, with many killed on both sides. When it became clear that defeat was inevitable, they set fire to the gunpowder magazine, triggering an explosion that destroyed the ship, killing almost everyone onboard. Death, they had decided, was preferable to what they had seen on the slave ship.

This incident is also mentioned in The Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker. It doesn't quite meet the OP's specification concerning crew / officers, but a similar incident which happened a few years later in 1785 may well do:

When Captain James Charles learned in October 1785 that Gambian captives had successfully captured a Dutch slaver (and killed the captain and crew), he resolved to go after the vessel…Following a chase of three hours and an indecisive engagement, a party of his own crew volunteered to board the freedpeople’s craft under fire….As the battle continued, someone apparently blew the vessel up “with a dreadful explosion, and every soul on board perished.”

There is obviously some doubt here as the explosion may have been accidental, but the freed-people can be considered crew as they had clearly taken over the ship.

Although it may seem incredible to some that slaves would simply blow themselves up Slaves committing suicide on slave ships was not uncommon (though how common is hard to tell):

For the periods 1788 to 1797, physicians for eighty-six vessels recorded in their journals the cause of death of all the Africans under their charge, and in these suicide looms rather large…Almost one third of the vessels in the sample witnessed a suicide…

One method was jumping overboard, mentioned by Aaron Jaffer, curator of Royal Museums Greenwich

There are moving descriptions of enslaved Africans jumping into the sea together, holding hands or embracing until the end. This tactic was not as easy as it might seem since many slave ships had netting to stop people jumping overboard.

In other cases, Jaffer says slaves killed themselves with knives stolen from crew members while

Some enslaved men and women refused to eat, hoping to starve themselves to death.


Those events described purely as extended suicide should be rare in principle.

But not unheard of.

Jan Carolus Josephus van Speijk, also written Van Speyk (31 January 1802 – 5 February 1831), was a Dutch naval lieutenant who became a hero in the Netherlands for his opposition to the Belgian Revolution.

When the Belgian War of Independence began, Van Speijk was given command of a Dutch gunboat. Van Speijk despised the Belgian independence movement, and he said he would rather die "than become an infamous Brabander". On February 5, 1831, a gale blew his gunboat into the quay at the port of Antwerp. The Belgians quickly stormed his ship, demanding Van Speijk haul down the Dutch flag. Rather than surrender his ship, he fired a pistol (some versions say he threw a lighted cigar) into a barrel of gunpowder in the ship's magazine. According to legend, he shouted "Dan liever de lucht in" ( "(I'd) rather be blown up"). The number of Belgians killed is unknown, though it probably numbered in the dozens. Twenty-eight of his 31 crewmen also perished in the blast.

Although I doubt this is what you really had in mind. The above is another example of quick decision in a dire situation. It seems that something like ramming a reef in cold premeditated intent, perhaps because of depression, would be the prime goal here. But for that I'd like to mention that most people that want to die do not want that much pain and agony in the process that slow drowning would entail. For that it would much easier to just jump… Not to mention that maybe a few crew mates that would get wind of such a plan would like to object to it.

While no historic proof, two stories in that direction still illustrate the last problem:

Andreas Lubitz seems to have had his co-pilot locked out of the cockpit to proceed. The captain on the magnificent Titanic in Voyage of the Damned? also had to shut off the bridge and disable the last remaining crewman to get on with his plan.

Taken together it seems that a few factors make the desired scenario quite unlikely. What we need is a real captain Ahab that would either trick his fellow seaman into unknown-to-them waters or charm his crew into submission to insanity, basically. The real Ahab that inspired the novel seems close but to not really fit either.


Yes, emperor Nero tried to murder his mother, Agrippina the Younger, on a specially prepared ship. The attempt failed, and mommy dear was a very good swimmer. She rescued herself, and was later killed by Praetorians on Nero's orders.


When he eventually turned to murder, he first tried poison, three times in fact. She prevented her death by taking the antidote in advance. Afterwards, he rigged up a machine in her room which would drop her ceiling tiles onto her as she slept, however, she once again escaped her death after she received word of the plan. Nero's, final plan was to get her in a boat which would collapse and sink.

He sent her a friendly letter asking to reconcile and inviting her to celebrate the Quinquatrus at Baiae with him. He arranged an "accidental" collision between her galley and one of his captains. When returning home, he offered her his collapsible boat, as opposed to her damaged galley.

The next day, Nero received word of her survival after the boat sank from her freedman Agermus. Panicking, Nero ordered a guard to 'surreptitiously' drop a blade behind Agermus and Nero immediately had him arrested on account of attempted murder. Nero ordered the assassination of Agrippina. He made it look as if Agrippina had committed suicide after her plot to kill Nero had been uncovered.

Murder-suicide is different. Nero did both, but not at the same time. The Japanese just this deadly combo during WW2:

The kaiten human torpedoes. With these weapons the operator had to commit suicide if he wanted to be successful. However, they weren't. Only three ships were sunk by it. Still, the loss of life was about 200 seamen.

  • 5
    That's attempted murder, not attempted murder–suicide. Oct 10, 2018 at 2:46
  • 2
    The kaiten attack was by an enemy, not someone on board. Oct 10, 2018 at 4:43

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