13 Apr 2012

First casualty of shipwrecks is chivalry - study

10:12 pm on 13 April 2012

A new study suggests the belief that women and children are first to be saved when ships sink is largely a myth.

After analysing 18 maritime disasters over three centuries, researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have concluded that women are distinctly disadvantaged when it comes to survival.

They say male captains and crew have a significantly higher survival rate and that women are generally at greater disadvantage in British shipwrecks, the BBC reports.

The researchers say their findings show that behaviour in real life-or-death situations is best captured by the expression, "Every man for himself".

They say the Titanic disaster in 1912 was a rare exception because the captain threatened to shoot those who disobeyed.

No New Zealand shipwrecks were studied, but when the SS Northfleet was rammed and sunk by a Spanish steamship while sailing from London to Hobart in Tasmania, in January 1873, its captain also ordered women and children to be saved first.

One man was shot for disobeying the order, but men still rushed to the lifeboats, and 26.6% of them survived, but only 3.9% of the women on board lived.