Seawise Giant vs Titanic: Comparing the Maritime Titans

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Enormous ships have always captivated the imaginations of the general public. The RMS Titanic ocean liner and the Seawise Giant supertanker are among history’s most iconic and memorable vessels.

Although at 1,504.1 feet long, the Seawise Giant is the longest ship ever constructed, eclipsing the 882-foot length of the Titanic, the two ships are still considered titans of their respective eras.

Today, we are going to take an in-depth look at how these two extraordinary ships compare. From detailed comparisons of their dimensions and purposes to backgrounds on how they were constructed and their eventual fates, this guide will help you understand the differences and similarities between these two legendary vessels.

How Big is the Seawise Giant Compared to the Titanic?

Both vessels were giants of their time, but the Seawise Giant was much larger than the Titanic. The giant ship had a gross tonnage of 260,941, compared to the Titanic, which was 46,329 gross tons. Seawise Giant was 1,504 feet in length compared to the length of the Titanic, which was 882 feet.

To make it easier to understand how the origins of these two ships differ, we will take a look at each in isolation.

The RMS Titanic

While many people mistake the RMS Titanic for a cruise ship, she was designed to be the world’s most luxurious ocean liner. She was the second in a trio of Olympic-level ocean liners when the Titanic was built. Like her sister ships, the Olympic and Britannic, the Harland & Wolff Shipyard built the Titanic in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Titanic Layout
Titanic Ocean Liner

Although the Titanic would be a British-registered ship upon completion, she was owned by a joint British and American company called White Star Line. The order was first placed on September 17, 1908, but construction did not begin until March 1909. Almost exactly three years after the keel was laid, the Titanic was completed on April 2, 1912.

When her first sea trials began, she was the largest ship ever constructed. The unprecedented construction project required round-the-clock work and the efforts of over 15,000 laborers and craftsmen! 

The Seawise Giant

The Seawise Giant stands in stark contrast to the Titanic. Not only is it significantly larger, it was designed for a completely different purpose. Where the RMS Titanic was designed to be a luxurious and opulent transatlantic passenger vessel, the Seawise Giant was designed to be the world’s biggest cargo ship.

Sumitomo Heavy Industries constructed the enormous supertankers at the Oppama Shipyard in Kanagawa, Japan. The order was placed in 1974 by a Greek shipping magnate.

Seawise Giant
Seawise Giant (Photo Credit: Octabeck)

Following completion in October of 1979, it was the longest and heaviest self-propelled ship ever constructed. Despite her record-breaking proportions, the ship was unnamed upon completion due to ownership issues and a lengthy arbitration proceeding between Sumitomo Heavy Industries and the Greek company that placed the order. The dispute resulted from financial issues on the Greek side, so the ship had to be sold to a Chinese shipping company owned by C.Y. Tung.

Read Also: Gross Ton of a Cruise Ship – Let’s Explain

The reason why such an enormous vessel was ordered in the first place was due to the increasing global demand for oil. The 1970s saw a massive spike in demand for crude oil from the Middle East and elsewhere.

By building an enormous and efficient vessel capable of carrying massive quantities of oil across long distances, it was believed that the Seawise Giant would prove to be one of the most lucrative vessels ever made. Essentially, she would operate as an oil tanker on a massive scale. 

Cost of Construction and Time to Build

When the Seawise Giant was constructed, the expenses soared to just over $100 million, equivalent to closer to $300 million when adjusted for inflation. The ship’s enormous price tag and the fact that the builders went way over budget contributed to the ownership issues that followed her completion.

The construction of the mighty ship went over budget, and it took longer to complete than anticipated. Original estimates gave a turnaround of about three years, but issues with vibrations during sea trials meant the entire project took closer to five years.

Titanic Construction
Titanic Construction (Photo Credit: Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock)

By contrast, the Titanic cost $7.5 million in 1912, roughly $198 million today. Part of what remains so fascinating about the Titanic’s construction is how quickly she was completed and just over three years had passed when she set off on her maiden voyage and final journey on April 10, 1912.

This would be a stunning achievement for any large-scale ocean liner at the time, but the fact that the Titanic was so large and lavishly outfitted meant that the project was vastly more complex. 

Size Differences 

To truly appreciate the differences between the two ships, you need to compare their immense proportions: 

Titanic vs Seawise Giant Size Chart

MeasurementTitanicSeawise Giant
Length882 ft.1,504.1 ft.
Width92 ft.226 ft.
Height64 ft.81 ft.
Gross Tonnage46,328260,941

 As you can see, the Seawise Giant overshadows the Titanic by every single metric. With that said, it’s important to remember that the two ships were designed for entirely different purposes and separated by over 68 years. While this may not sound like an overly significant amount of time, in terms of advancements in maritime engineering, it is an eternity! 

Put simply, the fact that the Seawise Giant is even longer than the Empire State Building would have been mind-boggling to observers at the time when the Titanic was constructed in the early 20th century. 

Structural Differences Between the Two Ships 

The Titanic was designed as a luxury ocean liner with intricate and segmented interior spaces in mind. The ship’s interior was also designed to accommodate 840 passenger cabins and suites and luxurious amenities like a gym, Turkish bath, and swimming pool. To achieve this aim, the Titanic featured a traditional passenger vessel hull design on a much larger scale.

Titanic's Café Parisien
Titanic’s Café Parisien (Photo Credit: Robert Welch)

The ship relied upon a steam-powered triple-screw propulsion system pointed at an angle that would cause the least discomfort and noise for passengers. With a top speed of roughly 22 knots, comfort, rather than speed, was the clear priority in the ship’s design.

In contrast, the Seawise Giant was designed to function as an enormous oil tanker, so the hull was designed to optimize oil capacity and stability. The interior of the supertanker did not have to accommodate passengers, so it could be tailored to the needs of the fuel cargo it would carry, as well as the safety of the crew.

Seawise Giant
Seawise Giant (Photo Credit: Octabeck)

The Seawise Giant also relied on two enormous Mitsubishi engines, which could propel the ship at a top speed of 16.5 knots. While this may seem relatively slow, it’s important to remember that the ship was designed to travel at a steady and safe speed to ensure stability for its highly flammable cargo. Plus, the ship’s record-breaking length and weight put tremendous strain on the 50,000 hp engines. 

Fuel Requirements and Routes 

As was typical of the time, the Titanic’s massive steam engines were both coal-fed. The Titanic’s enormous bunkers carried 6,611 tons of coal to fuel her transatlantic voyage. Each of the engine furnaces required at least 600 tons of coal per day, which was all shoveled by hand by the 176-person engine crew. 

Given that the Titanic failed to complete a single journey due to its tragic sinking, she was only ever scheduled to travel from Southampton, England, to New York City, United States.

Titanic Sailing
Titanic Sailing (Photo Credit: Robert Welch)

Had she completed her maiden voyage, she would then return to England. This relatively simple route would have continued, as the ship was designed to be a transatlantic ocean liner rather than a multi-stop, mega cruise ship.

On the other hand, the Seawise Giant’s powerful engines ran off of diesel. Due to its massive size and weight, the ship burned roughly 330 tons of diesel per day and could carry enough for a 42-day continuous journey. Of course, the fuel stores for the ship’s engines do not include the cargo capacity of roughly 4.1 billion barrels of crude oil.

Seawise Giant (Knock Nevis)
Seawise Giant (Knock Nevis)

The Seawise Giant was outfitted with a much larger engine and was designed to traverse global shipping routes. Her primary routes included carrying vast quantities of crude oil from the Middle East to destinations worldwide.

Most of these voyages included traversing around the Cape of Good Hope, as the ship was too large to use the shallow waters of the world’s major shipping canals, like the Suez Canal, English Channel, and Panama Canal.

Passengers and Crew

As a luxury passenger vessel, the Titanic’s primary purpose was transporting people rather than cargo. The ship could carry a maximum number of 2,435 passengers and 892 crew members. Those traveling on the Titanic were offered various accommodations, segmented by three class groupings.

Titanic Voyage
Titanic Voyage

Given that the current world’s biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Icon of the Seas, has a passenger capacity of 7,600, it’s still impressive that a luxury ocean liner from over 100 years ago could carry that many guests in style. 

Even though the Seawise Giant is significantly larger than the Titanic, she requires a much smaller crew. While numbers varied according to the duration of the voyage, she typically traveled with 40 to 50 personnel. This crew would be tasked with everything from navigation and logistics to managing the cargo holds. As a supertanker, the Seawise Giant never carried passengers. 

Comparison of Safety Features

Despite the Titanic’s moniker as an “unsinkable” ship, she actually lacked adequate safety measures for transatlantic travel. Without enough lifeboats and the watertight compartments needed to survive a breach, the ship’s tragic fate could be viewed as inevitable.

Worth Reading: Cruise Ship Lifeboats – How Are They Tested?

With that said, the Titanic was still considered outfitted with the latest safety features when it was first launched. The ship’s 16 compartments, meant to contain water if the hull was breached, could be remotely closed from the bridge. The ship was also designed so that she would remain afloat even if four compartments were flooded; however, the sinking proved this design to be faulty.

Titanic Lifeboat
Titanic Lifeboat

The ship also featured a wireless radio system, which was cutting edge for the time, as well as enough life vests and buoyancy rings to help passengers survive had they been forced to abandon ship. Sadly, the ice-cold waters where she sank made long-term survival an impossibility.

Unsurprisingly, the Seawise Giant was outfitted with more advanced safety features, including a double hull construction, an advanced fire fighting system, and a crew thoroughly trained in emergency response protocols. The latest navigational systems and communications equipment, like radar and satellite systems, also ensured that the ship remained on course. 

While nobody could have predicted that the ship would get caught up in a war, it is a testament to the ship’s incredible design that she was salvageable after taking direct missile fire. 

Operational Histories and Fates 

As mentioned, the Titanic had a short and tragic operational history. On April 14, 1912, just four days after departing, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and began sinking.

The enormous ocean liner took less than three hours to sink fully, resulting in the deaths of over 1,500 people. While the ship was already an icon of size and luxury, its sinking carved out a special place in history as one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters of all time.

Did the titanic break in half
Titanic (Photo Credit: Everett Collection)

While the ship did not have the same cultural impact as the Titanic, the Seawise Giant also had a storied and deeply complex history. After a complex construction and ownership battle, the ship acted as a record-breaker in oil hauling. 

Serving as one of the major players in the global oil supply chain, the ship transported millions of barrels of oil from the Persian Gulf to destinations around the world. Given that she was sold to three separate operators over her lifespan, the ship even had four other names – Happy Giant, Jahre Viking, Knock Nevis, and Mont.

Seawise Giant
Seawise Giant (Photo Credit: Nils Koch)

Aside from its record-smashing size, the most interesting thing about the ship was the damage she sustained during the Iran-Iraq War in 1998. Falling victim to an Iraqi missile attack, the ship burst into flames and eventually sank.

Even still, the behemoth persevered, and the wreckage was recovered and repaired following the war. By 1991, the ship was back in service under the new name Jahre Viking. 

The ship remained in continuous operation until being used as a moored oil storage tanker off the coast of Qatar. Finally, in 2009, she was fully decommissioned and sent to be scrapped at the Alang Ship Breaking Yard in India. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Has the Seawise Giant sunk?

Yes, the Seawise Giant partially sunk in 1988 due to damage during the Iran-Iraq War. At the time, she was anchored off the coast of Iran. Iraqi planes attacked oil tankers located near the Strait of Hormuz to choke off Iran’s oil exports. 

Fortunately for the mighty ship, a Norwegian consortium recovered and repaired her. After two years, it returned to service under the new name Happy Giant. 

What was the largest ship ever built? 

The Seawise Giant still retains the distinction of being the world’s largest ship. Even though she was taken out of service in 2009, there has not been a longer ship built since then. With that said, the Pioneering Spirit crane ship and four Batillus-class supertankers outweigh the Seawise Giant by gross tonnage. 

How big was the crew on the Seawise Giant? 

The Seawise Giant traveled with a crew of 40 to 50 personnel, with the number fluctuating according to the duration and requirements of the voyage.

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