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SS Arabic (1902)

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Title: SS Arabic (1902)  
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SS Arabic (1902)

Name: Arabic
Owner: White Star Line
Port of registry:
Route: Liverpool, Queenstown, New York
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Belfast, Ireland
Yard number: 340
Launched: 18 December 1902
Completed: 21 June 1903
Maiden voyage: 26 June 1903
Fate: Sunk 19 August 1915, 50 mi (80 km) south of Kinsale
General characteristics
Tonnage: 15,801 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 600 ft 7 in (183.06 m)
Beam: 65 ft 5 in (19.94 m)
Propulsion: quadruple expansion steam engines, twin screws
Speed: 16 kn (30 km/h)

SS Arabic was an ocean liner that entered service in 1903 for the White Star Line. She was sunk on 19 August 1915 by the SM U-24, 50 mi (80 km) south of Kinsale. Her sinking caused a diplomatic incident.


Arabic in about 1905

Arabic was originally intended to be Minnewaska, one of four ships ordered from Harland and Wolff, Belfast, Ireland, by the Atlantic Transport Line (ATL), but fell victim to the recession and the shipbuilding rationalization following the ATL's 1902 incorporation into the International Mercantile Marine Company, and was transferred before completion to the White Star Line as Arabic. She was extensively modified before launch with additional accommodation which extended her superstructure aft of her third mast and forward of her second mast. She could accommodate 200 first class passengers and 1,000 third class.


Arabic commenced her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York via Queenstown on 26 June 1903, arriving in New York on 5 July.

She spent most of her working life on the Liverpool, Queenstown, and New York route, occasionally sailing on the Liverpool to Boston run. In 1913 her first class accommodation was reclassified as second class and extra lifeboats were added following the new regulations instituted after the loss of RMS Titanic, and at the end of 1914 she resumed the Liverpool to New York route.


Contemporary map of the sinking location, marked with a red cross.
Captain William Finch

On 19 August 1915 U-24 sank the Arabic, outward bound for the USA, 50 mi (80 km) south of Kinsale. Arabic was zigzagging at the time, and the commander of U-24 said that he thought she was trying to ram his submarine. He fired a single torpedo which struck the liner aft, and she sank within 10 minutes, killing 44 passengers and crew, 3 of whom were American. On 22 August US President Wilson's press officer issued a statement to the effect that the White House staff was speculating on what to do if the Arabic investigation indicated that there had been a deliberate German attack. If true, there was speculation that the US would sever relations with Germany, while if it was untrue, negotiations were possible.

At the same time, US Secretary of State Lansing approved Assistant Secretary Chandler Anderson's suggestion for a meeting with German Ambassador Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff to explain informally that if Germany abandoned submarine warfare, Britain would be the only violator of American neutral rights. Anderson met Bernstorff at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York and reported to Lansing that Bernstorff had immediately recognized the advantage of making Britain responsible for illegal acts unless Britain ended its war zone.

Following the Arabic incident, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg and Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow decided to tell the Americans about their secret orders of 1 June and 5 June, which instructed submarine commanders not to torpedo passenger ships without notice and provisions for the safety of passengers and crew, and on 25 August Bethmann-Hollweg informed US Ambassador James W. Gerard about the June orders.

Bethmann-Hollweg and von Jagow also sought the Kaiser's approval to spare all passenger ships from submarine attack. This proposal angered the German admiralty, Alfred von Tirpitz offering to resign his post as Naval Secretary. The Kaiser rejected Tirpitz's offer and supported Bethmann and on 28 August the Chancellor issued new orders to submarine commanders and relayed them to Washington. The new orders stated that until further notice, all passenger ships could only be sunk after warning and the saving of passengers and crews. In his note to Bernstorff, Bethmann instructed him to negotiate as follows:[1]

  1. Offer Hague arbitration for the RMS Lusitania and Arabic incidents
  2. Passenger liners to be sunk only after warning and saving of lives, provided they do not flee or resist
  3. US to endeavour to reestablish free seas on the basis of the Declaration of London


  1. ^ Brune, Lester H; Burns, Richard Dean (2003). Chronological History of US Foreign Relations. Routledge. p. 371.  


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