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The sinking of the RMS Lusitania was at the hands of a German torpedo, but several extra factors led to the severe loss of life.

Ship design at the time, which called for coal bunkers to run the length of the ship outside of the transverse bulkheads, gave the ship a starboard list of 15 degrees almost instantly, making lifeboat launch difficult. The increasing list to 25 degrees made lifeboat launch from either side impossible.

Wartime instructions to captains of passenger liners to shoot at or ram surfacing submarines led to the German U-Boat’s decision not to inform the Lusitania of impending attack and allowing innocent passengers to escape.

Captain Turner was unable to reduce the Lusitania’s speed from 18 knots once hit, and the ship travelled another 3 km at speed before it sank. This speed smashed lifeboats that were launched, pushed more water into the hull breach, and hastened the ship’s death. The same complication occurred to many steam-powered ships in following years, and by 1918 proposals were being considered to provide deck-mounted cutoff valves to manually shut off the engines in an emergency.