The SS Athos was a French merchant ship that was sunk by a German Submarine ( U-65 commanded by Hermann von Fischel) on 17th February 1917, 180 nautical miles off the coast of Malta. On board were about 1,000 Chinese labourers who had been recruited by the French, and had almost completed their journey to France, with Marseilles being the final destination of the ship. 754 lives were lost when the ship was sunk, 543 of them Chinese.
Having previously protested Germany’s policy of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (formally announced on 9th January 1917, but practiced previously), meaning military and non-military vessels would be targeted, China would sever diplomatic relations with Germany on 14th March 1917.
Germany’s Unrestricted Submarine Warfare policy had led to the sinking of the British ship, RMS Lusitania, by a German submarine on 7th May 1915, with the loss of 1,198 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans. This event was a factor in the United States’ decision to declare war on Germany in April 1917.
The Chinese labourers who were aboard the SS Athos were French recruits and as such were not members of the Chinese Labour Corps.