Thursday, 8 July 2010

Ghost Ships

A WebUrbanist post again, this one is Real Ghost Ships: 10 Mysterious Abandoned Sea Vessels.
A lot of things can happen at sea – pirates, mutiny, murder and bad weather not to mention (if you’re so inclined) alien abductions, clashes with sea monsters and the mysterious workings of the Bermuda Triangle. So perhaps it’s no wonder so many ships have turned up without their crew or passengers – but where’s the evidence of a struggle?

1. Mary CelesteIn 1872 in this brigantine merchant ship was found in the Atlantic Ocean heading in the direction of the Strait of Gibraltar, with its cargo and valuables completely untouched, packed with six months’ worth of food and water but not a single passenger or crew member. Aside from several torn sails and a missing lifeboat, its contents were wet and it was a bit worse for the wear, the ship was still seaworthy. The fact that all reasonable explanations – from storms to piracy – seem to have been ruled out has spurred more outrageous theories of alien abduction or sea monster attacks (A 1965 episode of Dr Who suggests the disappearance was caused by Daleks). Today, the fate of the Mary Celeste remains one of history’s most famous and puzzling maritime mysteries – but this is far from the only story of its kind.

2. Was it mutiny, piracy, Communists or a bizarre supernatural experience in the Bermuda Triangle that robbed the Carroll A. Deering of her crew? This five-masted commercial schooner was on its way back from delivering a load of coal from Virginia to Rio, and during a supply stop in Barbados, the first mate was arrested for making threats against the supposedly interfering and not-so-sharp-eyed captain but was released on bail and forgiven before the ship moved on toward its destination of Norfolk, Virginia.

On January 28, 1921, the ship was spotted when it hailed the Cape Lookout Lightship in North Carolina. The schooner looked to be in rough shape and had lost both her anchors, and a man with a foreign accent onboard told the lightship’s crew. Three days later, the Deering was seen was when it ran aground in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina – the crew, their belongings, and the lifeboats all missing. The crew was never located, and the U.S. government has never come up with an official explanation, though they did consider foul play by rum runners or Communist pirates set on capturing American ships.

3. Bel AmicaIn 2006 the Italian Coast Guard spotted, a “classic style” schooner unlike any seen in Italy before. It contained a half-eaten meal of Egyptian food, French maps of North African seas, a pile of clothes, a flag of Luxembourg and a wooden plaque bearing the name ‘Bel Amica’. Italian authorities found that the ship had never been registered in any country. It was soon revealed to be a modern yacht belonging to a Luxembourg man who likely didn’t register it for tax evasion purposes.

4. The High Aim 6, a Taiwanese ship was found drifting in Australian waters without its crew in 2003, though plenty of fuel and provisions remained onboard, along with the crew’s personal belongings and a hold full of stinky seafood. A forensic examination could find no sign of a struggle, and a search of 7,300 nautical miles turned up no clues – but 10 days after the ship was discovered, calls were still being made from Indonesia on the cell phone of the ship’s missing engineer. The only crew member ever tracked down claimed that the captain and engineer were murdered and the crew headed back to their homes, but no reason was ever given.

5. The Jian Seng a 80m tanker was spotted drifting in the waters near Weipa, Queensland in 2006, but once Australian Customs officials boarded the ship they couldn’t find evidence of recent human activity at all. In fact, the ship had been stripped, with its name and identifying features painted over, and contained nothing but a large amount of rice (the vessel was probably used as a resupply ship for fishing boats). Ultimately, since no owner could be found, the ship was intentionally sunken.

6. MV Joyita may have been an “unsinkable” ship, with 25 passengers and crew onboard, the Joyita disappeared in the South Pacific in 1955. the Joyita left Western Samoa’s Apia harbour bound for the Tokelau Islands, about 270 miles (430 km) away. 5 weeks after the ship was reported overdue, it was spotted off-course partially submerged and missing 4 tons of cargo including medical supplies, timber, food and empty oil drums. While flooded to an extent which would sink a conventional vessel, the Joyita stayed afloat due to her cork-lined hull and cargo of fuel drums. The radio was tuned to the international marine distress channel, the lifeboats were gone and blood-stained bandages were found. Some believe that the captain was injured or killed and that the passengers and crew felt they had no choice but to abandon the ship – but that still doesn’t explain the missing cargo.

7. Kaz II, a 32-ft (9.8 m) catamaran. On April 15th, 2007, three men set out on a journey along the coast of Australia – and 3 days later, their ship turned up drifting 88 nautical miles (160 km) off the Great Barrier Reef with everything perfectly in place. Everything, that is, except for the men themselves, who were missing. Food was set out on the table, a laptop was open and still turned on, the engines were running, all of the boat’s emergency systems were fully functional and life jackets hung neatly on their hooks. Since the seas were choppy and none of the men were wearing a life jacket, it has been hypothesized that one of the men fell overboard and the others perished trying to save him.

It is thought that the men, on their way back to Western Australia, disappeared only hours after they left Airlie Beach on the Whitsundays coast. Then the boat sailed on unmanned for three days, being observed by passing fishermen, before the alarm was raised. After the search was called off, it was discovered that a Volunteer Marine Rescue radio operator had had radio contact with the Kaz II between 6pm and 7pm on April 15, hours after they were supposed to have disappeared.

8. Yet another ship found without its crew was the Zebrina, a 3-masted sailing barge that left a port in Southern England in October 1917 with a cargo hold full of coal bound for Saint-Brieuc, France. When the ship was found 2 days later, in France aground and abandoned but in good shape, except for some disarrangement of her rigging,, it seemed that some kind of conflict related to World War I was to blame. Did the U-boat that threatened the Zebrina force the crew onboard, and then retreat when it spotted an Allied ship nearby? Some people believe that this submarine was later sunken itself, hence the fact that Zebrina’s crew was never seen again.

9. Jenny“May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive.” The captain who wrote this message was still sitting in a chair with a pen in his hand when this message was found in his logbook 17 years later. His body, and those of the other people onboard the British schooner Jenny, had been preserved by the frigid Antarctic weather of the Drake passage, which had ensnared the ship in ice and led to their deaths. Captain Brighton and the crew of a whaling ship discovered the Jenny in 1840 and buried the 7 crew and passengers – including a dog – at sea.

The Jenny is so similar to the Octavius, which was set to return to England with a cargo of trade goods from the Far East. The ship’s captain, motivated by greed, decided that the tried & true “round the Horn” route was far too long. His rudimentary maps revealed a more direct route – straight across the fabled Northwest Passage.
The Octavius wasn’t seen again until October 11th, 1775 when the Herald, an Atlantic whaling ship, came across the Octavius drifting off the coast of Greenland. Sailors from the Herald boarded the Octavius only to find the crew dead and the captain sitting at his desk… frozen solid. The captain was in the midst of writing an entry into the ship’s log dated 1762. Though the Octavius had accomplished the impossible by sailing the Northwest Passage, the captain’s desire for a speedy homecoming was less successful.

10. The SS Baychimo re-supplying the Hudson Bay Company’s far-flung northern outposts traded pelts for provisions in Inuit settlements along the north coast of Canada. This Swedish built 230-foot steel hulled cargo steamer had just been freed from pack ice a week earlier when it got stuck even worse on October 8th, 1931, leading over half of its crew to abandon it while 15 remained to wait out the winter nearby in a wooden shelter that they built. When a blizzard struck on November 24, the Baychimo was later found to be missing and assumed sunken… but it turned up three days later, 45 miles away. The crew gathered up the cargo and abandoned the ship, fearing the ship would be crushed in the winter, but once again it did not sink. Over the several decades, sightings of the Baychimo were reported all over the coast, and some people even boarded the ship. In March 1962 it was seen drifting in open water along the Beaufort Sea coast and it was last seen frozen in pack-ice off the Alaskan Coast in 1969.
Now of these ten did you note that four had an Australian/Pacific location? And this list only mentions the ship found, not those still missing like:
The 42ft yacht the Blessed Be and her 2 sailors, missing since August 2008 on a journey between Noumea, New Caledonia and Queensland. The yacht was equipped with a sat-phone, an EPIRB, HF and VHF radios, life raft and other safety gear, but no Mayday was called by the yacht.
Or, the West Australian 19.5-metre yacht Patanella which left Fremantle on October 16th 1988 bound for Airlie Beach (Airlie Beach again, see Kaz II) Queensland with six people on board. The vessel was last seen at Portland, Victoria, on November 1st 1988. An unconfirmed radio message on November 8 said it was 10 nautical miles off Sydney Heads and coming in under sail because it had run out of fuel. A lifebuoy from the Patanella was found off Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast on May 9th 1989. Scientific tests on it found it had been drifting for no more than four weeks, and prevailing currents meant the buoy had probably floated from somewhere in the Coral Sea.

So is Australia over represented in the ghostly shipping stakes?
Other related WebUrbanist posts Strange & Intriguing Shipwrecks and Spirits of the Seven Seas

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