My youngest son recently had to do a report on naval history. What seemed to be a rather boring subject took a turn for the macabre, haunting and interesting. As we dug through old, historical records and newspaper reports, my son was delighted to find stories of mystery “ghost” ships. I decided that, since it captured his attention and inspired him, to let him run with it.
I found the subject equally interesting and indulged myself in many pleasurable moments of reading. These are not some fantastical accounts of UFO type experiences but reputable, documented cases of mysterious disappearance, or, in some cases, reappearances of ships and, sometimes, the disappearance of entire crews.
One of my favorite ghost ship accounts is the story of the SS Ourang Meden, a Dutch freighter which disappeared in the summer of 1947. Many ships in the vicinity of Indonesia heard its distress call that was sent in Morse code. It communicated an SOS and reported that the ship was adrift. The message further claimed that all officers, including the Captain, were dead and that their bodies were in the chartroom and bridge. The person sending the coded message indicated that it was his opinion that the entire crew was dead. A few unintelligible dots and dashes followed and then the message concluded in a very clear, two word message, “I die”.
When rescue vessels arrived near the freighter within hours, there was no response to their hails to the ship. A boarding party did, indeed, discover everyone on board dead. Official reports indicated that they were all upon their backs, mouths open, eyes staring skyward. Even the ship’s dog was dead. Before rescuers could begin to tow the ship back to shore for further inspection, it caught on fire and sank.
This mysterious case has never been solved. And there are many more cases equally mysterious. The story of the Mary Celeste is legendary. Books, movies and even albums have been made based on this ship’s disappearance.
The Mary Celeste was an American merchant vessel. In December of 1872, a Canadian vessel found it adrift in the Atlantic Ocean near the Azores Islands. It was deserted and messy but still seaworthy. The lifeboat was missing and there were no log entries to indicate why the ship had been abandoned by the crew, their Captain and his wife and two-year-old daughter.
She was still well provisioned and carrying her cargo. All of the crew’s belongings were still on board. Everyone had vanished and there was no clue as to why or how or where they were. Different theories surfaced such as poisoning from noxious fumes from the chemical cargo in the hold but no determination has ever been made.
This ship remained in service until 1885 when her captain purposely wrecked her in the waters off of Haiti. He was attempting to cash in on insurance fraud. Mary Celeste’s curious history has been retold by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as many novelists, playwrights and songwriters.
Naval history around the world is filled with stories and legends of ghost ships. Every seafaring nation has their own stories to tell. As long as man has been sailing the oceans and seas of this world strange and amazing things have happened to the sailors that brave the open waters.