The term ghost ship is pretty flexible when it comes to talking about mysterious boats on the high seas. While it often describes a ship that was found abandoned with no living crew aboard or ships commissioned for scrap but escaped the tow line and are left to aimlessly drift, the term also describes mysterious phantom ships that are rooted in folklore seen by sailors and land dwellers alike but are little more than illusions that do not exist. Sometimes, the term ghost ship is even used to describe both.
Regardless of which type of ghost ship you are referring to, there are plenty of mysteriously fated ship stories recorded throughout history from the mysteriously abandoned Mary Celeste in the 1870s to the phantom SS Baychimo that has been spotted floating aimlessly over the years, and the possible mutiny of the High Aim No. 6 to the spooky sea omen of the Flying Dutchman.
We’ve gathered 20 of the most famous (and mysterious) ghost ships and their histories, along with five legends of phantom ships that are still said to roam the seven seas. Can you solve the mysteries of this eerily fated ships?
25 SS Ourang Medan
In June 1947, a chilling distress signal was set out from the Dutch freighter SS Ourang Medan that said: “All Officers, including the Captain, are dead. Lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” This message was followed by a last ominous “I die.”
The American Silver Star was the first to reach the SS Ourang Medan, they attempted to get the attention of the crew but were met with only silence. The Silver Star decided to send a rescue team to board the crew and they were met with a nightmare scene. The entire crew, including the captain, were dead (even the ship’s dog).
The Silver Star decided to two the SS Ourang Medan to port, but it didn’t make it because a while into their journey smoke was seen rising from the towed ship. The Silver Star was forced to cut the two line and barely made it to safety when the SS Ourang Meda exploded.
No one knows what really happened to the crew of the SS Ourang Medan but theories including carbon monoxide poisoning, pirates and even aliens have been floated.
24 The SS Valencia
The SS Valencia was a small iron-hulled passenger steamer that set sail from San Francisco to Seattle in late January 1906. On board were 108 passengers and 56 crew. Not long into her journey, the weather became horrible and the visibility was severely limited rendering their celestial navigation system impossible. The SS Valencia collided with a reef and run aground, and to avoid sinking the Captain ordered her breached but she struck rocks again. She was only 50 meters from the shore but the weather was treacherous. Panicked crew and passengers launched the lifeboats against the Captain’s orders but three flipped as they were being lowered and three capsized in the ocean. Only 37 survived the ordeal.
Because it was a remote area, the wreckage of the ship has remained untouched for the past 100 years. You can find pieces of it along the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island.
23 The Carroll A. Deering
In 1921, the Carroll A. Deering was found run aground in Diamond Shoals with no crew and no explanation. Five months prior to the discovery, in August 1920, the Caroll A. Deering set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, with a cargo of coal. Aboard was an experienced captain along with a 10-man crew from Rio de Janerio.
On January 29, a lightship keeper named Captain Jacobson sighted the Carroll A Deering, the ship hailed Captain Jacobson and an unnamed crew member shared that they had lost their anchors. Jacobson was unable to report the issue because his radio was out but he did later report that the crew of the Carroll A. Deering was suspicious. Two days later, C.P. Brady of the Cape Hatteras Coast Guard Station spotted the Caroll A. Deering, and while it was run around the sails were still set and the lifeboats were missing. When the ship was boarded they found no crew or personal items, also gone were the anchors, some paperwork and key navigational equipment. What happened remains a mystery.
22 The Octavius
The Octavius left London for China with a full crew including the skipper’s wife and son in 1761. They arrived with no incident, changed cargo and set sail back to Britain, but due to the unusually warm weather, the Captain decided to sail the Northwest Passage, even though that journey had not been completed at that time. They were never heard from again.
On October 11, 1775, a whaling ship called the Herald came across the Octavius, weather-beaten and abandoned near Greenland. A boarding crew was sent to search the ship and were met with quite the sight, finding the entire crew frozen, including the Captain with a pen in his hand. It turns out that the Captain had tried to navigate the Northwest Passage but the ship got stuck in the ice, its last recorded position was 75N, 160W, only 250 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.
21 The Joyita
The MV Joyita was a merchant vessel that sailed the seas in the South Pacific in 1955. She left Samoa’s Apia harbor on October 3, 1955, headed for the Tokelau Islands. The ship had 25 people on it, 16 crew and 9 passengers, and its cargo consisted of medical supplies. The MV Joyita was scheduled to arrive on October 5 but never arrived. The New Zealand Air Force was recruited to search the area but found no sign of the ship.
Fast forward five weeks to November 10, Captain Gerald Douglas of the Tuvalu merchant ship spotted the MV Joyita adrift over 1,000 km west of the scheduled route. The ship was partially submerged, and there were no crew or passengers in sight. All the clocks had stopped at 10:25, the log book, sextant, various navigational pieces and firearms that were known to be on the boat were missing, and the radio was turned to the international distress channel. The MV Joyita was designed to be an unsinkable ship, so even while she was partially submerged the crew and passengers would have been save to stay aboard until help arrived but to this day this mystery has not been solved.
20 The Mary Celeste
The Mary Celeste was found abandoned on December 4, 1872, by the British ship Dei Gratia. It was strange considering the ship had left New York City eight days prior to the Dei Gratia and should have already arrived at its destination in Genoa, Italy. The boarding party from the Dei Gratia found that belowdecks things had been tossed around and three and a half feet of water was sloshing around in the bottom, though the cargo (1,701 barrels of alcohol) was intact and there was still six months supply of food and water left.
It remains a mystery to this day what happened to the missing 10-person crew of the Mary Celeste. Theories from mutiny to pirates have been thrown about, but no one really knows what happened.
19 The Kaz II
The Kaz II was a catamaran that was found drifting 30 km off the Australian coast in 2007. The three-man crew that was supposed to be on board were missing, despite there being a fully-functioning laptop on and open, and a table set with food. The GPS was still operational and the lifejackets were found still on board.
Authorities undertook an extensive investigation and concluded that one of the men must have fallen overboard, and the two remaining men who attempted to rescue him all were unable to return to the boat. None of the men were said to be good swimmers and the seas at that time were extremely challenging.
18 The Jian Seng
The Jian Seng, an abandoned tanker, was found in 2006 off Australia’s Gold Coast by an airplane flying over the area. In response to the mysterious ship, a vessel, Storm, was launched to investigate. The next morning a small boat was launched from the vessel Storm to board the Jian Seng and the boarding party found no one aboard.
Mysteriously the name “Jian Seng” had been painted over, but the boarding party had found documentation to tell them that the ship was, in fact, the Jian Seng. The ship’s engines were inoperable and there was a large rice supply was found in the cargo hold. It was believed that the Jian Seng at one point had resupplied fishing boats but had broken loose from the tow rope when being towed to the scrap yard. Because no owner was ever found the Jian Seng was sunk as an artificial reef.
17 The High Aim No. 6
The High Aim 6 was a registered Taiwanese vessel but flew under an Indonesian flag, she left southern Taiwan on October 31, 2002, and was found drifting in Australian waters without its crew on January 8, 2003. The ship was originally spotted 5 days before it was able to be boarded due to the fact that the motor was running. The boarding party had to wait until the engine died and the rudder was locked to the board. The cargo appeared to be tons of rotting fish and there were seven toothbrushed found.
There were no signs of distress found in the ship and no clear evidence as to why it was abandoned. After a rigorous investigation, only one crew member could be tracked down who admitted that mutiny had been committed against the Captain and engineer. However, they were unable to prove mutiny and the reason for the abandonment remains unclear.
16 The Zebrina
In 1917, the Zebrina was found ashore with its sails intact and its cargo of coal untouched. The sailing barge had earlier set sail for Saint-Brieuc, France, but was found with its five-person crew missing. The most common theory surrounding the mysterious abandonment of the Zebrina was that they were intercepted by a German U-Boat. Some suspect that they were boarded by the occupants of the U-Boat but that it was attached by the Royal Navy before the Zebrina could be sunk. But that doesn’t explain the mysteriously absent crew, the untouched cargo or the fact that no such disturbance was ever reported.
15 The Nina
The Nina, a yacht carrying six Americans and one British man, set sail from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand and May 2013. The crew was last heard from on June 4, after an ocean storm had it. A text message sent from one of the occupants saying that the storm had shredded the sails, they promised to check back in later but were never heard from again.
The Nina, built in 1928, was on its way to Australia. Authorities searched over 100,000 square nautical miles but were unable to find them and the search was called to a halt. On September 15, 2013, satellite images showed a ship floating approximately 184 nautical miles west of Norfolk Island, but it appears to have not been the ship. The fate of the Nina and its occupants remains unknown.
14 The Sam Ratulangi PB 1600
The Sam Ratulangi PB 1600 was originally built in 2001. It was a container vessel that was completely empty and was last logged in operation in 2009 but was found drifting off of Myanmar’s coast run aground on the beach earlier this year. The ship was being towed to a salvaged factory in Bangladesh but the cables towing the ship broke during a storm. The crew of the towing ship decided to abandon the Sam Ratulangi PB 1600 due to the increasingly bad weather. The ship was completely empty and is more than 177 meters long.
13 The Ocean Wave
Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader built a performance out of his trip, titling it In Search of the Miraculous. His plan was to set sail to a student choir in his art gallery in America and arrive on the other side of the world in Falmouth, England some 8 to 10 weeks later. He was sailing from Cape Cod to Falmouth on a solo voyage across the Atlantic. On July 9, 1975, the 33-year-old said goodbye to his family to set sail on his small boat the Ocean Wave. And three weeks later it was radio silence.
The Ocean Wave was found partially submerged off the coast of Ireland. No one knows what happened to Bas Jan Ader, some believe a freak wave could have swept him away, others wonder if he got disoriented and jumped overboard, some even think he disappeared on purpose.
12 The Pirian Lunatic
On October 25, 2007, 72-year-old Slovenian sailer Jure Sterk set sail from Tauranga on what he planned to be his second trip around the world. He was hoping to break two world records to be the oldest man to sail the world and the first person to sail the world in the smallest boat without an engine.
Sterk was in regular contact with Australian ham radio enthusiasts throughout his trip. On Boxing Day he had mentioned that he had come across bad weather but all was well. But on January 3, a radio operator alerted the Australian Marian Safety Authority that Sterk had ceased communication. On January 26, a merchant vessel called the Aida came across the Pirian Lunatic, which was abandoned. The emergency boat that was attached was missing. Jure Sterk is presumed dead.
11 The Resolven
The SV Resolven is largely touted as the Welsh Mary Celeste. The SV Resolven made regular trips between Canada and Welsh ports, Captained by seasoned seaman John James. On August 29, 1884, the ship was seen by another ship the HMS Mallard. It appeared to be adrift between Baccalieu Island and Catalina, off the northern tip of Newfoundland. A boarding party was sent out and the soon discovered that the ship was empty. They found the SV Resolven’s log book but nothing appeared amiss, there was no evident reason for the crew to have abandoned ship. Even more mysterious, the fire was still lit and food sat on the table. The only clue? One of the lifeboats was missing.
10 Korean People’s Army Ghost Boats
In recent years, mysterious rowboats carrying remains have been washing up on Japanese shores. The boats have no identification, tags or clue as to what they are. These ghost ships have been drifting over for years, but 2017 saw a record number. The Japanese Coast Gaurd counted 95 boats by with 27 remains by December 18.
It is unclear exactly what the boats are but the most common explanation is that they are North Korean commercial fishers that are not equipped to be out on the ocean but are encouraged by their government to travel dangerous distances to make their catch. Inside the boats fishing nets, lures and life jackets can be found.
9 The Sea Bird
In 1750, the 300-ton merchant vessel called Sea Bird was on its way home to Newport, Rhode Island captained by John Durham. However, the ship never made it back. The morning it was supposed to make port in Newport, the Sea Bird was seen drifting off the Rhode Island coast before it ran aground on Easton Beach.
When the ship was boarded searches came across a dog and cat, both happy and healthy. But no one else was oh the Sea Bird, the crew was nowhere to be seen. Everything showed that the crew had just been there including the boiling coffee, the breakfast at the table and the lingering smell of tobacco smoke. Coins were even found out in the Captain’s chambers, out in the open and untouched. The day was clear, the ocean was calm and just two hours earlier another boat captain passed the Sea Bird and waved to Captain Durham who waved back at him. The mystery of the Sea Bird has never been solved.
8 The Eliza Battle
The Eliza Battle was a paddle steamer that moored along the Tombigbee River. Sometime in 1854, a reception for President Millard Fillmore was held on the steamer. The day was beautiful and the trip from Columbus, Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama, was going along fine.
However, on the morning of March 1, 1858, the Eliza Battle had her last journey. Sometime in the late afternoon and early evening, the temperature fell 40 degrees and a strong wind made the ship challenging to steer. On the Eliza Battle was a crew of 45, 60 passengers and up to 1,400 bales of cotton. Just after midnight, a cry of “fire” came from the ship. The water was frozen, the air cold but the ship was going up in flames. Not all of the occupants of the Eliza Battle made it safely off the ship.
7 The Bel Amica
When it was found drifting off the coast of Sardinia in August 2006, there was a half-eaten meal, charts, and piles of clothes on the Bel Amica. There was little to be found on the ship, even the name was a mystery with only a small plaque that read “Bel Amica.” The coast guard boarded the vessel and steered it clear of running aground by no evidence as to who was on or owned the boat could be found.
Eventually, the owner of the Bel Amica was found, no explanation was given as to why she was abandoned or what had happened to the crew. The ship was also not registered to any country.
6 The Flying Dutchman
If you’ve watched the Pirates of the Caribbean, you probably know about the Flying Dutchman. Captained by Davy Jones, the ship that can only dock every 10 years is said to “collect all the poor souls who died at sea.” But many don’t know where the legend comes from.
In 1641, Captain Hendrick van der Decken (the Dutchman) was making a return trip from the East Indies with a loaded ship of spices, silks, and other goods to his home of Amsterdam when a particularly awful storm came upon them. And while his crew begged him to turn around, the Dutchman was determined to pull through. Unfortunately, the storm was too much for the ship and she sank in South African Waters. Every now and again sailors report seeing the Flying Dutchman on the horizon, it is said to be a symbol of imminent doom or danger know as the curse of the flying Dutchman.
The appearance of the Flying Dutchman is said to be explained by a Fata Morgana a type of mirage that is most associated with the open ocean.
5 The Caleuche
According to legend, the el Caleuche appears nightly near the Isle of Chiloe just off the coast of Chile. It is described as being beautiful with three masts of five sales each. Observers say that it is full of lights with people on board laughing and having a grand time. When it’s time for the ghost ship to disappear, it is said that she ducks below the water or disappears. The legend says that the el Caleuche catches the spirits of those that have drowned or died at sea. It is said that the spirits are summoned the ship by Sirena Chilota, Pincoya (her sister) or Picoya (her brother).
4 The Lady Lovibond
It was 1748, and the triple-masted schooner Lady Lovibond was sailing out on Valentines Day. The first evening was a wedding celebration for all on board, all except for First-mate John Rivers who was sweet on the bride and was concocting a plan to get revenge. The Goodwin Sands was an anomaly approximately 10 miles long that hides 8 to 15 meters below the surface and has been known to wreck the bottoms of strong ships. Enraged with envy Rivers took out the acting Bosun and deliberately run the ship into the Goodwin Sands. Since the accident of the Lady Lovibond, vessels in the area have reported almost colliding with a ship headed right for the Goodwin Sands, even though no incidents have happened.
3 Young Teazer
The Young Teazer is one of the most popular Canadian ghost ship stories. It was a privately owned ship which exploded in Nova Scotia during the War of 1812. Privateering (or legally pirating) could be a dangerous gig, but some did it because it was a quick way to make some money. But in June 1813, the Young Teazer, an American privateer ship became haunted by the HMS Houge, then a few days later the HMS Orpheus chased her but lost the chase due to light winds. The HMS Houge continued on, seeing her trapped in Mahone Bay and began to fire upon the ship. The nearby Orpheus joined in. In desperation, to avoid being boarded, the Captain lit the ship’s supply of gunpowder on fire. The ship exploded.
A year after this accident a phenomenon known as the “Teazer Light” was reported. Witnesses describe seeing a firey ship floating in Mahone Bay.
2 Fireship of Chaleur Bay
In the city of Bathurst, New Brunswick, a reported “tens of thousands of people” have witnessed a mysterious burning ship hovering above Chaleur Bay between New Brunswick and Quebec. The apparition is most commonly reported at night and is sometimes seen hovering for hours. The view does not get any clearer if you use a telescope either.
Scientists believe that the apparition is caused by an electricity phenomenon called St. Elmo’s Fire. St. Elmo’s Fire is caused when inflammable gas is released from the sea or phosphorescent marine life. But locals connect the vision instead to shipwrecks in the area.
1 The Baychimo
The SS Baychimo first launched in 1914. She was a 230-foot long, 1,322 ton, steel-hulled cargo steamer that was tasked with transporting between Sweden and Hamburg, German. However, after the end of the WWI, she was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company where she was re-named the Baychimo.
The Baychimo made regular summer trips between Scotland and Canada carrying furs, sugar, tea, tobacco, and weapons until one trip in 1931. While making its usual trip became trapped in the ice pack near Barrow, Alaska. The crew abandoned ship to wait for the ice to clear up. By the time they were able to make it back, they arrived to find that not only was the ship not trapped but she was nowhere in sight.
Since then, the Baychimo has been spotted 12 times. One trading party managed to board her but were unable to last the winter storm and had to abandoned ship. The last sighting of the SS Baychimo was reported in 1969.