A ghost ship, also known as a phantom ship, is a vessel with no living crew aboard; it may be a ghostly vessel in folklore or fiction, such as the Flying Dutchman, or a real derelict found adrift with its crew missing or dead, like the Mary Celeste. The term is sometimes used for ships that have been decommissioned but not yet scrapped, as well as drifting boats that have been found after breaking loose of their ropes and becoming carried away by the wind or the waves.
Undated – The Fireship of Baie des Chaleurs is a form of ghost light, an unusual visual phenomenon which appears at Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada. The phenomenon has been the source of many a tall tale, and has been said to appear as a flaming three-mast galley much like the style of ship featured on New Brunswick's provincial flag.
1748 onwards – The Lady Lovibond is said to have been deliberately wrecked on 13 February 1748 off Goodwin Sands, Kent, England, and to reappear off the Kent coast every fifty years.
1795 onwards – The Flying Dutchman is said to be a ship commanded by a captain condemned to eternally sail the seas. It has long been the principal ghost ship legend among mariners and has inspired several works.
1813 onwards – After the American schooner Young Teazer was sunk in an explosion in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada during the War of 1812, a burning apparition known as the "Teazer Light" has been reported.
1858 onwards – The Eliza Battle was a paddle steamer that burned in 1858 on the Tombigbee River, Alabama, U.S. She is reported to reappear, fully aflame, on cold and windy winter nights to foretell of impending disaster.
1872 or 1882 – A legend states that the Iron Mountain mysteriously disappeared in 1872 and left barges it was towing floating down the river. In reality, the ship ran aground and sank north of Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1882 and its destruction was never mysterious.
1895 – A "ghostly Galleon" was reported in Chapel Cove, Newfoundland. According to folklore, it is the ghost of a Spanish Treasure Galleon that was blown off course during a storm in the 17th century, and hijacked by Pirates. The pirates supposedly buried the Galleon's riches in Chapel Cove, and the legend states that whomever goes in search of the gold will be killed by the ghosts of the pirates after seeing the phantom ship.
1906 – Following the wreck of the SS Valencia in 1906 off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, there were reports of a lifeboat with eight skeletons in a nearby sea cave, lifeboats being rowed by skeletons of the Valencia's victims, the shape of Valencia within the black exhaust emanating from the rescue ship City of Topeka's funnel and a phantom ship resembling the Valencia with waves washing over her as human figures held on to the ship's rigging; sailors also reported seeing the ship itself in the area in the years following the sinking, often as an apparition that followed down the coast. One of the lifeboats from Valencia was found adrift in 1933.
1928 – The København was last heard from on December 28, 1928. For two years following its disappearance sightings of a mysterious five-masted ship fitting its description were reported in the Pacific Ocean.
1775: The Octavius, an English trading ship returning from China, was supposedly found drifting off the coast of Greenland. The captain's log showed that the ship had attempted the Northwest Passage, which had never been successfully traversed. The ship and the bodies of her frozen crew apparently completed the passage after drifting amongst the pack ice for 13 years.
1811 — 1813: Napoléon Gallois reported that a French frigate had found the French privateer Duc de Dantzig drifting, covered in blood, with the decaying corpses of the crew hacked and crucified to her masts and in the battery. Bloody papers identified Duc de Dantzig and her master, François Aregnaudeau. More soberly, the ships register of the maritime archives states "Duc de Dantzig, unheard of as of 1813, presumed lost with all hands".
1840: The schooner Jenny was supposedly discovered after spending 17 years frozen in an ice-barrier of the Drake Passage. Found by Captain Brighton of the whalerHope, it had been locked in the ice since 1823, the last port of call having been Lima, Peru. The bodies of the seven people aboard, including one woman and a dog, preserved by the Antarctic cold, were buried at sea by the crew of the Hope, and Brighton passed the account on to the Admiralty in London. The Jenny is commemorated by the Jenny Buttress, a feature on King George Island near Melville Peak, named by the UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee in 1960.
27 October 1913, the Singapore newspaper The Straits Times published a story according to which the Marlborough had been discovered near Cape Horn with the skeletons of her crew on board.The Straits Times attributed the story to one published the London paper the Evening Standard of 3 October 1913. The Evening Standard mentioned that the story was based on an "account cabled from New Zealand" which was yet to be confirmed. The ship that sighted the Marlborough in 1913 was said to be the sailing ship Johnson. Some less reliable publications have referred to the Johnson as a merchant steamer.
1947: The Ourang Medan is said to have been found adrift off Indonesia with all of its crew dead. The boarding party found the entire crew "frozen, teeth baring, gaping at the sun." Before the ship could be towed to a home port, it exploded and sank.
1750 or 1760, the SV Sea Bird: This merchant brig under the command of John Huxham (or Husham or Durham), grounded herself at Easton's Beach, Rhode Island. Her longboat was missing. She had been returning from a voyage to Honduras and was expected in Newport that day. The ship was apparently abandoned in sight of land (coffee was boiling on the galley stove) and drifted off course. The only living things found on the ship were a dog and a cat. A fictional account of how she became derelict appeared in the Wilmington, Delaware newspaper Sunday Morning Star for 11 October 1885.
On 29 August 1884, the SV Resolven: This merchant brig was found abandoned between Baccalieu Island and Catalina, Newfoundland and Labrador. Her boats were missing. Her logbook was posted to within six hours of being sighted. Other than a broken yard, she had suffered minimal damage. The galley fire was alight and the lamps were burning. A large iceberg was sighted nearby. It has been claimed that none of the seven crew members or four passengers were accustomed to northern waters and it was suggested that they panicked when the ship was damaged by ice, launched the lifeboat, and swamped, though no bodies were found. Three years later, Resolven was wrecked while returning to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia with a load of lumber.
1885, The SV The Twenty One Friends: This three-masted (tern) schooner was built in 1872. She was financed by a group of 21 PhiladelphiaQuakers and consequently named the Twenty One Friends. In 1885, returning to Philadelphia with a full load of lumber from Brunswick, Georgia, the ship was rammed by the John D. May off the coast of Cape Hatteras. Capt. Jeffries removed his crew and abandoned the vessel. The ship and cargo were left to the mercy of the sea. Capt. Jeffries’ concern for the safety of his men was appropriate; however, the Gaskill-made ship proved herself to be more seaworthy than expected. After the collision, the ship was sighted on both sides of the Atlantic over the next two years. She finally came ashore in Ireland, where her cargo was salvaged and she was employed as a fishing vessel.
1897: An abandoned whaler "Young Phoenix" was reported to have been drifting in the Arctic.
22 January 1906, the SS Valencia's lifeboat no. 5: The lifeboat went adrift when the ship sank off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The lifeboat was found floating in Barkley Sound, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada in remarkably good condition 27 years after the sinking.
October 1917, the SV Zebrina: This sailing barge departed Falmouth, Cornwall, England, in October 1917 with a cargo of Swansea coal bound for Saint-Brieuc, France. Two days later she was discovered aground on Rozel Point, south of Cherbourg, France, without damage except for some disarrangement of her rigging, but with her crew missing.
Schooner Carroll A. Deering, as seen from the Cape Lookout lightship on January 28, 1921. (US Coast Guard)
January 1921, the SV Carroll A. Deering: After passing Cape Lookout Lightship, North Carolina, U.S. on 28 January 1921, the Carroll A. Deering, a five-masted cargo schooner, became derelict in unknown circumstances. The ship's lifeboats and logbook were missing when she was found on 31 January 1921 at the Diamond Shoals, off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The final voyage of the ship has been the subject of much debate and controversy, and was investigated by six departments of the US government, largely because it was one of dozens of ships that sank or went missing within a relatively short period of time. While paranormal explanations have been advanced, the theories of mutiny or piracy are considered more likely.
3 October 1923, the SV Governor Parr: This four masted schooner was abandoned by her crew after she lost her mizzen and spanker in a storm while sailing from Ingramport, Nova Scotia, Canada to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The damage incurred by Governor Parr was significant to the masts and deck of the ship; however, she did not sink. Several attempts were made to either destroy or tow this derelict to shore, but all failed. Governor Parr was sighted for many years after her abandonment as she covered large spans of the Atlantic Ocean. She remained a derelict and “menace to navigation,” drifting as far as the Canary Islands. It is unknown what happened to her in the end.
24 November 1931, the SS Baychimo: This cargo steamer was abandoned after being trapped in pack ice near Barrow, Alaska, U.S. and being thought doomed to sink. However, she remained afloat and was sighted at various times between 1931 and 1969 in the Chukchi Sea off the northwestern Alaskan coast without ever being salvaged.
MV Joyita. The ship was partially submerged and listing heavily to port side.
3 October 1955, the MV Joyita: After leaving Apia, Samoa, the refrigerated trading and fishing charter boat Joyita became derelict in unknown circumstances. The ship's dinghy and three Carley-liferafts were missing, and her logbook was also missing, when she was found on 10 November 1955, north of Vanua Levu, Fiji. A subsequent inquiry found the vessel was in a poor state of repair, but determined the fate of passengers and crew to be "inexplicable on the evidence submitted at the inquiry".
In 1959 an empty submarine was found in the Bay of Biscay off northern Spain. It subsequently became clear that she had been under tow by another vessel and that the chain had snapped.
1 July 1969, the SV Teignmouth Electron: After the last entry in her log was made on 1 July 1969, the trimaran yacht became derelict in unknown circumstances. The vessel was found on 10 July 1969 in the North Atlantic, latitude 33 degrees 11 minutes North and longitude 40 degrees 26 minutes West. Investigation led to the conclusion that its sole crewmember, Donald Crowhurst, had suffered a mental breakdown while competing in a solo around-the-world race and committed suicide by jumping overboard.
1975, the SV Ocean Wave: Bas Jan Ader was lost at sea while attempting a single-handed west-east crossing of the Atlantic in a 13 ft pocket cruiser, a modified Guppy 13 named "Ocean Wave". The passage was part of an art performance titled "In Search of the Miraculous". Radio contact broke off three weeks into the voyage, and Ader was presumed lost at sea. The boat was found after 10 months, floating partially submerged 150 miles West-Southwest of the coast of Ireland. His body was never found. The boat, after being recovered by the Spanish fishing vessel that found it, was taken to Coruña. The boat was later stolen. Ader's mother wrote the poem From the deep waters of sleep after having what she described as a premonition of his death.
December 2002, the MV High Aim 6: After the owner last spoke to the captain by radio when the ship was near the Marshall Islands, halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii, on 13 December 2002, the MV High Aim 6, a longline fishing boat, became derelict in unknown circumstances. The Taiwanese police deemed a mutiny probable. The ship was found drifting with its crew missing on 3 January 2003 approximately 80 nautical miles (150 km; 92 mi) east of Rowley Shoals, Broome, Australia. The derelict was subsequently scuttled.
24 March 2006, the MTJian Seng: The tanker ship was found on 24 March 2006, drifting 180 km south-west of Weipa, Queensland, Australia. The ship's origin or owner could not be determined, and its engines had been inoperable for some time.
24 August 2006, the SV Bel Amica: This classic schooner was found derelict near Punta Volpe, Sardinia, Italy on 24 August 2006. The owner later claimed to have gone home on 14 August 2006 to address an emergency. The Italian press suggested that he may have been avoiding taxation of luxury vessels. The Coast Guard crew that discovered the ship found half eaten Egyptian meals, French maps of North African seas, and a flag of Luxembourg on board.
18 April 2007, the SV Kaz II: This 12-metre catamaran set sail on 15 April 2007. She was filmed passing George Point, Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland later that day and on that same day, late in the afternoon, the GPS data showed her to be adrift. She was found adrift on 18 April 2007 near the Great Barrier Reef, 88 nmi (163 km) off Townsville, Queensland, Australia. When boarded on 20 April, the engine was running, a laptop was running, the radio and GPS were working and a meal was set to eat, but the three-man crew were not on board. All the sails were up but one was badly shredded, while three life jackets and survival equipment, including an emergency beacon, were found on board. A search for the crew was abandoned on 22 April as it was considered unlikely that anyone could have survived for that period of time. The coroner believed that the men may have fallen overboard.
28 October 2008, the MV Tai Ching 21 (Chinese: 大慶21號): The last radio transmission from the Tai Ching 21, a fishing vessel, was made on 28 October 2008. The boat was found empty on 9 November 2008 near Kiribati. Its lifeboat and three life rafts were missing. The abandoned 50 ton Taiwanese vessel had been gutted by fire several days previously. No mayday call was received. A search of 21,000 square miles (54,000 square km) of the Pacific Ocean north of Fiji by a US Air Force C-130 Hercules and a New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion found no trace of the Taiwanese captain (顏金港 Yán Jīn-gǎng) or crew (18 Chinese, 6 Indonesians, and 4 Filipinos).
January 2009, the SV Lunatic: In December 2007 at age 70, Jure Šterk started a journey to sail around the world on his boat Lunatic. He used his amateur radio to communicate, and was last heard from on 1 January 2009. His sail boat Lunatic was spotted on 26 January, approximately 1,000 nmi (1,900 km) off the coast of Australia. The boat looked damaged and there was no sign of Jure Šterk on deck. Three months later, on 30 April 2009 the sail boat was found adrift by the crew of the science vessel RV Roger Revelle, 500 miles (800 km) south-eastern on position: Latitude 32-18.0S, Longitude 091-07.0E. The sails were torn and there was no one on board. After boarding they found that the last log entry was made on 2 January 2009.
20 March 2012, the MV Ryou-Un Maru: In March 2011, this fishing vessel was washed away from its mooring in Aomori Prefecture, Japan during the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. It was assumed sunk with no crew aboard, but a year later, it was found drifting about 150 nautical miles (280 km; 170 mi) off the coast of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada. The United States Coast Guard sunk it with 25 mm cannon fire on 5 April 2012.
19/20 June 2012, the T.T. Zion: This private yacht grounded on Fort Lauderdale Beach around 1:15 a.m. on 20 June, with its navigation lights on and engines still running. The vessel appeared sea worthy but a broken tie-bar could have caused steering problems. Items belonging to owner Guma Aguiar were found on board, but no sign of him or any other passenger was found.
February 2013, the MV Lyubov Orlova: In January 2013, the Lyubov Orlova, a former Soviet cruise ship, was being towed to a scrapyard in the Caribbean when a cable snapped, setting her adrift in international waters, one day after leaving St John's, Newfoundland, Canada. On 4 February 2013 she was found approximately 250 nautical miles east of St John's (approximately 50 nautical miles outside Canada's territorial waters) and drifting in a northeasterly direction. The crew did not pursue the vessel due to safety concerns. Some news reports claimed it was adrift and populated with cannibal rats.
2013-2017: The Japanese Coast Guard has reported finding more than 100 ghost ships in Japanese waters, ill-equipped small wooden boats putatively fishing for or fleeing from North Korea. Some boats were found empty but at least 25 people have been found in advanced states of decomposition, probably dead from starvation or exposure. At least some of the crude fishing vessels are believed to been owned and operated by the Korean People's Army.
25 February 2016, the Sayo: Manfred Fritz Bajorat of Germany was found dead in his private yacht, adrift in the Philippine Sea. His body was found slumped on the desk and in a "mummified" state. Early reports suggested Bajorat had not been seen since 2009, but later stories indicated he had been seen and heard from more recently.Autopsy showed that Bajorat died of a heart attack approximately one week before being found, and sea conditions preserved the body.
1935: The Mystery of the Mary Celeste (released in the USA as Phantom Ship) offers a fictional explanation for the events leading up to the discovery of the most famous of abandoned ships.
1943: The Ghost Ship tells of mysterious deaths among the crew of the Altair, for which it is suspected the insane captain is responsible.
1952: Ghost Ship is set aboard a yacht haunted by two murder victims (the previous owner's wife and her lover) whose bodies have been hidden under the floor.
1980: Death Ship is about a lost Kriegsmarine prison ship haunted by the evil spirits of the dead crew. It now roams the seas for new victims, picking up survivors to abuse and kill after it sinks their ships.
1980: The Fog, an American horror film depicting the murdered crew of a ship lured onto rocks in the 19th century returning to take their revenge on the descendants of the wreckers.
2001: The Triangle features a large abandoned cruise ship that is haunted.
2001: Lost Voyage is a supernatural thriller about a group of people exploring the SS Corona Queen, which has emerged from the Bermuda Triangle after 30 years.
2002: Ghost Ship is about the Antonia Graza, an Italian ocean liner lost at sea 40 years earlier, and now boarded by a salvage crew who soon encounter the ghostly apparitions of murdered passengers.
2006: Ghostboat, a British television drama, depicting a missing Second World War submarine that re-appears, and a mission to re-trace its last voyage, leading the crew to being affected by supernatural forces. Based on a 1972 novel of the same name.
2009: Triangle is a psychological horror film about a group of friends on a yachting trip who discover the derelict ocean liner Aeolus.
1867: The Dead Ship of Harpswell is a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. 'The ghost of what was once a ship' ... 'No spur of breeze can speed her on/ Nor ebb of tide delay.' Its appearance is a sign of approaching death.
1897: The Demeter, found derelict with its captain's corpse tied to the helm, is featured in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
1913: The Abel Fosdyk papers, an apocryphal explanation of the fate of the Mary Celeste, were presented as a true account by A. Howard Linford of Magdalen College, Oxford, the headmaster of Peterborough Lodge, Hampstead's largest prep school. The story appeared under the title "Abel Fosdyk's Story" in the monthly fiction magazine Strand Magazine, which had invited its contributors and readers to suggest possible solutions to the mystery of the Mary Celeste.
1937: "Three Skeleton Key", a short story by George Toudouze about a ghost ship infested with sea rats, was originally written for Esquire magazine. It was adapted for the dramatic radio program Escape in 1949 by James Poe and was also broadcast on the Suspense radio drama series in the 1950s.
1965: The Ampoliros, the Flying Dutchman of space, is mentioned in Frank Herbert's Dune.