What are ghost ships? They are empty vessels that have been found abandoned at sea. Often, the crew’s disappearance is mysterious. There is no obvious evidence left on board to explain what happened to the boat or its passengers.
So are ghost ships real? Have people really seen ghost ships? Definitely. While there are some purely mythical tales of specter-like ships like The Flying Dutchman floating on the dark sea, most ghost ship stories are all too real.
This list includes stories of real ghost ships that were found floating on the open ocean without their crew. Sometimes there’s an explanation for what happened, but many times there isn’t. If you’re afraid of the ocean, you should probably steer clear of this list, it’s going to absolutely terrify you.
The Mary Celeste
On November 7, 1872, the Mary Celeste left New York for Genoa, Italy. On December 5, 1872, the ship was found abandoned near the coast of Portugal. Everything on board, including the cargo and the crew’s belongings, was undisturbed. The last entry in the log book was dated November 25 and the only thing missing was a single life boat. Ten people had simply vanished, leaving behind no trace of what happened to them.
A sounding rod (a device that measures how much water is in the ship’s hold) left behind on the deck led some to speculate that perhaps the crew mistakenly believed the boat was sinking and they abandoned ship. But whatever happened to them remains a mystery, because they were never seen or heard from again.
The Lunatic Piran
Jure Šterk was an accomplished sailor who had completed a solo trip around the world between 1991 and 1994. In 2007, he set out from New Zealand on another journey. At 70 years old, he was looking to become the oldest man to ever sail around the world without touching land. In April 2009, his sailboat, the Lunatic Piran, was found adrift off the coast of Australia. Its sail was torn to shreds. The last entry in the log book was from January 1, and Šterk was nowhere to be found.
The Carroll A. Deering
The first half of the Carroll A. Deering’s last journey went smoothly. The schooner delivered its cargo of coal to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, without a problem. It was the journey back to North Carolina that went wrong.
On January 31, 1921, the boat was spotted after it ran aground off the coast of Cape Hatteras, NC. The water was too dangerous to approach at the time, but when rescue crews arrived on February 4, they found the ship abandoned. The crew’s belongings were gone, along with the ship’s navigation equipment and logs. Its two lifeboats were missing. An investigation was launched by five federal government departments, but no one ever figured out what happened aboard the ship.
The MV Joyita
The trip from Samoa to Tokelau was only supposed to take 48 hours. The MV Joyita was carrying twenty-five people, and somehow, over the course of two days, they all disappeared.
There were signs that something was wrong on October 6, 1955. The merchant vessel was due in Tokelau on October 5, and when it didn’t arrive, the Royal New Zealand Air Force began a search and rescue operation. But by October 12, there was still no sight of the ship. The rescue mission was called off.
Five weeks later, the captain of another ship spotted the Joyita off the coast of Fiji. It was more than 600 miles west of Tokelau. It was practically laying on its side: thanks to its cork-lined hull, it was nearly impossible to sink, but the ship was clearly wrecked. There was no sign of the captain, crew, or passengers. There were blood-stained bandages found on the deck, and it was clear that the boat had sprung a leak, but no one could figure out why everyone abandoned ship. To this day, it’s a mystery that remains unsolved.
The Kaz II
In April 2007, a 32-foot catamaran was spotted by a helicopter off the northwest coast of Australia. The helicopter pilot noticed that the catamaran seemed to be drifting, and no crew was spotted aboard. Two days later, search and rescue teams boarded the Kaz II. There was no sign of the crew.
The Kaz II left Queensland, Australia on April 15, 2007. It was manned by three people: Des Batten, the owner, and Peter and James Turnstead. They had planned to sail around the northern coast of Australia back to Perth, in western Australia, where they lived. But when rescuers boarded the empty boat five days later, they were puzzled. Everything was in its proper place, including the life jackets and the emergency beacon. The only thing wrong was that one of the sails was shredded. And yet, all three men were gone.
There was an investigation, hearings, coroner’s reports. In the end, it was believed that one of the brothers had fallen into the ocean while trying to untangle a fishing line. The other two fell in trying to rescue him, and all three drowned. But their bodies were never found, and no one will ever really be sure what happened aboard the Kaz II.
The SS Valencia
The SS Valencia was a passenger ship that struck a reef on a journey between San Francisco and Seattle in 1906. Over 100 people died as the ship filled with water. The Valencia was equipped with five life rafts; in the aftermath of the disaster, only four were found.
Twenty-seven years later, the last lifeboat was found. It was floating, completely intact, in the Barkley Sound, off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. There was no one aboard, no indication of how it had survived so long at sea. It just appeared, empty, seemingly out of thin air. And the Valencia? It was left to rot on the reef. For years afterward, sailors claimed they saw it, floating, unmanned, out in the sea.
The Jian Seng
The Jian Seng was a tanker ship found floating near Queensland, Australia in 2006. There was no crew, and weirdest of all, no registration. There was a broken tow line at the bow, and it was inoperable, with the interiors gutted, so Queensland police surmised that it was being towed to a salvage yard. But they were never able to find out anything else about it: not where it came from, not where it was going, not how long it had been at sea. All they knew was that it was called the Jian Seng and it was adrift, and the rest remained a mystery.
The Ocean Wave
In July 1975, Dutch performance artist Bas Jan Ader set sail from Cape Cod, MA, in a twelve-foot boat. His goal was to set a record for the smallest boat to ever cross the Atlantic from west to east on a solo journey. After three weeks, radio communication with Ader was lost. Ten months later, his ship was found adrift off the coast of Ireland. He was nowhere to be found.
Some people speculate that his journey was his last performance piece; that he had intended to commit suicide once he set sail. Others think he may have accidentally fallen overboard, which is not an unreasonable assumption for an inexperienced seaman. But whether or not his disappearance was intentional, the body of work he left behind has turned Ader into something of a folk legend.