Humans are fascinated by stories of ghost ship disappearances. Why? Because humans are drawn to tales that leave us without answers. Stories of ghosts, the supernatural, alien intervention, and conspiracies may sound like something from science fiction, but these are the stories that have captured the human imagination since they first came to us through newspaper headlines and the mouths of whispering sailors.
These are the stories of ghost ships that haunt the high seas and the minds of everyone who reads about them. These are ships that disappeared without a trace, that simply stopped sailing, and that may have even murdered their own crews. History proves over and over that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. These are stories of eerie ghost ships that really happened, and nobody can explain how.
In November of 1872, the Captain of the Mary Celeste, Benjamin Briggs, set sail from New York to Italy. He was traveling with his wife, daughter, and eight other shipmates.
On December 4 of the same year, the Mary Celeste was discovered, abandoned by her crew and set adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. According to the men of the British ship, Dei Gratia, who found her, the ship was completely intact with plenty of food and water to last her six months more of sailing. The ship's log was written up to the 24th of November. The ship's only lifeboat was missing.
To this day, nobody knows what caused the crew and passengers of the Mary Celeste to abandon a perfectly seaworthy ship in the middle of the Atlantic. The only thing anyone knows for sure is that the ship's occupants left in a hurry. The Captain of the Dei Gratia wrote in his log that the crewmen of the Mary Celeste had left behind their smoking pipes. To him, this seemed a clear sign that the crew had abandoned the ship in a panic.
Today, the mystery of the Mary Celeste has still not been explained. Many theories have been broached, including mutiny, madness, and murder, but none have held water.
In June of 1947, an officer aboard the British vessel the Silver Star picked up a mysterious, unsettling distress signal. It said: “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead." Silence crackled across the line, then, one simple sentence: "I die."
The message was picked up by several other ships in the area, but the Silver Star reached the source first. It was the Dutch freighter, Ourang Medan, floating adrift in the Straits of Malacca. The Star's officer and crew boarded the ship to find bodies strewn about the decks, their faces fixed in a cry of pain. Even the ship's dog was dead.
The bodies were unharmed. There was no sign of injury or attack. Before any further investigation could be done, however, the crew of the Silver Star smelled smoke and quickly abandoned the ship. They boarded their own escape vessel, cut the ties to the Ourang Medan, and sailed away. Within seconds, the ship exploded, leaving only empty water and debris in its wake.
To this day, no-one knows what really happened aboard the Ourang Medan in the seconds before the crew of the Silver Star arrived. As far as anyone knows, the ship murdered its captain, passengers, and crew, killing them without a trace. Some people believe that the ship was carrying biological weapons manufactured by the Japanese, but the mystery remains unsolved. The ship lives on in an infamy that rivals the mystery of even the Mary Celeste.
The Flying Dutchman first appeared in popular folklore in Holland. For years, Dutch sailors told the tale of a cursed sea captain, doomed forever to sail around the Cape of Good Hope. German sailors voyaging in this area of the world corroborated the legend, saying they had seen such a ship.
The tale emerged out of folklore and into reliable reports in the 19th century. One 1835 ship's log stated that the Flying Dutchman appeared out of nowhere in a storm, with all sails unfurled, "bearing down on them." Later, in 1881, another ship's log wrote that the Flying Dutchman passed them, emitting an eerie red light. The same red light pops up in a tale told by two other ships in the surrounding area. How many logs and reports constitute a real phenomenon?
In 1761, the Octavius loaded up with cargo from China and set sail for London. The crew would never be seen alive again.
The Captain of the Octavius thought it'd be a great idea to try and shorten his trip back to London by making the Arctic passage - a trip that had never before been made successfully. So, they set sail northward. It was a mistake that would cost every crew member his life.
The ship went missing for 13 years. Finally, in 1775, a whaling ship, the Herald, was sailing just off the coast of Greenland when it spotted the Octavius floating in the icy waters. The crew of the Herald boarded the Octavius and found the ship's crew frozen solid below decks. The Captain of the ship was found at his desk, upright, frozen to death while in the middle of penning a ship's log dated to 1762.
The crew of the Herald fled the ship immediately, leaving the Octavius to continue to wander the Arctic Ocean. Nobody has seen the ghost ship since.