Phantom ships or ghost ships have little to do with a phantom crew. Inexplicably, no crew was discovered on board and, on occasion, even the cargo.
Wild theories abound about pirates, the Bermuda Triangle, and even abduction by aliens.
Investigations by authorities came to naught.
Any Theories you?
1) The Mary Celeste
On November 7th, 1872, Captain Benjamin Briggs, accompanied by his wife Sarah and their baby Sarah was on board the Mary Celeste.
The port was New York, where Captain Briggs and his crew of seven seamen were loading a cargo of 1700 barrels of alcohol. The destination was Genoa, Italy.
The ship was to set sail that afternoon. The passage would take a month to complete.
On December 4th, 1872, the Dei Garcia was some 600 miles west of Gibraltar. Captain Morehouse was in command of her, and she flew the English flag.
The lookout on watch observing through telescope spotted the Mary Celeste and found no signs of life on deck. He reported this to Captain Morehouse, who found it very strange after having a good look.
The Preliminary Findings
Captain Morehouse ordered the lowering of the boat. The situation needed investigation, he decided.
Boarding the Mary Celeste after receiving no response to their hails, Captain Morehouse becomes increasingly intrigued.
There is no sign of any life on the ship. He and his men start examining all compartments. There is water on the main deck—no signs of any foul play or violence. The vessel appears quite seaworthy otherwise.
The steering and wheel are intact. Unfortunately, the compass and the ship’s clock are not.
The lifeboat, sextant, and chronometer are missing.
Captain Morehouse proceeds to the Captain’s quarters. The last official entry in the Captain’s log is dated 24th November. There is no mention of any foul weather or anything out of the ordinary. A chest reveals Sarahs’ clothes, money, personal belongings, including the baby’s toys.
The cargo compartment is entirely intact. But there are about three feet of water, suggesting the bilge pumps were not working. The barrels of alcohol are there to save that nine of them are empty.
The disassembly of the bilge pump meant repairs were ongoing.
As for food and fresh water, ample uncontaminated supplies are onboard.
A second diary, though unofficial, is discovered. This diary was the Chief Mates’ diary- dated 25th November. Nothing of interest or peculiar. Captain Morehouse decides to take the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar and hand her over to the British authorities.
He had the right to claim salvage.
The Official Reconstruction
Subsequently, an intense and grave investigation took place on the ship, looking for any evidence that could throw light.
The Mary Celeste battled heavy weather two weeks after sailing out from New York.
Documentarian Anne MacGregor investigating the case, found that the timepiece was faulty, and Captain Briggs was hopelessly out of position by 120 miles west of where he should have been. As a result, he expected to make landfall three days earlier.
He then probably changed course to seek refuge from the relentless bad weather heading for the Azores.
MacGregor observed that the Mary Celeste had recently undergone a refitment. Coal dust and debris from the refitment could have choked up the bilge pump lines. Hence the water in the holds as observed by Captain Morehouse initially.
What Then Is The Mystery Of Mary Celeste
There was no evidence of foul weather, pirate attack, mutiny, sabotage, an explosion from the alcohol, medical contagion; nothing.
Some flooding in the cargo compartment?
It just does not add up as to why the Captain decided to abandon the ship.
No one could come upon a plausible explanation as to the abandonment of the Mary Celeste.
To this day, it remains an enigmatic mystery.
It inspired a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement.”
2) The Jian Seng
The Jian Seng is of unknown origin; its owner untraceable.
In the Gulf of Carpenteria, an 80m tanker, she was spotted off the coast of Weipa, adrift by the Australian Coastwatch in 2006. But, unfortunately, all they had was a broken tow rope.
When the Coastwatch authorities boarded, they were confounded. First, there was nobody on board.
There was no documentation as to ownership or her port of origin.
All traces of identification seemed stripped clean.
There was a large quantity of rice onboard. Human activity in the recent past was absent as also the possibility of human smuggling. The evidence was that Jian Seng’s abandonment was not in distress.
The authorities also determined that she had been adrift for some time. In all probability, she was being used to refuel and supply fishing boats operating off the Australian coast outside the exclusive zone. Her engines were inoperable, and therefore she was under tow.
But why was no effort made to salvage her remains a big question?
The Jian Seng is the second ghostship after High Aim 6 found in Australian waters.
3) The Caroll A.Deering
The Caroll A.Deering, built-in 1919, was one of the last wood schooners before the advent of iron ships. She was a large ship, 1879 tons with five masts outfitted in mahogany and oak; she boasted luxury for a cargo ship. A functional toilet, steam heating, and electricity were available also.
On her maiden run, she was under Captain William “Hungry Bill” Meritt. Her cargo was a whole load of coal from Virginia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The return leg was a load of corn from Argentina to New York.
The Caroll A.Deering proved to be a stable and wee-founded ship. She continued the same run over the next year.
In August 2020, Captain Meritt set sail again with ten men, most of them Danish. Unfortunately, early in the passage, Captain Meritt took ill and was disembarked along with the Chief Mate’s son.
The Change Of Guard
The owners, G.G Deering Company, fearing disruption in the trade, went into emergency mode to find a replacement. They found Willis B. Wormell, a 66-year-old retired captain.
Charles B. McLellan came on board as the Chief Mate. The ship resumed passage.
From the word go, Wormell and McLellan despised each other. And confined in a ship together made it worse.
The ship halted at Barbados. Captain Wormell reportedly remarked to his friend Captain Hugh Norton bout his Chief Mate, “When ashore, he is habitually drunk. He is brutal towards the crew. Uncalled for.”
Strangely, during the stopover in Barbados, another captain, a friend of Wormell, enquired of him if he thought his crew was capable of a mutiny. Wormell replied that he did not believe all of them would turn against him.
Captain Wormell was a little unnerved. Just before the stopover at Barbados, McLellan had threatened him. “ I will kill you before it’s over, old man.”
Both captains had experienced enough to know it required just one man to ferment rebellion.
McLellan was ashore at the Continental Cafe, getting progressively drunk and loudly ranting about Wormell. The comment, “I will get the Captain before we reach Norfolk,” witnesses recall him saying. McLellan made enough nuisance to end up in jail for the night for creating public disorder.
It was Wormell who had him bailed out. Perhaps he hoped the gesture would set things right.
On January 9th,1921, the Caroll A. Deering proceeded on her voyage back to the US.
Later investigations show that log entry till the 23rd of January was in Captain Wormells’ hand. They were of a different hand thereon.
The Journey Resumed
The Caroll A. Deering made her way up the coast heading for North Carolina and closing in on the Cape Lookout shoals. Many a ship has foundered on these shoals as a result of poor seamanship and navigational skills. As a result, a lightship is permanently on location here to warn and guide ships through.
By January 29th, the Master of the Lightship 80, Thomas Jacobson, had already reported a surge in storm activity when he spied the Caroll A. Deering heading north.
Thomas Jacobson later reported that a man with red hair and a thick Scandanavian accent had hailed him. Jacobson further went on to say that the man neither appeared nor sounded like a Captain or an Officer. Finally, he conveyed that the vessel had lost both her anchors and that it was essential to contact the owners.
Jacobson also noticed that the crew was milling about on the quarterdeck, predominantly reserved for the Captain.
After this communication, the Caroll A.Deering continued sailing north.
Jacobson’s radio was inoperable at the time.
Soon he spotted a steamer also heading north. He intended to pass on the message he had received from the Caroll A.Deering. However, the unknown steamship ignored his attempts at making contact and changed course eastwards away from the lightship.
Jacobson blew his horn in the direction, a horn that is powerful enough to be heard for five kilometers. More so, he observed the crew busy covering the ship’s nameplate.
This mysterious ship was never sighted again.
Early in the morning of 31st January, a Coast Guard patrol boat finds The Caroll A. Deering driven upon the shoal off Cape Hatteras outer banks with the aboil waters. All sails were standing. The abandoning it appeared was in a hurry.
The search party that boarded got the shock of their lives. The entire crew was missing, including the lifeboats, chronometer, and other navigational equipment were missing.
The galley had prepared food ready as if the crew were about to sup.
The only living on board was a six-toed cat.
The continual foul weather set back all attempts to salvage the ship. The Carrol A.Deering had to be broken up with dynamite as the wreck was considered a navigational hazard. The local people took away the timbers that washed ashore to build shelters.
The demise of the Caroll A.Deering, the grand ship, remains etched in maritime history.
The Obtuse Investigations
It did not take long for the federal government to jump in with all guns blazing. The FBI, Coast Guard, Navy, and the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, and Justice all got entangled in investigating the case.
The Red scare being high on the White House agenda, propaganda about Bolshevik pirates running amok in American waters sounded good.
Rumrunners, Nah, I don’t think so.
What about the Bermuda Triangle?
The Caroll A.Deering is, for reasons unknown, resting in the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
4) The Flying Dutchman
Written accounts of the Flying Dutchman first surfaced in the late 1700s.
At the time, the sailing route to Asia was via the Cape of Good Hope.
Captain Hendrick van der Decken, also known as the Dutchman, sailed out of Amsterdam bound for the far East. The name of his ship- The Flying Dutchman.
After taking on a load of spices, silk, and dyes he intended to sell back in the Netherlands, he set back for Amsterdam.
Just after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the vessel ran into heavy weather. The seas heaved to enormous heights. The crew expecting the worse implored the Captain to reverse back till the waters calmed down.
Captain van der Dicken would have none of it and ordered the vessel to hold the course.
The Flying Dutchman disappeared- Davy Jones locker claimed one more.
From hearsay accounts, van der Dicken had become an opium addict deprived of which he became irrational. To replenish the craving, he turned to alcohol.
The Flying Dutchman-
Another story of the origin of the Flying Dutchman- This one points the Flying Dutchman to Captain Bernard Fokke. The lack of adequate documentation suggests the name Falkenberg who sailed for the Dutch East India Company.
He could flow from Amsterdam to Indonesia in just three months, which led many sailors to speculate that he had traded his soul for incredible speed during a dice game with the devil. That story served as imagery for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798.
On July 18th, 1881, Prince George, King George V to be, and Prince Albert Victor sailing on the HMS Bacchante, put in observations made at 4 AM that morning off the Australian coast, the lookout on watch reported a glowing light. However, when the Bacchante got to the spot, there was no trace of anything. However, the seaman who first spotted the glow fell to his death from the topmost.
In 1939, Capetown residents claim to have sighted a ship under full sails before disappearing suddenly.
World War II- a German Uboat captain, reported a spectral vessel under full sail off Suez.
The famous writer Nicholas Monserrat also mentions a sighting during his term in World war II.
Sorry folks. No faith whatsoever in these stories.
Scientific explanations point to fata morgana. Simply put, a mirage.
As for what happened to the Flying Dutchman, your guess is as good as mine.
For now, The Flying Dutchman remains a rogue ship that haunts the oceans.
5) TheGhost Ship Jenny
The finding of Jenny is one of the most chilling ghost ship mysteries.
Though it remains instantiated, the whaling ship called Hope narrated this finding anonymously in her engagements in the Antarctic Ocean.
The claim is that she discovered the schooner Jenny in 1841 entrapped in the ice in the Antarctic Drake Passage.
The Captain of the Hope went on board, seeing no signs of life. He was duty-bound to render assistance. What he witnessed is genuinely unsettling—all crew on board but frozen to death. The Captain was at his desk in a similar condition.
The last log entry read, “ May 4th, 1823. No food for 71 days, and I am the last one alive.”
Some believe the story of Jenny is sensalization.
I can come up with many cases unrelated to the seas which may be considered sensalization.
The question remains, how and why could one benefit from false accounts.
Benefit of doubt goes to the skipper of the Hope.
To Be continued