10 Incredibly Haunting Tales of Real-Life Ghost Ships

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“Ghost Ship Carrying Cannibal Rats Could Be Heading for Britain,” read the headlines this week. It sounds like something from the annals of gothic literature, B-horror, or even the supermarket tabloids, but it is real. The former cruise ship dubbed the Lyubov Orlova was initially abandoned due to a debt scandal. It disappeared on February 4 last year while it was being towed from Newfoundland to the Dominican Republic. Somehow the towline parted, the ship started drifting, and since then it has occasionally reappeared with unsuccessful attempts to retrieve it. Worse yet is that some sources say the Lyubov Orlova contains a population of rats that have turned on each other due to the lack of food. How does a 1,400-ton ocean liner just vanish into the Atlantic for a year? You’ll be fascinated (and terrified) to find out that the Lyubov Orlova isn’t the only real-life ghost ship in maritime history. We discovered at least ten others.

The Carroll A. Deering

When commercial schooner the Carroll A. Deering was found run aground in North Carolina in 1921, the entire crew was mysteriously missing. Just one month earlier, the ship had set sail from Virginia for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to deliver a cargo of coal. The ship reached its destination, but the events that took place after caused great speculation. Reportedly, the captain wasn’t fond of his crew. The first mate made a public threat against the captain’s life, which landed him in jail. He was eventually bailed out, and the men made amends, but it set a negative tone for the trip home. The incident would also lead investigators to blame mutiny for the disappearance. Later that month, a lightship keeper spotted the Deering, reporting that a man on board advised the anchors were lost. Due to a broken radio, the lightship keeper was unable to report the incident — and then the ship reappeared weeks later, sans crew. Rescuers noted that the log, navigation equipment, crew’s personal effects, and two lifeboats were gone. Food was sitting mid-preparation in the galley. Due to the disappearance of several other ships during that time, the government launched an in-depth investigation and came up short. They did note that the Deering was one of the only ships to sail away from an oncoming hurricane, which led people to believe the Deering’s men fell prey to the Bermuda Triangle. Pirates, liquor smugglers, Communists, and supernatural explanations were tossed about. No official ruling was ever made.

The Ourang Medan

The story about Dutch cargo ship the S.S. Ourang Medan is widely debated, but it’s too creepy to pass up for our purposes. It’s said that the ghost ship wrecked in Indonesian waters in 1947. When rescuers boarded the vessel, the entire crew was dead with no visible injuries. However, the men were frozen in horror with arms outstretched. A fire quickly broke out in the ship’s cargo hold, which prevented investigators from researching the bizarre incident. Shortly before the rescue attempt, a Morse code message was sent from the Medan: “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead.” Another message quickly followed: “I die.” A 1948 newspaper article claimed the sole survivor of the Ourang Medan was located on the Marshall Islands. Just before dying, the man confessed that the ship was smuggling sulfuric acid, and the poisonous fumes killed the crew. Skeptics don’t believe the article is real or even exists — much like the ship itself. Still, chemical smuggling is just one of the popular theories about the Medan, along with carbon monoxide poisoning and UFO attacks.

The Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste is not a frozen pizza. It’s perhaps the most famous ghost ship of all. The great maritime mystery begins in 1872 when the abandoned ship was spotted near Portugal, just one month after leaving port. One lifeboat was missing, the crew was nowhere to be found, and a six-month supply of uncontaminated food and water was sill on board. The crew’s personal belongings were left untouched, and the ship was still under sail. Piracy and mutiny seemed unlikely, and there was no evidence of violence. The last log entry was 11 days prior. The Celeste’s cargo of 1,701 barrels of alcohol was mostly intact (minus 9 barrels). The crew was never seen or heard from again. Theories about premature abandonment were raised decades later, suggesting that the captain miscalculated location and the level of water in the bilge, leading him to believe that the ship was in distant waters and sinking. In an attempt to escape via lifeboat, the 10-person crew (and passengers) probably sank before reaching shore. The Mary Celeste changed ownership 17 times following the incident and had a history of bad luck. The final owner intentionally destroyed the ship in 1885 hoping to collect on the insurance money.

The SS Baychimo

The 1,322-ton cargo steamer the SS Baychimo was abandoned in 1931 when it became trapped in ice on the Arctic Ocean. It remained afloat and dislodged itself after the crew abandoned it to seek shelter. Over the next several decades, various sightings were reported and several crews managed to climb aboard, but the Baychimo has always eluded capture. The last recorded sighting was in 1969 — 38 years after it was first abandoned. The Alaskan government opened an investigation in 2006 to determine if the Baychimo is still afloat or finally sank, but investigators still haven’t located the ship.

The SS Valencia

In 1906, nine officers, 56 crew members and 108 passengers set sail on the 1,598-ton Valencia from San Francisco, en route to Seattle. The weather became atrocious, visibility was nearly impossible, and the winds kicked in. After colliding with ac reef near Vancouver Island, hysteria led to the flipping of lifeboats (two eventually capsized and one disappeared). You can read a disturbing account of the scene by one of the survivors over here. All the women and children on board died, and the final death toll was recorded at 136. Twenty-seven years after the accident, one of the Valencia’s lifeboats was found floating near the site of the wreck in surprisingly good condition. There have been countless reports of supernatural sightings since the disaster.

The Zebrina

Sailing barge the Zebrina set sail for Saint-Brieuc, France, but was found ashore in 1917 with its cargo of coal and its sails intact. The five-person crew was missing. There was no sign of a struggle, but the common theory is that the men were intercepted by a German U-Boat and brought aboard. It’s then possible that everyone was attacked by Royal Naval ships before the Germans could destroy the Zebrina.

The Jenny

Dubbed the “ship of ice” by Australian poet Rosemary Dobson, the Jenny was an English schooner that became trapped in ice, preserved by Antarctic temperatures. “May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive,” the captain wrote in the logbook. He was reportedly found frozen, along with the rest of the crew, when a whaling ship spotted the ghostly schooner in 1840, 23 years later. The story comes from an 1862 magazine article, but the tale remains unsubstantiated. Despite the uncertainties, the Jenny has been commemorated on King George Island in the form of a buttress.

The MV Joyita

Why did a crew abandon an unsinkable merchant vessel in the South Pacific in 1955 instead of waiting for help? The damaged ship’s hull was sound, but passengers and crew were missing. Some speculate that the captain died, which prompted everyone to panic and flee. Others believe the crew happened upon Japanese fishing boats engaged in illegal acts. (It should be noted that there was a strong anti-Japanese sentiment present at the time.) Mutiny is the most current theory, suggesting that the crew took over when the captain tried to press on after flooding and water pump failure started to overwhelm the vessel. They most likely abandoned ship into the stormy Pacific Ocean. Passengers and crew were never found again.

The Kaz II

The mystery behind the catamaran known as the Kaz II remains unexplained, though investigators have attempted to piece together the events leading up to the ship’s discovery. In 2007, the Kaz was found drifting off the coast of Australia, and the three-man crew (the owner and his neighbors) was nowhere to be found. The table was set with food waiting to be eaten. A laptop was turned on and fully functional. The Kaz’s radio and GPS were operational, and the life jackets were still on board. It was truly a ghostly scene. After an extensive investigation, officials concluded that while fishing, one man fell overboard, and in an attempt to rescue him the others met the same fate — none of them good swimmers and the seas extremely choppy. They were never found.

The Octavius

No one knows if the story of English schooner the Octavius is real, but the tale of the trading ship’s discovery is so frightening that we had to share. Found drifting off the coast of Greenland in 1775, the Octavius had attempted to travel back home to England from the Orient by way of the Northwest Passage. There, the schooner became trapped in ice. That means the Octavius had only completed its passage as a ghost ship. Creepier still is that the entire crew of 28 were found frozen and perfectly preserved, some still curled under blankets in their beds. Legend has it that the captain was still at his desk with pen in hand with the log set on the table before him. Rescuers were too terrified to search the ship, but they took the log. It showed the last entry was from 1762, which meant the ship had been drifting in the Arctic for 13 years.