Ghost ships, despite their spooky name, are a very real phenomenon. A worrying number of vessels, from large steamers to small fishing boats, turn up with their crew and passengers simply… gone.
Perhaps the most famous is the Marie Celeste. We covered this unsolved mystery in, well, our Unsolved Mysteries post. The merchant vessel was found adrift in 1872. Absolutely nothing was wrong with the vessel–other than the fact that the crew and passengers were gone.
The lifeboat and logbook were missing as well, which could suggest that the people on board evacuated. However, no sign of them was ever found. In addition, the cabins were still full of the crew’s personal belongings, and there was enough food and water on board for six months. If they had abandoned ship, why didn’t they take anything with them?
A popular theory suggests that fumes from the barrels of alcohol in hold cause the crew to leave in a hurry. They likely died at sea–including Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter.
A more recent tale of a ghost ship is the MV Joyita. This vessel was sailing the South Pacific with 25 passengers and crew. The ship had a long history, from its construction as a gift to an early Hollywood movie star to its acquisition by the Navy in 1941. The Joyita survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and continued to serve until 1948, when it was sold again to private owners.
In 1955, the Joyita was set to sail from Samoa to the Tokelau Islands. She carried nine passengers and a smattering of supplies in the hold for the short trip, which should have taken no more than 48 hours.
It never arrived.
After weeks of searching by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the ship was eventually discovered by accident 600 miles west of its original destination. No trace of the 25 people aboard remained. The only real clue was a doctor’s bag on deck–likely belonging to the surgeon Alfred Parsons, who was a passenger. The bag contained a scalpel and blood-stained bandages.
Investigators ruled that it made no sense for the crew and passengers to abandon ship. Because of its cork-lined hull, the Joyita was basically unsinkable.
We know someone on board was injured, perhaps badly. One theory is that Captain Miller fought with his first mate, whom he apparently hated, and one or more of them went over the side, leaving the inexperienced crew and passengers to fend for themselves.
One theorist claims that First Mate Chuck Simpson led a mutiny against the captain, who was attempting to sail in rough waters with just one functional engine.
We’ll probably never know what happened aboard the small vessel. The 25 souls aboard the ship are still listed as “missing at sea.”
In 1921, the Carroll A. Deering ran aground on Cape Hatteras. You can guess by now that the crew was missing and no explanation has ever been given for what happened to them.
Aren’t ghost ships fascinating?
The five-masted schooner had a difficult journey. They sailed from Virginia with a cargo of coal bound for Rio de Janeiro, but on the way there the captain fell seriously ill. He was replaced and the ship reportedly made it to Rio intact. But on the return journey, something strange must have happened.
By the time the ship was sighted near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, it signaled that they had lost their anchors. The captain of the lightship (like a lighthouse, but… a ship) who received the message noted at the time that the crew seemed to be behaving oddly. They were “milling around” suspiciously on the deck rather than doing their jobs.
However, the lightship captain’s radio was out, and he did not report his suspicions. Two days later, the Coast Guard found the ship run aground on Diamond Shoals. The lifeboats were missing, as well as personal effects and navigational equipment. The anchors were indeed missing, as were the ship’s logs.
What happened to the Ghost Ship of the Outer Banks? There are plenty of theories. Perhaps the most likely is a mutiny against the inexperienced captain who replaced the original one. But there are also rumors of Communist pirates, gangsters, rum bootleggers, and even the Bermuda Triangle.