Ghost ship

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A ghost ship, also known as a phantom ship, is a ship with no living crew aboard; it may be a ghostly vessel in folklore or fiction, such as the Flying Dutchman, or a real derelict found adrift with its crew missing or dead, like the Mary Celeste.[1][2] The term is sometimes used for ships that have been decommissioned but not yet scrapped, such as the Clemenceau (R 98),[3] and is also occasionally used for ships reputed to be haunted.


The Flying Dutchman by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Folklore, legends and mythology[edit]

No. Date reported Name of ship Location Details References
1. Undated The Caleuche The seas around Chiloé Island, Chile A mythical ghost ship which, according to local folklore and Chilota mythology, sails at night.
2. Undated The Fireship of Baie des Chaleurs Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada. A form of ghost light, an unusual visual phenomenon. The phenomenon has been the source of many a tall tale, and has been said to appear as a flaming three-mast galley much like the style of ship featured on New Brunswick's provincial flag.
3. 1748 onwards The Lady Lovibond Goodwin Sands, Kent, England. Said to have been deliberately wrecked on 13 February 1748 and to reappear off the Kent coast every fifty years.
4. 18th century onwards The Ghost Ship of Northumberland Strait Between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, Canada. The apparition of a burning ship [4]
5. 1795 onwards The Flying Dutchman A ship commanded by a captain condemned to eternally sail the seas, it has long been the principal ghost ship legend among mariners and has inspired several works.
6. 19th century onwards The Princess Augusta, misremembered in local folklore as the Palatine Near Block Island, Rhode Island, U.S. Following her 1738 wreck, an apparition known as the Palatine Light has been reported. [5][6]
7. 1813 onwards The Young Teazer Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada. After the American schooner Young Teazer was sunk in an explosion during the War of 1812, a burning apparition known as the "Teazer Light" has been reported.
8. 1858 onwards The Eliza Battle Tombigbee River, Alabama, U.S. A paddle steamer that burned in 1858, she is reported to reappear, fully aflame, on cold and windy winter nights to foretell of impending disaster.
9. 1878 onwards HMS Eurydice Off the Isle of Wight, English Channel An apparition has been reported where the ship sank in 1878. Witnesses include a Royal Navy submarine in the 1930s and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, in 1998. [7]
10. 1886 The Phantom Canoe of Lake Rotomahana Lake Rotomahana, New Zealand. A waka wairua (spirit canoe) was seen eleven days before the deadly eruption of the nearby Mount Tarawera, which devastated the lake and the surrounding area.
11. 1906 The SS Valencia and her lifeboat Off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Following the wreck of the SS Valencia in 1906, there were reports of a lifeboat with eight skeletons in a nearby sea cave, lifeboats being rowed by skeletons of the Valencia's victims, the shape of Valencia within the black exhaust emanating from the rescue ship City of Topeka's funnel and a phantom ship resembling the Valencia with waves washing over her as human figures held on to the ship's rigging. Sailors have also reported seeing the ship itself in the area in the years following the sinking, often as an apparition that followed down the coast. [8][9][10]
12. 1928 The København In the Pacific Ocean The ship was last heard from on December 28, 1928. For two years following its disappearance sightings of a mysterious five-masted ship fitting its description were reported in the Pacific Ocean. [11]


  • 1775: The Octavius, an English trading ship returning from China, was supposedly found drifting off the coast of Greenland. The captain's log showed that the ship had attempted the Northwest Passage, which had never been successfully traversed. The ship and the bodies of her frozen crew apparently completed the passage after drifting amongst the pack ice for 13 years.
  • 1840: The schooner Jenny was supposedly discovered after spending 17 years frozen in an ice-barrier of the Drake Passage. Found by Captain Brighton of the whaler Hope, it had been locked in the ice since 1823, the last port of call having been Lima, Peru. The bodies of the seven people aboard, including one woman and a dog, preserved by the Antarctic cold, were buried at sea by the crew of the Hope, and Brighton passed the account on to the Admiralty in London. The Jenny is commemorated by the Jenny Buttress, a feature on King George Island near Melville Peak, named by the UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee in 1960.
  • 1947: The Ourang Medan is said to have been found adrift off Indonesia with all of its crew dead. The boarding party found the entire crew "frozen, teeth baring, gaping at the sun." Before the ship could be towed to a home port, it exploded and sank.

Historically attested[edit]

  • 1750 or 1760: The ship Seabird or Sea Bird (later renamed Beach Bird), under the command of John Huxham (or Husham or Durham), grounded herself at Easton's Beach, Rhode Island. Her longboat was missing. She had been returning from a voyage to Honduras and was expected in Newport that day. The ship was apparently abandoned in sight of land (coffee was boiling on the galley stove) and drifted off course. The only living things found on the ship were a dog and a cat.[12][13]. A fictional account of how she became derelict appeared in the Wilmington, Delaware Sunday Morning Star for 11 October 1885.
  • 1855: HMS Resolute was discovered drifting off the coast of Baffin Island. It had been one of four vessels from Edward Belcher's search expedition for John Franklin that had been abandoned the previous year when it was trapped in pack ice in Viscount Melville Sound. The ship drifted some 1,200 miles (1,900 km) before it was found, freed from the ice.
Amazon (later renamed Mary Celeste)
Carroll A. Deering as seen from the US Coast Guard lightvessel at Cape Lookout (North Carolina) on 28 January 1921
Ryou-Un Maru adrift near Alaska
  • 1872: The Mary Celeste, perhaps the most historically famous derelict, was found abandoned between mainland Portugal and the Azores archipelago. It was devoid of all crew, but largely intact and under sail, heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. While Arthur Conan Doyle's story "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" based on this ship added some strange phenomena to the tale (such as that the tea found in the mess hall was still hot), the fact remained that the last log entry was 11 days prior to the discovery of the ship.[14]
  • 1884: The Resolven was found abandoned between Baccalieu Island and Catalina, Newfoundland and Labrador, with its lifeboat missing. Other than a broken yard, it had suffered minimal damage. A large iceberg was sighted nearby. It has been claimed that none of the seven crew members or four passengers were accustomed to northern waters and it was suggested that they panicked when the ship was damaged by ice,[15] launched the lifeboat, and swamped, though no bodies were found. Three years later, Resolven was wrecked while returning to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia with a load of lumber.
  • 1885: The The Twenty One Friends, a three-masted (tern) schooner was built in 1872. The ship was financed by a group of 21 Philadelphia Quakers and consequently named the Twenty One Friends. In 1885, returning to Philadelphia with a full load of lumber from Brunswick, Georgia, the ship was rammed by the John D. May off the coast of Cape Hatteras. Capt. Jeffries removed his crew and abandoned the vessel. The ship and cargo were left to the mercy of the sea. Capt. Jeffries’ concern for the safety of his men was appropriate; however, the Gaskill-made ship proved itself to be more seaworthy than expected. After the collision, the ship was sighted on both sides of the Atlantic over the next two years. It finally came ashore in Ireland, where its cargo was salvaged and it was employed as a fishing vessel.[16][17][18][19]
  • 1917: Zebrina, a sailing barge, departed Falmouth, England, with a cargo of Swansea coal bound for Saint-Brieuc, France. Two days later she was discovered aground on Rozel Point, south of Cherbourg, without damage except for some disarrangement of her rigging, but with her crew missing.
  • 1921: The Carroll A. Deering, a five-masted cargo schooner, was found stranded on a beach on Diamond Shoals, North Carolina. The ship's final voyage had been the subject of much debate and controversy, and was investigated by six departments of the US government, largely because it was one of dozens of ships that sank or went missing within a relatively short period of time. While paranormal explanations have been advanced, the theories of mutiny or piracy are considered more likely.
  • 1931: The Baychimo was abandoned in the Arctic Ocean when it became trapped in pack ice and was thought doomed to sink, but remained afloat and was sighted numerous times over the next 38 years without ever being salvaged.
  • 1933: A lifeboat from the 1906 wreck of the passenger steamship SS Valencia off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island was found floating in the area in remarkably good condition 27 years after the sinking.[9][10]
  • 1955: The MV Joyita was discovered abandoned in the Pacific. A subsequent inquiry found the vessel was in a poor state of repair, but determined the fate of passengers and crew to be "inexplicable on the evidence submitted at the inquiry".
  • 1959: A ghost submarine was found floating without a crew in the Bay of Biscay off northern Spain. It was later discovered that the empty sub was being towed by another vessel and the chain had snapped.[20]
  • 1969: The Teignmouth Electron was found adrift and unoccupied in the Atlantic Ocean. Investigation led to the conclusion that its sole crewmember, Donald Crowhurst, had suffered a psychiatric breakdown while competing in a solo around-the-world race and committed suicide by jumping overboard.[21]
  • 2003: The High Aim 6 was found drifting in Australian waters, 80 nautical miles (150 km; 92 mi) east of Rowley Shoals, with its crew missing.[22] The derelict was subsequently scuttled.[23]
  • 2006: The tanker Jian Seng was found off the coast of Weipa, Queensland Australia in March. Its origin or owner could not be determined, and its engines had been inoperable for some time.[23][24]
  • 2006: In August the Bel Amica was discovered off the coast of Sardinia.[25] The Coast Guard crew that discovered the ship found half eaten Egyptian meals, French maps of North African seas, and a flag of Luxembourg on board.
  • 2007: A 12-metre catamaran, the Kaz II, was discovered unmanned off the coast of Queensland, northeast Australia in April.[26] The yacht, which had left Airlie Beach on Sunday 15 April, was spotted about 80 nautical miles (150 km) off Townsville, near the outer Great Barrier Reef on the following Wednesday. When boarded on Friday, the engine was running, a laptop was running, the radio and GPS were working and a meal was set to eat, but the three-man crew were not on board. All the sails were up but one was badly shredded, while three life jackets and survival equipment, including an emergency beacon, were found on board. A search for the crew was abandoned on Sunday 22nd as it was considered unlikely that anyone could have survived for that period of time.
  • 2008: The abandoned 50 ton Taiwanese fishing vessel Tai Ching 21 (Chinese: 大慶21號) was found drifting near Kiribati on 9 November. The ship had suffered a fire several days previously, and its lifeboat and three life rafts were missing. No mayday call was received, and the ship had last been heard from on 28 October. A search of 21,000 square miles (54,000 square km) of the Pacific Ocean north of Fiji by a US Air Force C-130 Hercules and a New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion found no trace of the Taiwanese captain (顏金港 Yán Jīn-gǎng) or crew (18 Chinese, 6 Indonesians, and 4 Filipinos).[27][28]
  • 2012: The Ryou-Un Maru, a Japanese fishing vessel swept away by the March 2011 tsunami, was found floating adrift towards Canada after nearly a year at sea, no crew believed to be on board.[29] The vessel was sunk on April 5, 2012 by the United States Coast Guard.[30]
  • 2013: The MV Lyubov Orlova, a former Soviet cruise ship was being towed from Canada to a scrapyard in the Caribbean in January 2013 when a cable snapped setting it adrift in international waters. The crew did not pursue the vessel due to safety concerns. Some news reports claimed it was adrift and populated with cannibal rats. In reality, it most likely sank in the Atlantic Ocean in international waters.[31]


  • 1935: The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (a.k.a. The Phantom Ship) offers a fictional explanation for the events leading up to the discovery of the most famous of abandoned ships.
  • 1943: The Ghost Ship tells of mysterious deaths among the crew of the Altair, for which it is suspected the insane captain is responsible.
  • 1952: Ghost Ship is set aboard a yacht haunted by two murder victims (the previous owner's wife and her lover) whose bodies have been hidden under the floor.
  • 1980: Death Ship is about a lost Kriegsmarine prison ship haunted by the evil spirits of the dead crew. It now roams the seas for new victims, picking up survivors to abuse and kill after it sinks their ships.
  • 2001: The Triangle features a large abandoned cruise ship that is haunted.
  • 2001: Lost Voyage is a supernatural thriller about a group of people exploring the SS Corona Queen, which has emerged from the Bermuda Triangle after 30 years.
  • 2002: Ghost Ship is about the Antonia Graza, an Italian ocean liner lost at sea 40 years earlier, and now boarded by a salvage crew who soon encounter the ghostly apparitions of murdered passengers.
  • 2003: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl had the Black Pearl as a ghost ship. Its sequels Dead Man's Chest (2006) and At World's End (2007) feature another ghost ship Flying Dutchman.
  • 2009: Triangle is psychological horror film about a group of friends on a yachting trip who discover the derelict ocean liner Aeolus.



  1. ^ Hicks, Brian (2004). Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew. Random House Digital. pp. 5–6. ISBN 0345463919. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  2. ^ Grenon, Ingrid (2010). Lost Maine Coastal Schooners: From Glory Days to Ghost Ships. The History Press. p. 67. ISBN 1596299568. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  3. ^ Ghost ship arrives in north-east BBC News 2009-02-08
  4. ^ Hamilton, William B. (1978). "Folklore: Ghostly Encounters of the Northumberland Kind". The Island Magazine: 33–35. Retrieved June 9, 2013. 
  5. ^ Zuckerman, Elizabeth (December 20, 2004). "Legend of 18th-century ship still haunts Block Island". Boston Globe. Associated Press. Retrieved June 11, 2013. 
  6. ^ Bell, Michael (April 21, 2004). "The Legend of the Palatine". Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  7. ^ Harding, John (2004). Sailing's Strangest Moments: Extraordinary But True Tales from Over 900 Years of Sailing. Franz Steiner Verlag. p. 92. ISBN 1861057458. Retrieved August 6, 2012. 
  8. ^ "13 Days of Halloween: The Ghost Ship Valencia". Original. Consortium for Ocean Leadership. 23 October 2010. Retrieved 3 October 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Paterson, T. W. (1967). British Columbia Shipwrecks. Langley, BC: Stagecoach Publishing. pp. 72–76. 
  10. ^ Porterfield, Walden R. (May 30, 1973). "Phantom Ships–The Ghosts That Sail the Seven Seas". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  11. ^ John Ross Dix (1852). A Hand-Book of Newport, and Rhode Island. Newport, Rhode Island: C. E. Hammett, Jr. pp. 75–77. 
  12. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1937). "Rhode Island:The General Background". Rhode Island, a Guide to the Smallest State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 108–109. 
  13. ^ Pisa, Nick (24 August 2006). "Mysterious yacht found empty off millionaire's playground". The Scotsman (Rome). Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  14. ^ The Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador – CD Version article Resolven
  15. ^ Ashton, Charles (May 21, 1982). "NRHP Nomination Form". Library of the Atlantic Heritage Center. 
  16. ^ Gordinier, Glenn S. "Maritime Enterprise in New Jersey: Great Egg Harbor During the Nineteenth Century". New Jersey History. xcvii (2): 104–117. 
  17. ^ "Museum exhibits". Atlantic Heritage Center Museum and Library. 
  18. ^ Gearren, Joan (1981). "Survey of Cultural Resources of the Historic Era in the Watersheds of the Great Egg Harbor and Tuckahoe Rivers". NJ Office of Cultural and Environmental Services, Historic Preservation Section (108-30). Retrieved October 2, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Submarine No Ghost: Derelict Found Off Spain Had Snapped Tow Chain". The New York Times. UPI. January 5, 1959. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Drama on the waves: The Life And Death of Donald Crowhurst". The Independent. October 28, 2006. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  21. ^ "Taipei Times". Taipei Times. DPA and AP. January 16,. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  22. ^ a b "Ghost ship to be towed to port". Sydney Morning Herald. March 27, 2006. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  23. ^ "At sea. Australian Customs board 'ghost ship' in Gulf of Carpentaria". March 26, 2006. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  24. ^ "Mystery yacht found off Millionaires Playground". The Scotsman. 24 August 2006. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  25. ^ "Ghost Yacht found off Australia". BBC News. 20 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  26. ^ "Hopes dim for 29 Asian fishermen". BBC Online. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  27. ^ Liberty Times – Tai Ching 21 found. No signs of its crew members
  28. ^ "Japan tsunami 'ghost ship' drifting to Canada". BBC News. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  29. ^ "Coast Guard cannon fire sinks Japanese ghost ship damaged in tsunami". New York Daily News. April 6, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  30. ^ Eveleth, Rose (23 January 2014). "No, an Abandoned Ship Full of Diseased Rats Is Not Floating Towards Britain". Smithsonian. 
  31. ^ Escape – Three Skeleton Key