Since men have been sailing, shipwrecks have been a common event. No matter how large or how well built, any ship can fall prey to the ocean. It’s as if nature is giving mankind a reality check, a warning of how they do not own the seas. The Titanic is the best example, the massive ship called “unsinkable” only to go down on its maiden voyage. The images of the liner at the bottom of the ocean as a huge collapsing wreck are remarkable as well as rather creepy to look at. But the fact remains that the seas are packed with wrecks, some on shore while most are underwater. A few are from wars, many from storms and some even planned out as scuttled craft. A few are truly beautiful in their own way, able to show off and showcasing the past well.
But others can lend themselves to rather creepy looks and makes diving over them a sometimes chilling sight. The ones that are falling apart are actually less freaky than the ships that are in almost perfect condition. Sometimes, the backstories add to them, how they ended up there and how their ultimate fate mirrors their lives. There are thousands of examples but here are a few that stand out, 15 freaky images from wrecks around the world and how they came to be. It all serves to remind you of how dark the seas can get.
15. L.R. Doty – 17 Lives Lost
The Great Lakes aren’t what you automatically think of when it comes to shipwrecks. But in reality, the Lakes are packed with thousands of ships taken over the centuries. The harsh weather can lead to massive storms and many a captain has underestimated to his regret how bad things can get.
The steamship was a top transporter in the late 19th century who hit a major storm on Lake Michigan on October 25th, 1898. The ship was floundering and another ship was towing it through the storm. But the tether lines broke, sending the Doty down with seventeen men lost. Because of the conditions and the lack of technology, its exact location wasn’t known.
In 2010, the wreck was finally found by some rookie divers, resting 300 feet under the water and in almost perfect condition. The wreck is amazing to look at, frozen in time by its conditions and the fact it was so long lost makes its discovery all the better. It shows you don’t have to go to the oceans to find some amazing wrecks.
14. Bismarck – German Ship During WWII Sunk By The British
Once, it was the most feared battleship on the waves. Named after the revered German statesman, the Bismarck was completed in 1940 as World War II raged across Europe. Soon, the ship was gaining a reputation as one of the best of Germany’s fleet. In May of 1941, the Bismarck rocked England by sinking the iconic British cruiser Hood in just minutes. This led to the British Navy making sinking the Bismarck its highest priority. Damaged in the battle, the Bismarck was soon pursued by several ships and took hits from some French planes. While it put up a mighty fight, the ship was finally sunk by three British warships. Of the 2200-man crew, only 114 sailors survived.
Despite the records, the chaos of war meant that the exact location of the wreck was unknown for some time. Finally, in 1989, Robert Ballard (the same man who found the Titanic) located the wreck. In a rarity, the Bismarck had landed almost perfectly down on a volcanic cliff, sliding before coming to a stop. This photo showing the rusted guns showcases the sight of a once mighty ship brought low and remains as iconic in death as it was in life.
13. Origins Unknown, Thought To Be Russian Spy Ship From Cold War
This wreck has actually confused explorers for quite a while. Some believe it’s the Khanka, a Russian trawler used as a spy ship during the Cold War. It went missing in 1982 and the timing seems right. Others contend it’s simply a fishing ship although the communications equipment found by divers hints it may have been a vessel used for spyware. It carries the designation of “SS” (Sudno Svyazyy), the identification used for a Moma class ship. It was discovered in the Southern Red Sea in 2003 and since then has been quite a popular stop for divers. Naturally, the Russians still refuse to divulge much of their spy activities during the old USSR days so the truth of the ship and how it came to sink is unknown.
Currently resting on its bow, the hull has been rusted and crusted over yet an odd beauty to it despite the circumstances. Divers can get into the hull and while most of the equipment is gone, you can see where the “spy stuff” lay. Its true origins may never be known and that adds an air of mystery that makes this wreck one of the more foreboding out there.
12. Umbria – WWII Ship Sunk On Purpose With All The Bombs On Board
Some divers insist this is the best wreck in the entire world to explore. The Red Sea is packed with huge wrecks but the Umbria is something else. Launched in December of 1911 as a cruise ship, it was eventually purchased by Italy who turned it into a troop carrier for Africa. When WWII broke out, Italy didn’t join in declaring war on the Allies and the ship was discovered to be running arms but (because hostilities weren’t official), the British couldn’t do anything. On June 9th, while the ship was at port, the captain heard over the radio that Italy had entered the war. Knowing this made his ship an instant target, he decided to scuttle it right off rather than risk it being captured by the British.
This is what makes the wreck so unique as 360,000 bombs were on board when the ship went down. The British decided it was simply too dangerous to try and get at them from that depth and so left them there. Thus, as divers check out the wreck, they are swimming over several tons of bombs that, even after all these decades, adds a dangerous vibe. The wreck itself is amazing yet that aura of danger is what makes the Umbria so foreboding.
11. SS Falcon – Crew Hit The Beach When It Caught Fire And Abandoned Ship
The Dover Cliffs of England are known as a glorious spot for tourists. There is the fantastic view of the ocean, the Cliffs themselves, the scenery, it’s usually a spotless place. That is except for the section that contains the remains of a massive iron steamer. Owned by the General Steam Navigation Company, the Falcon was a classic steam transport ship whose cargo would regularly include hemp and matches. It was probably only a matter of time before something went wrong and in 1926, a fire broke out on the ship while it was on a run. It ground itself onto shore as the fire burned down most of the ship with the crew quickly abandoning it. The Company decided that salvaging the remains wasn’t worth the cost and so, ninety years later, the ship remains where it was. While much of it has rotted, the actual hull remains mostly there and intriguing to look at. A zig-zag path down the Cliffs leads to it as it’s a popular spot to show how a wreck doesn’t have to be underwater to be a very intriguing sight.
10. San Francisco Maru – Wreck From Japanese Fleet In WWII
If you want to find some of the best wrecks from World War II, Truk Lagoon is the place. Located in what is now Micronesia, the area was the center of Japan’s naval operations in the area during the war. As such, numerous battles took place that would send several ships down to the bottom. The Maru was built in 1919 and conscripted into the Japanese fleet when the war started. The ship was damaged in Operation Hailstone in 1944 but it took a diving attack by a bomber to finally sink it. Remarkably, only five sailors were killed in the attack as the Maru was marked as yet another ship lost in the conflict.
In 1969, Jacques Cousteau, the iconic ocean explorer, managed to discover the wreck during an expedition to Truk. He returned in 1973 for an in-depth dive and it’s become a hot spot for divers since. Resting just two hundred feet under the water, the ship is covered with coral yet much of it surprisingly intact. The images of it are amazing, none bigger than the tank still on its deck as if ready to go to war again, making this one of the more chilling WWII wrecks around.
9. The Ghost Ship Of The Baltic Sea
Its name has long been lost to history. Where it came from, who built it, it’s all a grand mystery. That’s what makes the “Ghost Ship of the Baltic” so fascinating for divers and explorers. The seas of the Baltic can be almost pitch black and storms have ensured thousands of ships have gone to its inky bottom. In 2003, during a research expedition for a Swedish spy plane, a documentary crew stumbled onto this remarkable find. A ship roughly 400 years old, magnificently persevered in the ice cold water. It wasn’t until 2010 that an expedition utilized cameras and surveillance equipment to properly document the ship.
The conclusion is that it was Dutch, probably constructed around the mid-17th century when that nation was a major ship-going country. Eighty feet long by twenty feet wide, the best idea is that it must have hit one of the Baltic’s infamous storms and sank. As record-keeping wasn’t a thing back then, the truth behind its origins will never be known. That’s what makes it all the more haunting as this shows how some wrecks can withstand time itself.
8. Hussein Salem’s Sunken Ferry Taking Over 400 Lives
This was a boat that had slews of names and owners over a thirty-year period. Launched from France in 1966, this roll-on/roll-off car and passenger ferry made regular runs around Egypt. The Express was finally purchased by Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem who named it after himself. On December 17th, 1991, the ship ran into reefs on the Egyptian coast during a late night ferry. The ship took on water fast and sank quickly with the official reports listing roughly 450 dead. However, some claim the ship was overloaded and the death toll really much higher with the Egyptian government trying to hush it up. The real Salem would become famous for being arrested during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 and currently living in exile in Spain.
The wreck has been a popular one for some time, the ship having fantastic shadows due to the coral growth and the holes caused in the sinking offering entry. It also still has slews of personal items of the passengers, including bicycles, offering a chilling look at how quickly a simple run turned into a disaster.
7. M.V. Karwela – Decommissioned And Scuttled To Make A Tourist Attraction
First built in 1957, this ferry was launched as the Frisia II. It had a couple other names over the years as it transported up to 800 passengers and numerous cars and other items around the Mediterranean. Unlike other ships on this list, its place in the ocean wasn’t because of a storm or an accident. In 2006, after years of service, the ferry was decommissioned. The government of Malta decided to turn it into a tourist attraction by having it scuttled, carefully weighing the ship down to ensure it would rest perfectly 115 feet under the water. It paid off as divers love checking the wreck out, still mostly preserved yet also foreboding under the right light.
The most intriguing sight is the pink VW Beetle resting on the ship’s bow. This was a surprise as the idea is some divers decided to add it in by lowering the car onto the ship. However it happened, it adds another unique touch to the wreck and how even a planned sinking can offer a strange sight.
6. Taiyo – Scientists Baffled At How It Landed (And Stayed) Upright
It’s the placement of the wreck that makes it so notable. This fishing boat was on its maiden voyage when it hit a bad storm and sank off of Marova Lagoon in the Solomon Islands. Incredibly, the ship landed right on its stern, the bow sticking right up at the surface of the water. A salvage attempt just ended up driving it further into the sand so the ship is stuck in that position. That’s made it a very popular spot for divers who enjoy taking in this strange sight of a ship at a nearly perfect vertical position. It’s only forty meters under the water, plenty of light for divers yet that just makes it more eerie as if the boat is trying desperately to break free and get back on track to its final destination. Ocean scientists are baffled as to how the ship could have landed in such a position and remain upright which just adds to its standing as one of the most unique wrecks in the world.
5. Thistlegorm – Transported Weapons And Materials During WWII
Built in 1940, the Thistlegorm was a British merchant ship, completed just in time for World War II. It was put into service quickly conveying weapons and materials back and forth from the U.S. to South America and Africa. In September of 1941, the ship was making its way to Egypt packed with materials intended for the Egyptian railway. They thought they were safe as they were in a convoy but a German attack took place when the ship was docked. Two bombs were enough to sink it quickly with four men killed. The ship sunk fast with almost all its equipment gone.
In the early 1950s, the famed explorer Jacques Cousteau discovered the wreck to bring it to a new life. It was in the 1990s that the site became home for divers who enjoy seeing the items still left behind. This classic motorcycle frozen forever underwater is an eerie underwater sight but adds to the legacy of the craft.
4. Empress Of Ireland – One Of The Worst Ocean Liner Disasters, Thousands Of Lives Lost
In between the Titanic and the Lusitania, the Empress of Ireland was one of the worst ocean liner disasters of the early 20th century. Launched in 1906, the liner was one of the best in the world, running cruises around Canada. On May 28th, 1914, the ship had left Quebec City on a normal run. In the heavy fog, it ran into a cargo ship called the Storstad, causing a massive rift in the hull. Due to the leaning over, many of the lifeboats could not be launched and the water filled the ship rapidly. Less than 15 minutes after the collision, the Empress sank with over a thousand people dying in both the sinking and the freezing water.
The wreck has been salvaged a few times for items on board as well as recovery of as many bodies as possible. As it rests at only 140 feet under the water, the wreck is easily accessible and Quebec has to pass laws marking it a historical area to prevent it from being pillaged. What remains is the sad wreck of what was once one of the finest ships on the water.
3. USS Kittiwake – Turned Into An Artificial Reef For Divers
A submarine rescue ship, the Kittiwake, was launched in July of 1945, just before the end of World War II. It remained a top notch ship for the Navy for the next five decades, usually accompanying submarines on missions. It was on hand for the first launching of a Polaris missile in 1960 and took place in several rescue missions, many of which are still classified. The ship was also the one that recovered the black box of the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded in 1986.
The ship was finally decommissioned in 1994 and eight years later, was sold to the Cayman Islands. The Caymans had come up with the idea of turning old wrecks into artificial reefs and thought the Kittiwake would be a good choice. Thus, the ship had special holes cut in specifically so divers could get through them before being put in just twenty feet of water. While that doesn’t sound so bad, the way the ship still looks so pristine despite its marine life makes it a bit creepier than ships falling apart massively. It may have been a planned wreck but that doesn’t make the images of this boat underwater any less gripping.
2. Defiance – Landed Perfectly At The Bottom Of The Lake
Lake Huron is known for its harsh weather at times and many a ship has run afoul of it. In the 1850s, many captains were pushed to increase speed for their trips, which just led to more wrecks. Indeed, in the fall of 1854, 70 ships sank with 119 killed and 2 million dollars (a hefty sum then) lost. Thunder Bay was prey to several of these ships due to its combination of lake and ocean conditions. It all came together when the schooner Defiance set sail on October 20 to Chicago only to run into the Audubon in the fog. Thankfully, both crews managed to evacuate with no losses but both ships were sunk.
The Defiance is creepy because of how it landed nearly perfectly on the bottom of the lake as if ready to set sail again. Its masts remain intact, poking up as if trying to still reach its final port. The ship is mostly intact due to the cold conditions yet bare of many of its decorations. That makes it very eerie to dive upon to see a lost relic of the past.
1. Edmund Fitzgerald – Almost 30 Lives Lost
Experienced sea captains have admitted the storms of the Great Lakes can often be far worse. Indeed, the bottom of those lakes is littered with the corpses of numerous vessels. None are as large or as famous as the Edmund Fitzgerald. When launched in 1958, the Fitzgerald was the largest cargo vessel used in the Great Lakes, hauling coal and other items from Minneapolis to Detroit to Chicago. The ship was highly popular for those looking at the Lakes thanks to the captain playing music and often giving a running commentary on the ship to visitors. On November 9th, 1975, the ship was on its run when it hit one of the worst storms ever seen in the region with near hurricane force winds. The exact cause is unknown but the ship was lost with all 29 crew members.
Its loss was a huge event, even inspiring a popular song and pushed the Great Lakes shipping regulations to be altered to bring in more safety measures to prevent another tragedy. The ship itself now rests on the Canadian side of Lake Huron, cracked into two pieces 530 feet under the water. Various expeditions haven’t come up with any conclusive proof of how the ship sank and scuba divers risk the high pressure looking for more clues. It’s still a chilling sight to see what was once the biggest ship on the Lakes now a shattered wreck.