Jules Verne said: “The sea is the only embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence. It is nothing but love and emotion; it is the Living Infinite.” Mel Fisher and his crew of treasure hunters may have experienced the sea’s “wonderful” and loving existence when they discovered the $450 million Atocha Motherlode in 1985, but the same can’t be said for the 1,500 passengers who went down with the Titanic in 1912.
From Noah’s Ark and Thor Heyerdahl’s raft to sirens and sea monsters, sailors have long passed down seafaring lore and legend. Nautical folklore is comprised of tales of ghost ships and castaways, of lost continents, mermaids, pirates, and portents of doom, and nautical folklore is so distinctly tied to maritime history that it’s impossible to tell where one braid ends and the other begins.
Ships have been wrecked amongst the rocks and reefs in the Graveyard of the Atlantic and lost in the waters of the Bermuda Triangle. Some have been discovered perfectly intact but missing their crew. Others vanished without a trace moments after sending a distress call. Here are 10 ships that never made it home.
10 Jian Seng
In 2006 the Jian Seng, an 80-meter tanker, was spotted drifting in the Gulf of Carpentaria by a coast watch plane. When custom agents boarded the vessel, they found it was inoperable and had no crew on board. While there were no signs of violence or illegal activities such as drug smuggling or human trafficking, the ship had been stripped; all identifying marks had been removed and the ship’s name painted over. Unable to determine the ship’s owner or point of origin, the Coast Guard scuttled it in deep waters.
9 Lyubov Orlova
Lyubov Orlova, a Russian cruise ship, disappeared over a year ago as it was being towed from Atlantic Canada. In January 2014, CTV News reported that the vessel was drifting near the British coastline. However, the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency said “there’s no evidence to suggest it’s still afloat,” and that “any ghost ship entering European waters is highly likely to be reported, due to the large number of vessels passing through the area.” Belgium salvage hunter Pim de Rhodes added a unique twist to the story when he told The Sun that the unmanned ship was likely overrun with “diseased, cannibal rats.”
8 The Nina
“The weather’s turned nasty, how do we get away from it?”
This is the last text message a crewmember on the Nina, a 70-foot classic American schooner, sent New Zealand meteorologist Bob McDavitt. Seven people were on the Nina when it was lost in the Tasmanian Sea on June 2014. It’s believed 26-foot waves and 70-mph gusts compromised the satellite phone as no distress signal was transmitted in the Nina’s final days. The RCCNZ searched 737,000 nautical miles -roughly eight times the size of New Zealand -for the missing schooner. Visual, radar and aerial checks were conducted. The search was eventually called off on July 6. Neither the yacht or lifeboat was found.
7 The Intrepid
Fort Pierce, Florida, 1996.
The captain of the Intrepid sends a distress call to the Coast Guard. The 65-foot yacht is sinking and 16 passengers are escaping on a lifeboat. The Coast Guard sends out four aircrafts to look for the yacht and lifeboat, but after searching 6,000 square miles of rough sea –the waves are reported to be 7 to 8 feet high –the search is called off. Nothing is found of the Intrepid –no wreckage or debris, no bodies. The ship disappeared 30 miles off the coast of Florida without a trace. Its last known whereabouts is close enough to the Bermuda Triangle for the disappearance to be considered mysterious.
On December 22, 1967, Dan Burack and Patrick Horgan left Miami’s yacht marina in Burack’s 23-foot cabin cruiser, Witchcraft. The men were near Buoy #7, less than a mile from shore, when they hit something below. Burack called the Coast Guard for a tow, but when the Coast Guard showed up 19 minutes later, the ship had vanished.
The Coast Guard searched for six days and covered 24,500 miles, even venturing northward into the Gulf Stream in case the boat got swept off course in a squall, but they didn’t find a trace of Witchcraft or its passengers. Rescue teams were baffled. What exactly happened on that December night off the coast of Miami remains a mystery.
5 Andrea Gail
“She’s comin’ on boys, and she’s comin’ on strong.”
Those were Captain “Billy” Tyne’s last recorded words before the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing vessel out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, was lost at sea in the “Perfect Storm” in 1991. After fishing the Flemish Cap, the captain set a course for home despite the warning of dangerous weather conditions. It’s believed the ship’s malfunctioning ice machine, which was unable to maintain the catch much longer, played a role in Tyne’s decision.
The Andrea Gail’s last reported position was 180 miles northeast of Sable Island, where it encountered 30-foot seas and 60-knot winds. The story of the Andrea Gail and its crew inspired Sebastian Junger’s 1997 book, The Perfect Storm, which was made into a film in 2000 staring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.
Gloucester is the oldest active seaport in the United States. According to Cape Ann historians, between 8,000 and 10,000 men who went fishing out of Gloucester have perished at sea since 1623.
4 HMS Investigator
In 2012, a team of Canadian archeologists headed by Marc-Andre Bernier discovered the HMS Investigator along the northern coast of Banks Island in Canada’s western Arctic. The HMS Investigator was one of many American and British ships that originally set sail in search for the HMS Erebus and the Terror, vessels commanded by Sir John Franklin in his doomed expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. The HMS Investigator was abandoned in the ice in 1853 after inadvertently sailing into the final leg of the Northwest Passage. According to Marc-Andre Bernier, “the ship was discovered in good condition and standing upright in 36 feet of water.”
3 The Mary Celeste
In 1872 the American merchant brigantine, Mary Celeste, was discovered off the Azores with no crew on board. The cargo was untouched and the crews’ personal belongings still in place. The boat was in seaworthy condition, and the last log entry was written 10 days earlier. So what happened?
One explanation suggests the crew was murdered and thrown overboard by Ottoman pirates. Another theory says they quickly abandoned ship, believing the cargo was going to explode; the hull was packed with barrels of alcohol. Homicidal sailors, vengeful ex-slaves, mutiny, sea monsters, seaquakes, killer waterspouts –over a century after Mary Celeste’s crew went missing, all manner of scenarios have emerged to explain one the greatest maritime mysterious of all time.
2 Kaz II
Great Barrier Reef, April 20, 2007.
A helicopter spots a catamaran with a tattered sail drifting off the northern coast of Australia. Queensland Emergency Management officials board the Kaz II. The ship’s engine is idling and there’s a half-empty cup of coffee, laptop, and newspaper lying open on a table next to a pile of clothes. The GPS and radio are functioning perfectly. But there’s nobody on board.
Skipper Des Batten and brothers Pete and John Tunstead, experienced yachtsmen and described as “typical Aussie blokes,” vanished after setting sail on a two-month trip to Western Australia. There are many theories about what could have happened to the three crewmembers. Did the men stage their own disappearance for insurance reasons? Were smugglers or pirates involved? Foul play? But the mystery spawned even wilder conspiracy theories: did a paranormal or supernatural event take place somewhere near the Great Barrier Reef? Could the men have been visited by a UFO?
While no bodies were discovered, forensic investigators found nothing “out of the ordinary” and ruled that men drowned in a freak accident.
1 The USS Cyclops
The USS Cyclops vanished on March 4, 1918 with 309 men aboard. It’s the most famous of the early 20th century seafaring disappearances and represents the largest non-combat loss of life in U.S. Naval history. The USS Cyclops is one of many ships to vanish in the Bermuda Triangle.
The USS Cyclops was the largest collier in the U.S. Navy’s fleet. What could cause a ship that large to vanish? Possible causes of the Cyclops’ disappearance include rogue waves, underwater methane gas pockets, or a torpedo attack by an enemy submarine. An investigation by Naval Intelligence later revealed that Captain Worley was actually German-born. It was rumored he may have conspired with the enemy to hand over the ship, but there was never any evidence to back the claim.