Most Famous Ghost Ships in History
A ghost ship, also called a phantom ship, is a ship that has no signs of life and is left drifting sometimes for years before its discovery.
There are many tales of ghost ships that are unverified, but some vessels were actually discovered on the high seas. Whether they sailed for business or pleasure, how they became derelict and abandoned remains a mystery.
These are the most famous ghost ships in history.
22. HMS Resolute
Location: Baffin Island, Canada
Year of discovery: 1854
Bottom line: The British Royal Navy once owned this barque-rigged ship, which was specifically used for Arctic exploration, but once it became trapped in ice, it was abandoned.
An American whaler recovered it, and the United States repaired it and sent it back to Queen Victoria as a token of goodwill between the two countries. It sailed for another two decades.
When the ship was retired, it was salvaged for its timber, which was later used to construct a desk for U.S. presidents, beginning with Rutherford B. Hayes. With the exception of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford, who all used another desk during their time in office, it has been in use ever since.
21. SV Mary Celeste
Location: Between Portugal and the Azore Islands
Year of discovery: 1872
Bottom line: Mary Celeste is probably the most well-known ghost ship in the world. Another ship, Dei Gratia, discovered it still seaworthy, but with no passengers or crew. Their personal effects remained as did most of their cargo, which was about 1,700 barrels of alcohol.
There was about three feet of water in the hold, but that’s not unusual for a ship of that kind at that time. However, a longboat was missing, which led investigators to believe that the ship was abandoned quickly.
While there have been dozens of theories about the ship over the decades, from pirates to alien abduction, it seems that the captain believed Mary Celeste was going under and ordered it abandoned, as he felt he, his family and crew were close enough to land to reach it.
But they never did.
20. SV Resolven
Location: In the waters between Baccalieu Island and Catalina, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Year of discovery: 1884
Bottom line: When Resolven was discovered, food was cooking on the stove, but no one was found onboard. Its logbook was intact, and while there was some minimal damage to its side, it was still seaworthy.
It wasn’t until 2015 that some clues were unearthed. A Newfoundland woman named Daisy Bailey contacted researcher Will Wain, who is also the great-grandson of the boat’s captain, John James. She told him she had heard her stories of her great-grandfather finding the body of a sea captain on nearby Random Island with several gold coins on his person.
Wain attempted to reach the island, but was unable to do so because of the weather. He plans on excavating what he believes is his great-grandfather's body to see if there’s a DNA match. It said to be in an unmarked grave at a nearby fishing village.
19. SV The Twenty One Friends
Year of discovery: 1885
Bottom line: This three-mast ship with an unusual name was owned by a group of 21 Philadelphia Quakers. It was returning to the city with a load of lumber from Georgia when it was rammed by another ship.
Feeling as though its days above water were numbered, the captain and crew abandoned Twenty One Friends. The ship, however, held on for another two years and made its way across the Atlantic.
When it finally came ashore, it was salvaged and turned into a fishing boat.
18. SV Carroll A. Deering
Location: Diamond Shoals near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Year of discovery: 1921
Bottom line: The Carroll A. Deering was manned by a crew of 10 with a very experienced captain when it set out from Norfolk, Virginia, bound for Rio de Janeiro. After it reached its destination and unloaded its cargo, it set a course for home, but never made it.
When the abandoned schooner was found, its sails were set, its lifeboats were missing, and so was its crew. To this day, no one knows why they left in a hurry, but they were never found.
The ship was sunk, and its timber was used to build houses in the area.
17. SV Governor Parr
Location: The Canary Islands (last known location)
Year of discovery: 1923
Bottom line: The crew abandoned Governor Parr after it was damaged in a storm on its journey from Nova Scotia to Buenos Aires. Despite the significant damage it suffered, it never sank, even with deliberate attempts to it.
Over the next several years, the ship covered large spans of the Atlantic and made it as far away as the Canary Islands before it met its watery fate.
16. SS Baychimo
Location: Chukchi Sea off the northwestern Alaskan coast
Year of discovery: 1931
Bottom line: SS Baychimo was trapped on ice near Barrow, Alaska, when it was abandoned by its crew. It was thought it would sink sooner than later.
However, the ship had other ideas. It floated around the Chukchi Sea over the next 40 years, from 1931 to 1969. People boarded the vessel many times, but their attempts at salvaging it fell prey to bad weather or a lack of experience.
15. MV Joyita
Location: Vanua Levu, Fiji
Year of discovery: 1955
Bottom line: Of all the ghost ships on this list, the loss of the passengers and crew of Joyita holds the most mystery. The boat, which was designed to be virtually unsinkable, was found tilting to one side without any sign of life.
Some believed that the captain died mid-journey, while others say that everyone onboard was murdered by a Japanese fishing crew after witnessing illegal acts, but the most recent theory, and likely most plausible, is mutiny. The ship was taking on water, and its occupants abandoned it, taking the captain hostage.
It is thought they had radioed for help, not knowing the radio was broken. They waited on rafts for help to arrive, and eventually drowned or were killed by sharks.
14. SV Teignmouth Electron
Location: North Atlantic Ocean
Year of discovery: 1969
Bottom line: Businessman Donald Crowhurst was having financial problems when he entered an around-the-world yacht race in 1968 in hopes to win the cash prize.
His lack of experience and issue with the boat left him lagging far behind other competitors almost from the beginning, but he reported false positions to make it appear as if he was not only doing well but far ahead of everyone else.
The British press expected he would head home a victor, but just before he was meant to arrive, he vanished. When the boat was found, his logbooks revealed the truth. Trapped in his own lie, he jumped overboard.
The decaying boat remains on the shore of the Cayman Islands to this day.
13. SV Ocean Wave
Year of discovery: 1975
Bottom line: Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader took to the seas for art and disappeared. He attempted to cross the Atlantic solo as part of a performance piece called "In Search of the Miraculous."
Three weeks into the trip, Ader lost radio contact and was presumed dead. The boat was found 10 months later without him on it.
The Ocean Wave was taken to Coruña, Spain, where it was later stolen and never recovered.
12. MV High Aim 6
Location: Rowley Shoals, Broome, Australia
Year of discovery: 2002
Bottom line: When High Aim 6 was found, its crew was missing, but there were no signs of distress. Their personal effects remained with their fuel and provisions intact. The ship, equipped for long-line fishing, was holding thousands of pounds of rotting fish in its cargo.
Despite a forensic examination of the vessel, no one knew what had happened to the captain or crew, but it was soon discovered that calls were still being made from the boat engineer’s cell phone. After checking phone records, Taiwanese police suspected mutiny.
One member of the crew was finally tracked down. He confessed that the captain and the engineer were killed by the crew, and those that remained went back to their homeland. There was no further explanation as to their motive.
11. SV Bel Amica
Location: Punta Volpe, Sardinia, Italy
Year of discovery: 2006
Bottom line: The Bel Amica was found drifting off the coast of Sardinia. It had no crew, but there were recent signs of people, including a half-eaten meal and piles of clothes.
When the Italian Coast Guard boarded the ship, it was only ID’d by a wooden plaque, but had no country of origin. It was originally thought to be an antique, which only added to its mystery.
It was soon found to be a modern yacht, and the owner, a Luxembourger man, Franc Rouayrux, didn’t register it to avoid paying taxes.
9. SV Kaz II
Location: Weipa, Queensland, Australia
Year of discovery: 2006
Bottom line: When three men set off to travel the waters around the coast of Australia, they had no idea their story would end in tragedy. Kaz II, which was carrying Des Batten, and brothers Peter and John Tunstead, was found drifting with a functioning GPS and radio, life jackets, and a laptop open on the table.
While some nefarious theories cropped up, the Townsville, Queensland, coroner insisted it was just a freak accident that caused the men’s demise. He believed one of them fell overboard while trying to detangle a fishing line. When a second man tried to rescue him, he also fell in. The third dropped the sails to turn the boat around and was knocked off the yacht by a sail boom.
"Once the three men were in the water, there was very little chance they could get back on the boat. It would be beyond their reach in seconds. From that point, the end would have been swift," the coroner said.
8. MV Tai Ching 21
Year of discovery: 2008
Bottom line: No one knows what happened to the crew of Tai Ching 21, but officials knew they would never be found alive. The boat was gutted by fire when it was found off the coast of Kiribati.
Tai Ching 21 had not sent a mayday call. A lifeboat and three rafts were missing, as were all 29 members of the crew, with no real explanation ever found for their disappearance.
7. SV Lunatic
Location: Indian Ocean
Year of discovery: 2009
Bottom line: At 72, Jure Šterk, was an expert sailor who had crossed many oceans and sailed around the world alone more than once. It was his goal to become the oldest sailor to circumnavigate the globe in the smallest boat without stopping.
He never finished the trip. His boat was found without him on it, by the crew of the RV Roger Revelle, a science ship.
They picked up his log books and one of his last entries read: "Towards the evening, I prepared tools and spare parts which I might need tomorrow on the mast – two D-shackles (large and small), cotter pins - Nothing else. The tools (pliers, cutting pliers, screwdriver, hammer) are in the other pocket of the seat. Who knows how many times I’ve gone through the action in my head? I only hope that the mast holds!"
Also missing were his wallet, a camera, a camcorder and a lifeboat. Šterk is believed to be lost at sea.
6. MV Ryou-Un Maru
Location: Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, Canada
Year of discovery: 2012
Bottom line: Ryou-Un Maru was a 164-long fishing boat that went adrift during the 2011 tsunami, making its way all the way across the Pacific from Japan to the Gulf of Alaska.
A Canadian fishing vessel claimed salvage rights to the boat and attempted to tow it, but failed. The Coast Guard stepped in and decided to sink it instead of spending the money and time to tow it to port.
5. T.T. Zion
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Year of Discovery: 2012
Bottom Line: Guma Aguiar was an oil and gas tycoon who vanished off the coast of Florida just after his wife threatened him with divorce. He was allegedly depressed and on medication when boarding the boat and sped off.
When it was found, its navigation lights were on, and the throddle was in the forward position. However, the engine was dead.
About four miles offshore, Aguiar began having steering issues due to a broken tie rod. Experts believe he fell overboard as the boat lurched through the tumultuous waves.
Aguiar was worth about $100 million at the time of his death. While some believe he faked his demise to avoid the costly divorce, he was declared lost at sea three years after he vanished.
4. MV Lyubov Orlova
Location: North Atlantic Ocean
Year of discovery: 2013
Bottom line: Built in the 1970s, Orlova was, at first, a cruise ship. It became a freighter in the mid-1990s before being refurbished for cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2000. Within a decade, it was seized after her owners lost a lawsuit to a haulage contractor for $250,000 in unpaid fees.
Caribbean buyers purchased the vessel two years later, but it broke free of its tow line on the way to a scrapyard in the Dominican Republic.
Attempts to find Orlova by the Canadian Coast Guard were unsuccessful. The last verified sighting of the ship took place in February 2013, by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which spotted it in the North Atlantic.
Since then, there have been a few unverified sightings, but the Orlova is believed to be sunk. That is a good thing, if you follow news reports. There were rumored to be cannibal rats onboard.
Location: Philippine Sea
Year of discovery: 2016
Bottom line: In a story that’s less mysterious than tragic, Manfred Fritz Bajorat was found dead in his yacht by local fishermen in the western North Pacific Ocean near the Philippines. He had died of a heart attack or stroke and was found slumped over a desk, perfectly mummified by the ocean air.
Investigators found identifying materials, one of which was a letter to Bajorat’s deceased wife, which read: "Thirty years we’ve been together on the same path. Then the power of the demons was stronger than the will to live. You’re gone. May your soul find its peace. Your Manfred."
2. Unidentified North Korean Ghost Ship
Location: The Coast of Japan
Year of discovery: 2017
Bottom line: A wooden boat believed to be from North Korea washed up on the beach in northern Akita Prefecture. It carried eight partially skeletonized passengers.
North Korean vessels have been washing up on Japanese shores for several years, and its Coast Guard has had to rescue passengers on more than one occasion.
Officials believe that citizens of the starving nation are taking to the seas in search of food. Desperate fishermen board older vessels without the proper equipment and end up too far out to sea, which often leads to disastrous consequences.
1. MV Alta
Location: Ballycotton, County Cork, Ireland
Year of discovery: 2020
Bottom line: When Storm Dennis battered the coast of Ireland in early 2020, it brought with it a mystery. Alta, which was built in 1976, had been floating around the Atlantic with a cargo of intact oil barrels but no humans for at least 18 months before it reached Ireland’s shore. In October 2018, as it traveled from Greece to Haiti, its engines failed, and its crew was saved by the U.S. Coast Guard near Burmusa.
No one knows what happened to the abandoned ship after that. Some believe another ship attempted to tow it Guyana, only to abandon it again. When they cut it loose, it slowly drifted around the Atlantic before it grounded in Ireland.
The government begged people to stay away from the wreckage due to its dangers, but they continue to board to take photos. In April 2021, someone started a fire on the ship, which was put out before it could spread.
The ship remains stranded as a salvage operation would potentially cost millions, and its owners have not been identified.