In 1872, the Canadian Brigantine Dei Gratia was sailing between the Azores Islands and mainland Portugal when it came across a ship six miles and closing the distance between them. There was something wrong with the unknown vessel, however. Its sails were off and its movements were erratic at best.
As they came closer, the captain of the Dei Gratia could see no one on its decks, and received no signals from its crew. When the crew of Dei Gratia boarded the ship, they found it deserted, its lifeboat missing, but basically in good order and filled with supplies. They then found the ship’s log, and discovered it was the Mary Celeste, out of New York City. The last entry in the log was ten days prior and 400 miles away.
Mary Celeste was a ghost ship, abandoned at sea and drifting around the ocean without a crew. To this day, no one knows why its crew abandoned ship. Such a happening seems entirely possible and probable in the days before radio, satellites, and other forms of instant communication, but it is still a relatively frequent occurrence, even with advancements in technology.
Mysterious ghost ships, sometimes called derelicts, have been reported since sailors first took to the seas. Some of these ghost ships are literal ghosts, legends of shipwrecks that are reportedly seen sailing again from time to time. The Flying Dutchman is one of the ghostly ships of this kind, said to be captained by a spirit condemned to sail forever.
Then there are the accounts of real ships found at sea by crews in the way the Dei Gratia discovered Mary Celeste. The HMS Resolute was found derelict by American whalers in the waters off the coast of Nunavut in the Arctic Ocean after a year of being locked in ice. After returning the ship to Queen Victoria, she gifted a desk made of its timbers. Today’s it’s the desk used by the President of the United States in the Oval Office.
It’s hard to imagine that ships could still be mysteriously found floating adrift in the days of radio communications, global positioning systems, and long-range identification and tracking systems. Still, as late as January 2021, ghost ships are still being found floating in the ocean, missing crews, under mysterious circumstances.
The latest ship found adrift was the Yong Yu Sing No. 18, a Taiwanese fishing ship. Just ten years old, the vessel and its 10-member crew departed from its home port in Taiwan only to be found empty by the U.S. Coast Guard near Midway Island three days after its last contact. After an extensive investigation, authorities determined the crew must have been swept into the sea by a significant “weather event.”
Yachts, fishing vessels, and private ships of all kinds have been reported by the U.S. coast Guard, British Royal Navy, and U.S. Navy by the dozens since the end of World War II. Many are written off as victims of weather, some have been found to be the result of mutiny, many more just go unsolved, with lifeboats, engines, and other equipment completely intact. Dozens more are North Korean fishing boats whose crews died of exposure or starvation, some trying to reach freedom elsewhere.
The reason why the crew of the Mary Celeste abandoned ship has never been determined, though the blame has been placed on alcohol, tidal waves, and even a giant squid. For the Mary Celeste and any other ship whose crew mysteriously disappeared, those guesses are as good as any.