In modern English, the term ghost ship has come to denote at least one of three separate (though occasionally overlapping) definitions, all of which involving, in one respect or other, unexplained circumstances. Historically, the term has been used to refer to reported sightings of apparitions over water that have appeared in the form of maritime sailing ships, often after having previously been known to have sunk, or to derelict vessels found floating with no crew. In fiction, ghost ships have often been vessels crewed by some manner of spectral or non-living beings.
- 1775: (Possibly a fabrication) The Octavius, an English trading ship returning from China, was found drifting off the coast of Greenland in 1775. 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.
- 1872: The Mary Celeste, perhaps the most historically famous derelict, was found abandoned between Portugal (mainland) and Portugal's 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.
- 1907: (Possibly a fabrication) The Russian freighter Ivan Vassili is purported to have picked up a spirit in Zanzibar, which led to the suicides of nine crew members, including two captains. The ship was ultimately burned to eradicate the ghost.
- 1917: Zebrina, all hands 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 (see main article), 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 much 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. 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.
- 1955: The MV Joyita was discovered abandoned in the Pacific.
- 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 it was scuttled in April.
- 2006: In August the "Bel Amica" (which is one "L" short of the modern Italian spelling of "Good Friend") was discovered off the coast of Sardinia. 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. The yacht, which had left Airlie Beach on Sunday 15 April, was spotted about 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: A 50-ton Tawainese fishing-vessel grounds itself on a reef near Kuta Beach in Bali. The boat has since been torched.
The main legend of ghost ships among mariners has been the Flying Dutchman
, a captain condemned to eternally sail the seas.
The legend has inspired several works.
According to some accounts, many ships responded to the desperate Morse code messages from the Dutch freighter Ourang Medan. The ship was 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, the ship exploded and sank. The reason for the deaths are still unexplained today. The original report of this incident cannot be located, and the entire episode is thought to be apocryphal.
Ghost ships in English literature
Well-known examples of ghost ships in English literature
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1797-1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Rokeby (1813) by Sir Walter Scott.
- The Demeter, featured in Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker whose captain's corpse was tied to the helm and entered the harbor surprisingly undamaged.
- Ampoliros, the legendary "Flying Dutchman" of space, mentioned in Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert.
- The short story "Three Skeleton Key" featured a ghost ship, wholly infested with sea rats.
- "The Derelict Neptune," a short story about a long-abandoned ship discovered by a pair of men who hope to salvage her. They deduce that the Neptune's cargo of various chemicals has, over time, mixed into a hold full of explosive nitroglycerin.
United States folklore
In the book 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey, storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham tells the story of the phantom ship Eliza Battle as "The Phantom Steamboat of the Tombigbee."
In 2003, Walt Disney Pictures released the first film in the trilogy Pirates of the Caribbean, the plots of which involve the ghost ships The Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman. The films are based on the Disney theme park attraction of the same name.
The 2002 horror film Ghost Ship involves a stranded Italian ocean liner named Antonia Graza, lost at sea since 21 May 1962. The ship is boarded by a salvage crew, who shortly afterward encounter the ghostly apparitions of murdered passengers.
The 2001 horror film The Triangle has almost the same story as "Ghost Ship" An abandoned ocean-liner is found in the Bermuda Triangle.
In 2001 the Sci Fi Channel broadcast Lost Voyage, a Sci Fi Pictures original film about the return of a derelict luxury ship, the Corona Queen, missing 25 years earlier, investigated by the son of one of the missing passengers.
The 1997 film science fiction The Haunted Sea on Concorde/New Horizons Home Video. A ship's crew discovers an cursed, abandoned ship filled with Aztec gold. A deity figure known as The Feathered Serpent or Quetzalcoatl puts a curse on the crew and comes to life to protect the lost treasures. Directed by Daniel Patrick. Starring Joanna Pacula, Krista Allen-Moritt, James Brolin, Don Stroud, Keidi Lucas.
The 1997 science fiction horror film Event Horizon involved a spaceship that while testing an experimental propulsion system, simply disappeared. It returns intact seven years later with no crew, life support offline and data recordings scrambled. The investigating team soon encounters an evil presence that the ship brought back with it.
The horror film Death Ship (1980 film) is about a lost Nazi German torture and concentration camp ship that is still being crewed by the evil spirits of the dead crew. It now roams the seas for new victims. It picks up survivors to abuse and kill after it sinks the ships.
Numerous episodes of the various Star Trek series deal with abandoned ships discovered adrift. Notable examples are "The Tholian Web" (Star Trek), "The Naked Now", and "Booby Trap" (Star Trek: The Next Generation).
One episode of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, Star Crossed, deals with the warship Balance of Judgement, whose AI has gone mad and purposely has an existence similar to the one of the Flying Dutchman. Wagner's opera is quoted some times, and in the final fight the androids of the Balance of Judgement actually sing it.
In video games
The game"The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
'', which uses as scenario a vast ocean, a ghost ship can be seen at night at various locations depending on the phase of the moon. A map with the ship destinations was made by a sailor, who died in the moment he finished following the ship in its entire cyclic trip. The player needs to find the map in order to enter the Ghost Ship; otherwise, it will vanish when the player gets too close. In Wind Waker's sequel, The Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass
, a similar Ghost Ship is used as a dungeon, a plot device, and a boss battle.
In the Half-Life universe, a ship belonging to Aperture Science, the Borealis, vanishes, taking part of the drydock with it. It is discovered in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and also implies the player will travel to it in Half-Life 2: Episode 3.
In "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion", there are a couple of scenarios involving ghost ships. The first is "The Ghost Ship of Anvil" in which The Dark Brotherhood spy killed all the members of the crew and you are recruited to cleanse the ship. The other, "The Forlorn Watchman", You here a rumor You hear the tale of a sad-looking ghost who frequents the shores of Niben Bay by night. After talking to the ghost you will find that he has been part of a shipwreck of mysterious cause and you must go to the shipwreck to solve the mystery.
In Skies of Arcadia, one of the games discoveries is a Ghost Ship that can be seen in upper sky near the entrance to the Dark Rift.
In Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny, there is an optional subquest dealing with a ghost ship.
In Age of Mythology, if one worships Isis or Set as a Major god, and in the heroic age selects Nephthys as a minor god, one will be granted the 'god power' Ancestors. When this god power is invoked on water, it will summon up a fleet of ghost ships which all return to the depths of the ocean once the power ends.
The game System Shock 2 takes place on the derelict, faster-than-light starship Von Braun.
The game The Legend of Dragoon, created by Sony and released in 1999, features an extended sequence on a ghost ship. While Dart and his party are sailing towards Mille Sesau, their ship crashes into a ghost ship. The characters decide to explore the ship, finding the spirits of the dead sailors inside.
In the game Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean from the Sega Saturn, on the second half of it, a short dungeon, without monsters, is a ghost ship that actually is a giant monster. So, a boss fight occurs.
The game Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific features the Flying Dutchman as an Easter egg, which the player may encounter on a patrol. Notably, the identification for the ship reads "What is this!?"; she is invincible to torpedo and deck gun fire.