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10 Ghost Ship Mysteries That Can’t Be Explained

These ghost ships aren’t home to phantom sailors, but they are equally mysterious, with crews that seemingly vanished in thin air.

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Abandoned historic sailing ship in the stormy sea. Wooden sailboat sails in a storm at ocean. A mysterious boat in stormy waves.

The Mary Celeste

On November 7, 1872, a captain, his wife, and two-year-old daughter, and seven crewmen set out from New York to Italy aboard the Mary Celeste. A month later, they should have arrived, but the British ship Dei Gratia caught sight of the boat drifting in the Atlantic. The crew went onto the Mary Celeste to help anyone onboard but found it completely empty.

Six months’ worth of food and the crew’s belongings were still there, but its lifeboat was gone. The ship’s floor was covered in three feet of water, but that was far from flooded or beyond repair. It’s become one of the world’s most famous ghost ships—thanks largely to the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the boat as inspiration for his short story, “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement”—with theories from pirates to mutiny to murder.

The most likely explanation is that the captain didn’t know the extent of the damage and ordered the crew to abandon ship at the first sight of land, but the world will never know for sure.

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Anchor on the embankment and the cruiser "Mikhail Kutuzov" in the port of Novorossiysk, Russia
Siberia Video and Photo/Shutterstock

The Carroll A. Deering

The Carroll A. Deering cargo ship and its ten-man crew successfully made it to Rio de Janeiro in 1920, despite needing to change captains when its original one fell ill, but something strange happened on its way back to Virginia. A lightship keeper in North Carolina said a crewman who didn’t seem very officer-like reported the ship had lost its anchors while the rest of the crew was “milling about” suspiciously.

Another ship spotted the Carroll A. Deering near Outer Banks the next day in an area that would have been a strange course for a ship on its way to Norfolk, Virginia. The following day, a shipwreck was spotted, but dangerous conditions kept investigators away for four days. When they went aboard, they found food laid out as if they were getting ready for a meal, but the crew’s personal belongings and the lifeboats were gone.

The federal government followed leads on pirates, mutinies, and more, but they all came up fruitless. Check out these 10 ancient mysteries researchers still can’t explain.

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Vessel at stormy sea
Alexey Seafarer/Shutterstock

The Jian Seng

Some ghost ships are so mysterious, they barely even have a backstory. In 2006, the Australian Coastwatch found a ship floating in the sea. It had a broken tow rope, so being lost while dragged around the water would explain why it was empty.

But that was about all investigators could go on. The name Jian Seng was printed on the side, but there was nothing else to identify the ship. Investigations found no records of distress signals, no identifying documents or belongings, and no reports of a missing boat. They couldn’t even figure out who it belonged to or where it came from. The most they can figure out is that it probably supplied food and fuel to fishing boats, but that didn’t answer why no one tried to save it when it broke off.

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fishing boat

High Aim No. 6

Fishing boat High Aim No. 6 left Taiwan on Halloween in 2002, but trick-or-treaters wouldn’t be the only ghosts. When the Australian Navy came across the ship in January 2003, something was amiss. The engine was on full throttle and the main gas tank was empty, but the auxiliary fuel tanks were still full and untouched. Ten tons of bonito tuna were kept cold, but not a crew member was to be found.

It was set to be one of the most mysterious ghost ships of all time until one crew member was found. The Indonesian fisherman was arrested and confessed that the crew had worked with pirates to kill the ship’s captain and main engineer, but their reason is still a mystery. Check out these 10 true ghost stories from the world’s most haunted places.

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Close up image of Three bladed stainless steel Boat Engine propeller in the water background.

The Nina yacht

The Nina yacht’s crew reached out to meteorologists with concerns about dangerous weather conditions in 2013, then stopped responding. Given the 70-mile-per-hour winds and 26-foot-high waves, it seemed obvious that the boat had met its match and never made it through the storm. A fruitless search effort might have been the end if it weren’t for a mysterious message.

Three weeks after anyone had heard from the crew, an undelivered text reached one of the meteorologists. “Thanks storm sails shredded last night, now bare poles,” it read, noting that the boat was still on the move. The family of a 19-year-old girl on the boat took that message as a sign that she was still alive. Their private search turned up satellite photos that they thought might be of the missing Nina, though most experts say it was just a large wave.

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Steamship going through fog
ViewPoint By VP/Shutterstock

The MV Joyita

In 1955, merchant ship MV Joyita set off on a two-day journey in the South Pacific. It would never reach its destination. The rescue team’s search turned out blank, and it wasn’t until more than a month later that another captain spotted the partially sunken ship. There was no sign of any of the 25 passengers, and an investigation deemed its doom “inexplicable.”

Over the years, dark theories circulated, from Soviet submariners kidnapping the crew to Japanese fishermen killing everyone onboard. As recent as 2002, family members were still researching what could have gone wrong, and one professor insists the most likely scenario is that a corroded pipe was leaking and flooded the boat, forcing the crew to abandon ship. Find out which other 13 “unsolvable” mysteries have scientific explanations.

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Dead person body lying in the morgue. Grungy photo of feet with toe tag on a morgue table.

The mummy ghost ship

When Filipino fishermen boarded a seemingly abandoned yacht in 2016, they weren’t prepared for the sight they would find: the mummified body of a German sailor. Manfred Fritz Bajorat had been sailing around the world for about 20 years. He’d last been seen in 2009, although a friend said he’d heard from Bajorat on Facebook in 2015.

There was no evidence of foul play, so a year would seem like enough for the warm, salty air to mummify the body…until an autopsy revealed he’d probably only been dead for about a week.

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Life buoy hanging on wooden wall for emergency response when people sinking to water almost place near pool and beach

The Kaz II

In April 2007, two brothers and a skipper set off on a two-month yacht journey around Australia. Just three days later, the Kaz II was found off the Great Barrier Reef with a half-empty coffee cup, an open newspaper, and knives strewn on the floor—but no one aboard.

A coroner suggested that one of the inexperienced sailors had fallen off and the other two drowned in their rescue attempts. But that’s just one theory with no evidence backing it up, so their fate is lost in history. Don’t miss these 14 other ocean mysteries that no one can explain.

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Ship bow fog
August Bantayan/Shutterstock

The Sam Rataulangi

This Myanmar ghost ship mystery is a pretty recent one, and one that has most likely been solved. The Myanmar (also known as Burma) ghost ship was the Sam Rataulangi PB 1600 freighter, and fishermen found it off the coast of Myanmar, empty of people and cargo, in August 2018.

Shortly afterward, though, Myanmar’s navy discovered that the freighter had been on its way to a ship-breaking plant to be dismantled, being towed by a tugboat when bad weather hit. The cable connecting it to the tugboat snapped, so the “Myanmar ghost ship” was abandoned by its crew.

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Navy ships in the port of Kronstadt. The Gulf of Finland. The Baltic Sea. Russia
Andrew Koturanov/Shutterstock

Ghost ship Jenny

Now, this ghost ship might be one of the most disturbing of all! The story, which is unsubstantiated, comes from anonymous accounts of a whaling ship called Hope. As the story goes, in 1840, the Hope came across the Jenny, a schooner, completely frozen in ice in the Antarctic Drake Passage. The crew of the ghost ship Jenny was still on board but frozen to death. The captain was frozen at his desk, where an open log’s last entry read: “May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive.”

Sure, the story of the ghost ship Jenny is most likely at least a little sensationalized, but could it have a basis in truth? These chilling true urban legends certainly did.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.