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Ghost Ships at Sea: Fact or Fiction?

written by: Manu • edited by: KennethSleight • updated: 4/19/2009

Sailors are full of tales of phantom vessels that are seen much after they are believed to have perished. These legends are compelling and have been made into movies like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘The Triangle’ and ‘Ghost Ship’. Here are three of this sailors favourite stories.

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    What is a Ghost Ship?

    We have learnt about various types of ships and marine vessels such as tankers, bulkers, cruise liners, research ships, F1 boats and ice breakers. There are another category of ships which are beyond this world, so to say, and are known as Ghost ships. They are as mysterious as the legendary monsters of the sea. Do ghost ships really exist and which are the famous ghost ships of the world. Find out and decide for yourself.

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    The curse of the Flying Dutchman

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    Arguably one the most famous ghost ships, and depicted recently in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, this fable is at least partly factual: the ship sailed out from Amsterdam in 1680 bound for the Dutch East Indies and rain into a horrific storm around the Cape of Good Hope. Capt. Vanderdecken sailed on into the storm against crew protests that it was a warning from God, and sank. The legend goes that as the storm worsened, Vand der Decken shouted that "I will round this Cape even if I have to keep sailing until doomsday!"- and so, as punishment, Vanderdecken, his ship and his crew are condemned to sail around the Cape forever.

    A British ship reported sighting the Flying Dutchman in 1835, almost two hundred years later; there have been, subsequently, many other similar reports from sailors transiting the ocean. One man died on the HMS Bacchante in 1881 as he fell off the mast, a day after he and another crewmember reported seeing the ‘Dutchman’. The prince who would later be King George the V in the UK was sailing on board, and claimed to have seen the apparition too.

    In 1939, tens of people on Glencairn, a beach in South Africa claimed having seen the ghost ship. Many described it with uncanny accuracy. The ship was seen sailing along till it mysteriously vanished into thin air. In 1942, the last recorded sighting, four people saw the Dutchman vanish as it entered Table Bay in South Africa.

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    The Mary Celeste- the perfect mystery

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    This story rivals the ‘Flying Dutchman’ legend. Originally named ‘The Amazon’, this ship was rechristened the ‘Mary Celeste in 1869 because the new owner felt that the ship had faced many problems earlier. There are many tales of how the Mary Celeste seemed to have been a cursed ship from her inception- three Captains died, the ship collided with another and had to be salvaged once. In any event, she left New York headed for Italy in 1872, carrying two passengers, eight crew and methanol as cargo.

    She was subsequently found drifting off the Portuguese coast by another vessel, the Del Gratia. The Celeste was undamaged and with her cargo intact, but devoid of any humans or their remains on board. All the ship’s documents and some navigational equipment like the sextant and chronometer were missing. She seemed to be headed for Gibraltar under full sail with nobody on board!

    None of the crew or passengers have ever been found. A lifeboat was found missing, leading to speculation that the ship had been abandoned. Blood stains were found on the railings and a blood stained sword found under the Captain's bed, leading to all kinds of theories, all of which were found wanting.

    Nobody knows what happened. The Mary Celeste tale is often called the perfect maritime whodunit.

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    The ghosts on the ‘Queen Mary’

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    A retired ocean liner (1967) presently berthed permanently in Long Beach and a tourist attraction and hotel, this ship was converted into a troop carrier during the Second World War, repainted grey, and called "The Grey Ghost." There are countless stories of many areas of the ship being haunted by ghosts. Visitors claim that the engine room is haunted by the ghost of a crewmember who was crushed to death by a watertight door one year before the ship retired. Many have reported hearing a child crying ina play area- an infant did die on board the Queen Mary long ago. A swimming pool area has been particularly prolific- with numerous reports of ghosts having been seen there in swimsuits worn by people decades ago, accompanied by sounds akin to the ones humans make when splashing in water. A salon is said to be visited by a woman apparition in an evening gown. Other persistent stories of a human face appearing in a mirror, sounds of telephones ringing in the middle of the night and lights coming on and off have been reported by hotel guests, some of whom claim their bedspreads have been ‘tugged’ by unseen hands. Many are sceptical about these reports, saying that these stories started only after the ship was docked permanently in California and became a tourist attraction. The ship runs daily ‘paranormal tours’, targeting tourists interested in ghosts. Nevertheless, these stories just won't go away. Fact, or fiction? You decide.

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    Resources

    pic of Flying Dutchman www.gcaptain.com

    pic of Mary Celeste http://thomas-berry.com

    pic of Queen Mary from www.sogonow.com