An Undersea Mystery: The Accidental Discovery of the Ghost Ship in the Baltic Sea

The Ghost Ship is a shipwreck that was discovered in the middle of the Baltic Sea. This ship was found by accident in 2003, and the first full-scale archaeological expedition to study it was launched in 2010. Through investigation of the Ghost Ship, certain pieces of information regarding this shipwreck have been brought to light. These include the period during which the ship was used, its dimensions, and the type of ship that it was. Nevertheless, other questions remain, such as the identity of the ship, the flag under which it sailed, and cause of the ship’s sinking.

Baltic Sea Shipwrecks

The Ghost Ship is just one of many shipwrecks that have been preserved in the Baltic Sea. This sea covers an area of about 400 000 square kilometers (248,548 miles), and, according to some estimates, contains as many as 100 000 shipwrecks. These wrecks come from various time periods, ranging from the Mesolithic until the modern period. For example, a boat made from a hollow tree trunk has been dated to 5200 BC, and is possibly one of the oldest wrecks the Baltic Sea.

Other vessels that have been found/are known to have sunk in the Baltic Sea include ships from the Viking Age (8th – 11th centuries AD), the Danish-Lübeck fleet off Visby (16th century AD) and ships sunk during the Second World War (1939 – 1945).

The naval Battle of the Sound took place on 8 November 1658 during the Dano-Swedish War.

The main factor for the preservation of so many shipwrecks (especially wooden ones) in the Baltic Sea is its low salinity. In large oceans, seawater typically has a salinity of 3.5%. The Baltic Sea, by contrast, has a salinity of 0.06 – 0.15%. The low salinity of its water means that the Baltic Sea is not a suitable habitat for the shipworm, animals that are responsible for causing major damage to wooden vessels. In addition, there is almost no tidal movement in the Baltic Sea, which also contributes to the preservation of the sunken ships.

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A bartmann jug found on the site of the Dalarö-wreck, which was a 17th-century ship laying in the waters off Edesön near Dalarö, Sweden. ( Jens Lindström/ CC BY 3.0 )

An Accidental Discovery

Although the Baltic Sea is known to hold a great amount of shipwrecks, the team that discovered the Ghost Ship (Deep Sea Productions and Marin Mätteknik) were not actually looking for one. In fact, they were looking for a Swedish spy / reconnaissance plane that vanished in 1952, when their side-scan sonar detected a shipwreck.

Further investigation by the team revealed that it was an almost intact ship. In the following years, several expeditions visited the shipwreck, though it was only in 2010 that a full-scale archaeological expedition was undertaken to study the Ghost Ship.

A Swedish spy / reconnaissance plane. Photo taken in 1951.

Unanswered Questions

From the investigations that have been carried out it was found that the Ghost Ship was 26 m long (25 ft.), 8 m wide (26 ft.), and had a loading capacity of 100 lasts (280 metric tons). It has been determined that the Ghost Ship was from the 17th century AD, perhaps around 1650, and that it was a merchant ship. The researchers have also concluded that the Ghost Ship was a fluyt, a type of ship developed by the Dutch towards the end of the 16th century.

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Dutch fluyt, 1677.

Still, there are other questions surrounding the Ghost Ship that have yet to be answered. For example, it is unclear as to which flag the Ghost Ship sailed under. During the middle of the 17th century thousands of Dutch merchant ships were sailing the Baltic Sea on trade missions. As the Ghost Ship is a fluyt, it may be reasonable to guess that it belonged to the Dutch. Nevertheless, another ship, known as the Vasa, has been used as a counter-argument.

The Vasa, though built in the Dutch tradition by Dutch ship-builders, was in fact sailing under the Swedish flag. Hence, it may also be possible that the Ghost Ship, despite being a Dutch fluyt, may have been under the command of another nation as well.

Vasa's Port Bow. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

10 Unsolved Sea Mysteries

As amazing and breathtaking as the world&rsquos oceans may be, they&rsquore even more mysterious and sometimes cling unyieldingly to their secrets and mysteries. There are some parts of the ocean that no person has ever even been able to visit, and it&rsquos in these parts that some of Earth&rsquos unsolved mysteries lay waiting to be uncovered. Alternatively, strange things sometimes happen right where people can witness it but remain mysterious nevertheless.

Baychimo: The Adventures of the Ghost Ship of the Arctic

By Cortney Pachet, Collections Registration Associate, Human History and former Assistant Curator for the HBC Museum Collection when Amelia was on parental leave.

The Hudson’s Bay Company has a long nautical history, from the Nonsuch to countless canoes and York Boats to steamers, paddlewheels and schooners. While the majority of HBC’s travel and transport took place on water, we also see a pattern of the Company’s vessels meeting untimely ends in tragic wrecks.

Princess Louise (aka Olympia) – sank

Anson Northup (aka Pioneer) – sank

Aklavik – Caught fire, sank

The Baychimo, a steamer based in the Western Arctic, finds herself amongst these ill-fated vessels, but exactly how she met her end remains one of the biggest mysteries in HBC history.

Designed and built at Lindholmens Verkstad AB (Aktiebolag) in Gothenburg, Sweden, she was originally christened Ångermanelfven after one of Sweden’s longest rivers, Ångerman. The vessel had a steel hull, was 230 ft (70.1 m) long, and powered by a triple expansion steam engine. She was also outfitted with schooner rigging.

Ångermanelfven launched in 1914 and was used as a trading vessel for her German owners around the Baltic Sea. The ship continued to serve Germany’s Baltic posts through WWI, protected by the Imperial German Navy.

Following the Great War, Ångermanelfven was ceded to the British government by Germany in 1920 as part of war reparations negotiated at the Treaty of Versailles, article 244, Annex III: “Germany recognizes the right of the Allied and Associated Powers to the replacement, ton for ton and class for class, of all merchant ships and fishing boats lost and damaged owing to the war.”

Consequently, all German ships over 800 tons were confiscated and divided between France, Great Britain and the US. Ångermanelfven was sailed out of the Baltic Sea for the last time by a British crew, destined for London where she was put up for sale to commercial interests. The Hudson’s Bay Company purchased the Ångermanelfven for 15, 000 pounds and she was renamed Baychimo, joining the company’s fleet of cargo ships.

Her first voyage for HBC took place in 1921, were she served in the Eastern Arctic, coinciding with the establishment of Pond Inlet. The following year, the Baychimo was sent to Siberia with Captain Sidney Cornwell at the helm. Cornwell enlisted with HBC to serve as Master of the Baychimo at the onset of the Kamchatka Venture in 1922. The Kamchatka Venture aimed to trade furs in Siberia, but a changing political climate caused the HBC to withdraw after only two years.

Like other HBC vessels, the Baychimo’s homeport was Androssan, Scotland and each year, she would travel to Scotland for the winter, returning to Canada by way of the Panama Canal. In 1924, the Baychimo sailed to the Western Arctic by way of the Suez Canal, meaning that in the course of her career, she accomplished global circumnavigation (Achievement Unlocked!).

Following the dissolution of Kamchatka Venture at the end of 1923, Baychimo was reassigned to the Western Arctic, traveling between Vancouver and HBC posts along the Yukon and Northwest Territories northern coast from 1924 to 1931. Later in her career, she would winter at Vancouver, including 1930 to repair damage to her rudder, propeller and steering.

The Baychimo carried cargo to these Western Arctic HBC, RCMP, and missionary posts but also occasionally took a small number of passengers, who were listed as part of the crew since the vessel wasn’t classified as a passenger ship. The passengers would do jobs to pay for their room and board. On average, the Baychimo had a crew of 32.

In late September, 1931 on her way back to Vancouver, the Baychimo was surprised by a blizzard at the Sea Horse Islands, near Point Barrow on Alaska’s northern coast and the crew was forced to anchor the Baychimo to weather the storm. It soon became apparent that the steamer was caught in ice and would have to overwinter in the Arctic. Using parts of the ship, the crew began construction on winter accommodations for the crew that would remain behind with the ship until the spring. The large Baychimo couldn’t be heated all winter long, so the wooden and snow structure was a warmer and safer alternative. The crew removed food and other supplies from the vessel as they set up camp. Her passengers and some of her crew were flown to Kotzebue, Alaska and on to Vancouver. Maintenance of the ship’s rudder was a daily chore for the remaining crew, keeping ice from building up around this critical piece of equipment.

At the end of November, another storm swept through and when it cleared, the Baychimo was gone. The captain and crew assumed the vessel had sunk, but they soon received word that an Inuk hunter had spotted the Baychimo, once again packed in ice, roughly 72 km south of their encampment. Captain Cornwell and the crew made their way to the Baychimo and boarded the vessel, removing a large quantity of furs and abandoning the ship for the last time, determining that she was no longer seaworthy after ricocheting solo through the icy waters of the Beaufort Sea. Furthermore, the Baychimo was caught in ice once again, so she wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon, right?

Captain Cornwell and the remaining crew were flown back to Vancouver in March of 1932, where paperwork was filed for the loss of the vessel and the negligible cargo left behind. Shortly thereafter, the Baychimo was spotted again but about 480 km to the east of where the crew had last seen her. The following March, she was seen floating peacefully near the shore of Alaska by Leslie Melvin, a man travelling to Nome with his dog sled team.

In the decades that followed, many people would spot the Baychimo, now dubbed the “Ghost Ship of the Arctic” as she traveled long unencumbered by crew and cargo.

  • March 1933, she was found by a group of Indigenous Alaskans who travelled to her, boarded her and were trapped aboard for 10 days by an unexpected storm.
  • In the summer of 1933, she was boarded by the crew and passenger of Trader, a small schooner from Nome, Alaska. The single passenger was a Scottish botanist named Isobel Wylie Hutchison on an expedition to collect Alaskan and Arctic wildflowers. The crew of Trader reported that at the same time, a group of Inupiat boarded the ship, having travelled out to her by umiak and removed mattresses, chairs and other items like Sunlight dish soap, tarpaulins, a bucket of sweet pickles and a silver toast rack from the vessel. The following day, the Baychimo had once again disappeared, although Trader crewmembers repeatedly spotted her “hurrying north in her private ice pan” later in their journey toward Herschel Island in Yukon.
  • September 1935, she was seen off Alaska’s northwest coast.[4]
  • November 1939, she was boarded by Captain Hugh Polson, wishing to salvage her, but the creeping ice floes intervened and the captain had to abandon her. This is the last recorded boarding of Baychimo.
  • After 1939, she was seen floating alone and without crew numerous times, but had always eluded capture. Recorded sightings slowed during WWII and in the subsequent years.
  • March 1962, she was seen drifting along the Beaufort Sea coast by a group of Inuit.
  • She was found frozen in an ice pack in 1969, 38 years after she was abandoned. This is the last recorded sighting of Baychimo.

In 2006, the Alaskan government began work on a project to solve the mystery of “the Ghost Ship of the Arctic” and find an estimated 4,000 ships lost along the coast of Alaska. She has not yet been found, but given that 50 years have elapsed since her last sighting, it’s likely that the Baychimo is resting at the bottom of the Beaufort Sea.

Although the Baychimo’s impact on HBC operations was fairly uneventful, her legacy as the Ghost Ship of the Arctic is one that persists in the narrative of the company’s history.

Caption for images: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba, HBHL photo collection subject files, 1987-1363-B-1111-751922-1931, H4-198-4-6

The Immortals: An elite army of the Persian Empire that never grew weak

The first Persian Empire (550 BC – 330 BC), called the Achaemenid Empire, is known for having an elite force of soldiers. Named the “Immortals” by Herodotus, this army consisted of a heavy infantry of 10,000 men, that never reduced in number or strength. The Immortals played an important role in Persian history, acting as both the Imperial Guard and the standing army during the expansion of the Persian Empire and the Greco-Persian Wars.

‘The Immortals’ at the 2,500th anniversary of Persia in ceremonial dress ( Wikipedia)

The Immortals were called such because of the way in which the army was formed. When a member of the 10,000-strong force was killed or wounded, he was immediately replaced by someone else. This allowed for the infantry to remain cohesive and consistent in numbers, no matter what happened. Thus, from an outsider’s perspective, it would appear that each member of the infantry was ‘immortal’, and their replacement may have represented a resurrection of sorts.

They were sophisticated, well-equipped, their armor glittering with gold. As described by Herodotus, their armament included wicker shields, short spears, swords or large daggers, bow and arrow. They wore a special headdress, believed to have been a Persian tiara. It is often described as a cloth or felt hat that could be pulled over the face to protect from dirt and dust. It is said that compared to the Greeks, the Immortals were “hardly armored”. Yet what they lacked in armor, they made up through psychological impact, as the sight of the well-formed and highly trained army was enough to strike fear into their enemies.

A depiction of the traditional clothing, weaponry, and armor of an Achaemenid soldier (

As they traveled, they were accompanied by carriages carrying their women and servants, as well as food and supplies. Being a part of this unit was very exclusive. Men had to apply to be a part of it, and being chosen was a great honor.

The Immortals played an important role in several conquests. First, they were elemental when Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BC. They played a role in Cambyses II's conquest of Egypt in 525 BC, and Darius I's invasion of western Punjab, Sindh, and Scythia in 520 BC and 513 BC. The Immortals also participated in the Battle of Thermopylae 480 BC. During the Battle of Thermopylae, the Greeks had prevented a Persian invasion by blocking a narrow road. The Immortals took a different route, and attacked the Greeks from the rear. They were very strong, and feared by many, for their strength, replenishing numbers, strategy, and technique.

Unfortunately, historical knowledge of the Immortals is somewhat limited, beyond the writings of Herodotus, and it is difficult to confirm the details. Historians of Alexander the Great write of an elite group known as the Apple Bearers. They were called such due to apple-shaped counterweights on their spears. Some scholars believe they are the same as the Immortals.

A ball can be seen hear on the end of a spear carried by an Achaemenid soldier, suggesting the ‘Apple Bearers’ may be the same as ‘The Immortals’ (

While there is little verification of the details of the Immortals, they remain a symbol of military strength from ancient times. They are often depicted in popular culture, including the 1963 film “The 300 Spartans,” the 1998 comic book 300 and the film adapted from it, and a History Channel Documentation called “Last Stand of the 300.” Through these and other references, the legacy of the Immortals is likely to live on for many years.

Featured image: Four warriors of ‘The Immortals’, from the famous glazed brick friezes found in the Apadana (Darius the Great's palace) in Susa ( Wikimedia)


The keel of the future Mary Celeste was laid in late 1860 at the shipyard of Joshua Dewis in the village of Spencer's Island, on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. [2] The ship was constructed of locally felled timber, with two masts, and was rigged as a brigantine she was carvel-built, with the hull planking flush rather than overlapping. [3] She was launched on May 18, 1861, given the name Amazon, and registered at nearby Parrsboro on June 10, 1861. Her registration documents described her as 99.3 feet (30.3 m) in length, 25.5 feet (7.8 m) broad, with a depth of 11.7 feet (3.6 m), and of 198.42 gross tonnage. [4] [5] She was owned by a local consortium of nine people, headed by Dewis among the co-owners was Robert McLellan, the ship's first captain. [6]

For her maiden voyage in June 1861, Amazon sailed to Five Islands to take on a cargo of timber for passage across the Atlantic to London. [a] After supervising the ship's loading, Captain McLellan fell ill his condition worsened, and Amazon returned to Spencer's Island, where McLellan died on June 19. [8] [9] John Nutting Parker took over as captain, and resumed the voyage to London, in the course of which Amazon encountered further misadventures. She collided with fishing equipment in the narrows off Eastport, Maine, and after leaving London, ran into and sank a brig in the English Channel. [8]

Parker remained in command for two years, during which Amazon worked mainly in the West Indies trade. She crossed the Atlantic to France in November 1861, [7] and in Marseille was the subject of a painting, possibly by Honoré de Pellegrin, a well-known maritime artist of the Marseilles School. [10] [11] In 1863 Parker was succeeded by William Thompson, who remained in command until 1867. [8] These were quiet years Amazon ' s mate later recalled that, "We went to the West Indies, England and the Mediterranean—what we call the foreign trade. Not a thing unusual happened." [7] In October 1867, at Cape Breton Island, Amazon was driven ashore in a storm, and was so badly damaged that her owners abandoned her as a wreck. [12] On October 15, she was acquired as a derelict by Alexander McBean, of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. [13] [14]

New owners, new name Edit

Within a month, McBean sold the wreck to a local businessman, who in November 1868, sold it to Richard W. Haines, an American mariner from New York. [15] Haines paid US$1,750 for the wreck, and then spent $8,825 restoring it. [16] He made himself her captain, and in December 1868, registered her with the Collector of Customs in New York as an American vessel, under a new name, Mary Celeste. [15] [b]

In October 1869, the ship was seized by Haines's creditors, [18] and sold to a New York consortium headed by James H. Winchester. During the next three years, the composition of this consortium changed several times, although Winchester retained at least a half-share throughout. No record of Mary Celeste ' s trading activities during this period have been found. [15] Early in 1872, the ship underwent a major refit, costing $10,000, which enlarged her considerably. Her length was increased to 103 feet (31 m), her breadth to 25.7 feet (7.8 m) and her depth to 16.2 feet (4.9 m). [19] [20] Among the structural changes, a second deck was added an inspector's report refers to extensions to the poop deck, new transoms, and the replacement of many timbers. [15] The work increased the ship's tonnage to 282.28. On October 29, 1872, the consortium was made up of Winchester with six and two minor investors with one apiece, with the remaining four of the 12 shares held by the ship's new captain, Benjamin Spooner Briggs. [21]

Captain Briggs and crew Edit

Benjamin Briggs was born in Wareham, Massachusetts, on April 24, 1835, one of five sons of sea captain Nathan Briggs. All but one of the sons went to sea, two becoming captains. [22] Benjamin was an observant Christian who read the Bible regularly and often bore witness to his faith at prayer meetings. [23] In 1862, he married his cousin Sarah Elizabeth Cobb, and enjoyed a Mediterranean honeymoon on board his schooner Forest King. Two children were born - son Arthur in September 1865, and daughter Sophia Matilda in October 1870. [24]

By the time of Sophia's birth, Briggs had achieved a high standing within his profession. [25] Nevertheless, he considered retiring from the sea to go into business with his seafaring brother Oliver, who had also grown tired of the wandering life. They did not proceed with this project, but instead each invested his savings in a share of a ship: Oliver in Julia A. Hallock, and Benjamin in Mary Celeste. [24] [c] In October 1872, Benjamin took command of Mary Celeste for her first voyage following her extensive New York refit, which was to take her to Genoa in Italy. He arranged for his wife and infant daughter to accompany him, [27] while his school-aged son was left at home with his grandmother. [28]

Briggs chose the crew for this voyage with care. [29] First mate Albert G. Richardson was married to a niece of Winchester and had sailed under Briggs before. [30] Second mate Andrew Gilling, aged about 25, was born in New York, and was of Danish extraction. [31] The steward, newly married Edward William Head, was signed on with a personal recommendation from Winchester. The four general seamen were all Germans from the Frisian Islands, brothers Volkert and Boz Lorenzen, Arian Martens, and Gottlieb Goudschaal. A later testimonial described them as "peaceable and first-class sailors." [29] In a letter to his mother shortly before the voyage, Briggs declared himself eminently satisfied with ship and crew. [29] Sarah Briggs informed her mother that the crew appeared to be quietly capable ". if they continue as they have begun". [32]

New York Edit

On October 20, 1872, Briggs arrived at Pier 50 on the East River in New York City [33] to supervise the loading of the ship's cargo of 1,701 barrels of denatured alcohol [34] [35] his wife and baby daughter joined him a week later. [24] On Sunday, November 3, Briggs wrote to his mother to say that he intended to leave on Tuesday, adding that "our vessel is in beautiful trim and I hope we shall have a fine passage." [36]

On Tuesday morning (November 5), Mary Celeste left Pier 50 with Briggs, his wife and daughter, and seven crew members, and moved into New York Harbor. The weather was uncertain, and Briggs decided to wait for better conditions. He anchored the ship just off Staten Island, [37] where Sarah used the delay to send a final letter to her mother-in-law. "Tell Arthur," she wrote, "I make great dependence on the letters I shall get from him, and will try to remember anything that happens on the voyage which he would be pleased to hear." [38] The weather eased two days later, and Mary Celeste left the harbor and entered the Atlantic. [37]

While Mary Celeste prepared to sail, the Canadian brigantine Dei Gratia lay nearby in Hoboken, New Jersey, awaiting a cargo of petroleum destined for Genoa via Gibraltar. [39] Captain David Morehouse and first mate Oliver Deveau were Nova Scotians, both highly experienced and respected seamen. [40] Captains Briggs and Morehouse shared common interests, and some writers think it likely that they knew each other, if only casually. [35] Some accounts assert that they were close friends who dined together on the evening before Mary Celeste ' s departure, but the evidence for this is limited to a recollection by Morehouse's widow 50 years after the event. [37] [41] [d] Dei Gratia departed for Gibraltar on November 15, following the same general route eight days after Mary Celeste. [40]

Derelict Edit

Dei Gratia had reached a position of 38°20′N 17°15′W  /  38.333°N 17.250°W  / 38.333 -17.250 , midway between the Azores and the coast of Portugal at about 1 p.m. on Wednesday, December 4, 1872, land time (Thursday, December 5, sea time). [e] [45] Captain Morehouse came on deck and the helmsman reported a vessel about 6 miles (9.7 km) distant, heading unsteadily towards Dei Gratia. The ship's erratic movements and the odd set of her sails led Morehouse to suspect that something was wrong. [44] As the vessel drew close, he could see nobody on deck, and he received no reply to his signals, so he sent Deveau and second mate John Wright in a ship's boat to investigate. The pair established that this was the Mary Celeste by the name on her stern [46] they then climbed aboard and found the ship deserted. The sails were partly set and in a poor condition, some missing altogether, and much of the rigging was damaged with ropes hanging loosely over the sides. The main hatch cover was secure, but the fore and lazarette hatches were open, their covers beside them on the deck. The ship's single lifeboat was a small yawl that had apparently been stowed across the main hatch, but it was missing, while the binnacle housing the ship's compass had shifted from its place and its glass cover was broken. [47] There was about 3.5 feet (1.1 m) of water in the hold, a significant but not alarming amount for a ship of this size. [48] A makeshift sounding rod (a device for measuring the amount of water in the hold) was found abandoned on the deck. [49]

Deveau returned to report these findings to Morehouse, who decided to bring the derelict into Gibraltar 600 nautical miles (1,100 km) away. Under maritime law, a salvor could expect a substantial share of the combined value of rescued vessel and cargo, the exact award depending on the degree of danger inherent in the salvaging. Morehouse divided Dei Gratia ' s crew of eight between the two vessels, sending Deveau and two experienced seamen to Mary Celeste while he and four others remained on Dei Gratia. The weather was relatively calm for most of the way to Gibraltar, but each ship was seriously undermanned and progress was slow. Dei Gratia reached Gibraltar on December 12 Mary Celeste had encountered fog and arrived on the following morning. She was immediately impounded by the vice admiralty court to prepare for salvage hearings. [51] Deveau wrote to his wife that the ordeal of bringing the ship in was such that "I can hardly tell what I am made of, but I do not care so long as I got in safe. I shall be well paid for the Mary Celeste." [52]

The salvage court hearings began in Gibraltar on December 17, 1872, under Sir James Cochrane, the chief justice of Gibraltar. The hearing was conducted by Frederick Solly-Flood, Attorney General of Gibraltar who was also Advocate-General and Proctor for the Queen in Her Office of Admiralty. Flood was described by a historian of the Mary Celeste affair as a man "whose arrogance and pomposity were inversely proportional to his IQ", [53] and as ". the sort of man who, once he had made up his mind about something, couldn't be shifted." [54] The testimonies of Deveau and Wright convinced Flood unalterably that a crime had been committed, [55] a belief picked up by the New York Shipping and Commercial List on December 21: "The inference is that there has been foul play somewhere, and that alcohol is at the bottom of it." [56]

On December 23, Flood ordered an examination of Mary Celeste, which was carried out by John Austin, Surveyor of Shipping, with the assistance of a diver, Ricardo Portunato. Austin noted cuts on each side of the bow, caused, he thought, by a sharp instrument, and found possible traces of blood on the captain's sword. His report emphasized that the ship did not appear to have been struck by heavy weather, citing a vial of sewing machine oil found upright in its place. [57] Austin did not acknowledge that the vial might have been replaced since the abandonment, nor did the court raise this point. [26] Portunato's report on the hull concluded that the ship had not been involved in a collision or run aground. [58] A further inspection by a group of Royal Naval captains endorsed Austin's opinion that the cuts on the bow had been caused deliberately. They also discovered stains on one of the ship's rails that might have been blood, together with a deep mark possibly caused by an axe. [59] These findings strengthened Flood's suspicions that human wrongdoing rather than natural disaster lay behind the mystery. [60] On January 22, 1873, he sent the reports to the Board of Trade in London, adding his own conclusion that the crew had got at the alcohol (he ignored its non-potability) and murdered the Briggs family and the ship's officers in a drunken frenzy. They had cut the bows to simulate a collision, then fled in the yawl to suffer an unknown fate. [60] Flood thought that Morehouse and his men were hiding something, specifically that Mary Celeste had been abandoned in a more easterly location, and that the log had been doctored. He could not accept that Mary Celeste could have traveled so far while unmanned. [61] [f]

James Winchester arrived in Gibraltar on January 15, to enquire when Mary Celeste might be released to deliver her cargo. Flood demanded a surety of $15,000, money Winchester did not have. [63] [64] Winchester became aware that Flood thought Winchester might have deliberately engaged a crew that would kill Briggs and his officers as part of some conspiracy. [65] On January 29, during a series of sharp exchanges with Flood, Winchester testified to Briggs's high character, and insisted that Briggs would not have abandoned the ship except in extremity. [66] Flood's theories of mutiny and murder received significant setbacks when scientific analysis of the stains found on the sword and elsewhere on the ship showed that they were not blood. [67] [g] A second blow to Flood followed in a report commissioned by Horatio Sprague, the American consul in Gibraltar, from Captain Shufeldt of the US Navy. In Shufeldt's view the marks on the bow were not man-made, but came from the natural actions of the sea on the ship's timbers. [68]

With nothing concrete to support his suspicions, Flood reluctantly released Mary Celeste from the court's jurisdiction on February 25. Two weeks later, with a locally raised crew headed by Captain George Blatchford from Massachusetts, she left Gibraltar for Genoa. [69] The question of the salvage payment was decided on April 8, when Cochrane announced the award: £1,700, or about one-fifth of the total value of ship and cargo. [69] This was far lower than the general expectation—one authority thought that the award should have been twice or even three times that amount, given the level of hazard in bringing the derelict into port. [70] Cochrane's final words were harshly critical of Morehouse for his decision, earlier in the hearing, to send Dei Gratia under Deveau to deliver her cargo of petroleum—although Morehouse had remained in Gibraltar at the disposal of the court. [71] Cochrane's tone carried an implication of wrongdoing, which, says Hicks, ensured that Morehouse and his crew ". would be under suspicion in the court of public opinion forever." [72]

Foul play Edit

The evidence in Gibraltar failed to support Flood's theories of murder and conspiracy, yet suspicion lingered of foul play. Flood, and some newspaper reports, briefly suspected insurance fraud on the part of Winchester on the basis that Mary Celeste had been heavily over-insured. Winchester was able to refute these allegations and no inquiry was instituted by the insurance companies that issued the policies. [73] In 1931, an article in the Quarterly Review suggested that Morehouse could have lain in wait for Mary Celeste, then lured Briggs and his crew aboard Dei Gratia and killed them there. Paul Begg argues that this theory ignores the fact that Dei Gratia was the slower ship she left New York eight days after Mary Celeste and would not have caught Mary Celeste before she reached Gibraltar. [74] [75]

Another theory posits that Briggs and Morehouse were partners in a conspiracy to share the salvage proceedings. [76] The unsubstantiated friendship between the two captains has been cited by commentators as making such a plan a plausible explanation. [77] Hicks comments that, "if Morehouse and Briggs had been planning such a scam, they would not have devised such an attention-drawing mystery". He also asks why Briggs left his son Arthur behind if he intended to disappear permanently. [73] Another suggested event was an attack by Riffian pirates who were active off the coast of Morocco in the 1870s. However, Charles Edey Fay observes that pirates would have looted the ship, yet the personal possessions of captain and crew were left undisturbed, some of significant value. [78] In 1925, historian John Gilbert Lockhart surmised that Briggs slaughtered all on board and then killed himself in a fit of a religious mania. Lockhart later spoke to Briggs's descendants, and he apologized and withdrew this theory in a later edition of his book. [75] [77]

Lifeboat Edit

In Cobb's view, the transfer of personnel to the yawl may have been intended as a temporary safety measure. He speculated from Deveau's report on the state of the rigging and ropes that the ship's main halliard may have been used to attach the yawl to the ship, enabling the company to return on board when the danger had passed. However, Mary Celeste would have sailed away empty if the line had parted, leaving the yawl adrift with its occupants. [79] Begg notes how illogical it would be to attach the yawl to a vessel that the crew thought was about to explode or sink. [80] Macdonald Hastings points out that Briggs was an experienced captain and asks whether he would have effected a panicked abandonment. "If the Mary Celeste had blown her timbers, she would still have been a better bet for survival than the ship's boat." If this is what happened, says Hastings, Briggs "behaved like a fool worse, a frightened one." [81]

Natural phenomena Edit

Commentators generally agree that some extraordinary and alarming circumstance must have arisen to cause the entire crew to abandon a sound and seaworthy ship with ample provisions. [82] [83] Deveau ventured an explanation based on the sounding rod found on deck. He suggested that Briggs abandoned ship after a false sounding, because of a malfunction of the pumps or other mishap, which gave a false impression that the vessel was taking on water rapidly. [84] A severe waterspout strike before the abandonment could explain the amount of water in the ship and the ragged state of her rigging and sails. The low barometric pressure generated by the spout could have driven water from the bilges up into the pumps, leading the crew to assume that the ship had taken on more water than she had and was in danger of sinking. [85]

Other proffered explanations are the possible appearance of a displaced iceberg, the fear of running aground while becalmed, and a sudden seaquake. Hydrographical evidence suggests that an iceberg drifting so far south was improbable, and other ships would have seen it if there were one. [78] Begg gives more consideration to a theory that Mary Celeste began drifting towards the Dollabarat reef off Santa Maria Island when she was becalmed. The theory supposes that Briggs feared that his ship would run aground and launched the yawl in the hope of reaching land. The wind could then have picked up and blown Mary Celeste away from the reef, while the rising seas swamped and sank the yawl. The weakness of this theory is that, if the ship had been becalmed, all sails would have been set to catch any available breeze, yet it was found with many of its sails furled. [29]

An earthquake on the sea bed—a "seaquake"—could have caused sufficient turbulence on the surface to damage parts of Mary Celeste ' s cargo, thus releasing noxious fumes. Rising fears of an imminent explosion could plausibly have led Briggs to order the ship's abandonment the displaced hatches suggest that an inspection, or an attempted airing, had taken place. [86] The New York World of January 24, 1886 drew attention to a case where a vessel carrying alcohol had exploded. [87] The same journal's issue of February 9, 1913 cited a seepage of alcohol through a few porous barrels as the source of gases that may have caused or threatened an explosion in Mary Celeste ' s hold. [88] Briggs's cousin Oliver Cobb was a strong proponent of this theory as providing a sufficiently alarming scenario—rumblings from the hold, the smell of escaping fumes and possibly an explosion—for Briggs to have ordered the evacuation of the ship. [79] In his haste to leave the ship before it exploded, Briggs may have failed to properly secure the yawl to the tow line. A sudden breeze could have blown the ship away from the occupants of the yawl, leaving them to succumb to the elements. The lack of damage from an explosion and the generally sound state of the cargo upon discovery tend to weaken this case. [89] [h]

In 2006, an experiment was carried out for Channel Five television by Andrea Sella of University College, London, the results of which helped to revive the "explosion" theory. Sella built a model of the hold, with paper cartons representing the barrels. Using butane gas, he created an explosion that caused a considerable blast and ball of flame—but contrary to expectation, no fire damage within the replica hold. "What we created was a pressure-wave type of explosion. There was a spectacular wave of flame but, behind it, was relatively cool air. No soot was left behind and there was no burning or scorching." [91]

Fact and fiction became intertwined in the decades that followed. The Los Angeles Times retold the Mary Celeste story in June 1883 with invented detail. "Every sail was set, the tiller was lashed fast, not a rope was out of place. . The fire was burning in the galley. The dinner was standing untasted and scarcely cold … the log written up to the hour of her discovery." [92] The November 1906 Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine reported that Mary Celeste drifted off the Cape Verde Islands, some 1,400 nautical miles (2,600 km) south of the actual location. Among many inaccuracies, the first mate was "a man named Briggs," and there were live chickens on board. [93]

The most influential retelling, according to many commentators, was a story in the January 1884 issue of the Cornhill Magazine which ensured that the Mary Celeste affair would never be forgotten. [94] [95] This was an early work of Arthur Conan Doyle, a 25 year-old ship's surgeon at the time. Conan Doyle's story "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement" did not adhere to the facts. He renamed the ship Marie Celeste, the captain's name was J. W. Tibbs, the fatal voyage took place in 1873, and it was from Boston to Lisbon. The vessel carried passengers, among them the titular Jephson. [96] In the story, a fanatic named Septimius Goring with a hatred of the white race has suborned members of the crew to murder Tibbs and take the vessel to the shores of Western Africa. The rest of the ship's company is killed, save for Jephson who is spared because he possesses a magical charm that is venerated by Goring and his accomplices. [i] Conan Doyle had not expected his story to be taken seriously, but Sprague was still serving as the U.S. consul in Gibraltar [j] and was sufficiently intrigued to inquire if any part of the story might be true. [98]

In 1913, The Strand Magazine provided an alleged survivor's account from one Abel Fosdyk, supposedly Mary Celeste ' s steward. In this version, the crew had gathered on a temporary swimming platform to watch a swimming contest, when the platform suddenly collapsed. All except Fosdyk were drowned or eaten by sharks. Unlike Conan Doyle's story, the magazine proposed this as a serious solution to the enigma, but it contained many simple mistakes, including "Griggs" for Briggs, "Boyce" for Morehouse, Briggs's daughter as a seven-year-old child rather than a two-year-old, a crew of 13, and an ignorance of nautical language. [94] Many more people were convinced by a plausible literary hoax of the 1920s perpetrated by Irish writer Laurence J. Keating, again presented as a survivor's story of one John Pemberton. This one told a complex tale of murder, madness, and collusion with the Dei Gratia. It included basic errors, such as using Conan Doyle's name ("Marie Celeste") and misnaming key personnel. [99] Nevertheless, the story was so convincingly told that the New York Herald Tribune of July 26, 1926 thought its truth beyond dispute. [100] Hastings describes Keating's hoax as "an impudent trick by a man not without imaginative ability." [101]

In 1924, the Daily Express published a story by Captain R. Lucy, whose alleged informant was Mary Celeste ' s former bosun, [102] although no such person is recorded in the registered crew list. [103] In this tale, Briggs and his crew are cast in the role of predators they sight a derelict steamer, which they board and find deserted with £3,500 of gold and silver in its safe. They decide to split the money, abandon Mary Celeste, and seek new lives in Spain, which they reach by using the steamer's lifeboats. Hastings finds it astonishing that such an unlikely story was widely believed for a time readers, he says, "were fooled by the magic of print." [102]

Chambers's Journal of September 17, 1904 suggests that the entire complement of Mary Celeste was plucked off one by one by a giant octopus or squid. [104] According to the Natural History Museum, giant squid (Architeuthis dux) can reach 15 meters (49 ft) in length [105] and have been known to attack ships. [106] Begg remarks that such a creature could conceivably have picked off a crew member, but it could hardly have taken the yawl and the captain's navigation instruments. [107] Other explanations have suggested paranormal intervention an undated edition of the British Journal of Astrology describes the Mary Celeste story as "a mystical experience", connecting it "with the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, the lost continent of Atlantis, and the British Israel Movement". [108] The Bermuda Triangle has been invoked, even though Mary Celeste was abandoned in a completely different part of the Atlantic. [109] Similar fantasies have considered theories of abduction by aliens in flying saucers. [108]

Mary Celeste left Genoa on June 26, 1873, and arrived in New York on September 19. [110] The Gibraltar hearings, with newspaper stories of bloodshed and murder, had made her an unpopular ship Hastings records that she ". rotted on wharves where nobody wanted her." [111] [k] In February 1874, the consortium sold the ship, at a considerable loss, to a partnership of New York businessmen. [116]

Under this new ownership, Mary Celeste sailed mainly in the West Indian and Indian Ocean routes, regularly losing money. [116] Details of her movements occasionally appeared in the shipping news in February 1879, she was reported at the island of St. Helena, [117] where she had called to seek medical assistance for her captain, Edgar Tuthill, who had fallen ill. Tuthill died on the island, encouraging the idea that the ship was cursed—he was her third captain to die prematurely. [116] In February 1880, the owners sold Mary Celeste to a partnership of Bostonians headed by Wesley Gove. A new captain, Thomas L. Fleming, remained in the post until August 1884, when he was replaced by Gilman C. Parker. [118] During these years, the ship's port of registration changed several times, before reverting to Boston. There are no records of her voyages during this time, although Brian Hicks, in his study of the affair, asserts that Gove tried hard to make a success of her. [119] [120]

In November 1884, Parker conspired with a group of Boston shippers, who filled Mary Celeste with a largely worthless cargo, misrepresented on the ship's manifest as valuable goods and insured for US$30,000 ($860,000 today). On December 16, Parker set out for Port-au-Prince, the capital and chief port of Haiti. [121] On January 3, 1885, Mary Celeste approached the port via the channel between Gonâve Island and the mainland, in which lay a large and well-charted coral reef, the Rochelois Bank. Parker deliberately ran the ship on to this reef, ripping out her bottom and wrecking her beyond repair. He and the crew then rowed themselves ashore, where Parker sold the salvageable cargo for $500 to the American consul, and instituted insurance claims for the alleged value. [122] [123]

When the consul reported that what he had bought was almost worthless, [124] the ship's insurers began a thorough investigation, which soon revealed the truth of the over-insured cargo. In July 1885, Parker and the shippers were tried in Boston for conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Parker was additionally charged with "wilfully cast[ing] away the ship," a crime known as barratry and at the time carrying the death penalty. The conspiracy case was heard first, but on August 15, the jury announced that they could not agree on a verdict. Some jurors were unwilling to risk prejudicing Parker's forthcoming capital trial by finding him guilty on the conspiracy charge. Rather than ordering an expensive retrial, the judge negotiated an arrangement whereby the defendants withdrew their insurance claims and repaid all they had received. The barratry charge against Parker was deferred, and he was allowed to go free. Nevertheless, his professional reputation was ruined, and he died in poverty three months later. One of his co-defendants went mad, and another killed himself. Begg observes that "if the court of man could not punish these men . the curse that had devilled the ship since her first skipper Robert McLellan had died on her maiden voyage could reach beyond the vessel's watery grave and exact its own terrible retribution." [125]

In August 2001, an expedition headed by the marine archaeologist and author Clive Cussler announced that they had found the remains of a ship embedded in the Rochelois reef. Only a few pieces of timber and some metal artifacts could be salvaged, the remainder of the wreckage being lost within the coral. [126] Initial tests on the wood indicated that it was the type extensively used in New York shipyards at the time of Mary Celeste ' s 1872 refit, and it seemed the remains of Mary Celeste had been found. [127] However, dendrochronological tests carried out by Scott St George of the Geological Survey of Canada showed that the wood came from trees, most probably from the US state of Georgia, that would still have been growing in 1894, about ten years after Mary Celeste's demise. [128]

Mary Celeste was not the first reported case of a ship being found strangely deserted on the high seas. Rupert Gould, a naval officer and investigator of maritime mysteries, lists other such occurrences between 1840 and 1855. [129] [l] Whatever the truth of these stories, it is the Mary Celeste that is remembered the ship's name, or the misspelt Marie Celeste, has become fixed in people's minds as synonymous with inexplicable desertion. [131]

In October 1955, MV Joyita, a 70-ton motor vessel, disappeared in the South Pacific while traveling between Samoa and Tokelau, with 25 people on board. [132] The vessel was found a month later, deserted and drifting north of Vanua Levu, 600 miles (970 km) from its route. [133] None of those aboard were seen again, and a commission of inquiry failed to establish an explanation. David Wright, the affair's principal historian, has described the case as ". a classic marine mystery of Mary Celeste proportions." [134]

Brian Hicks: Ghost Ship (2004) [135]

The Mary Celeste story inspired two well-received radio plays in the 1930s, by L. Du Garde Peach and Tim Healey respectively, [136] [137] and a stage version of Peach's play in 1949. [138] Several novels have been published, generally offering natural rather than fantastic explanations. [m] In 1935, the British film company Hammer Film Productions issued The Mystery of the Mary Celeste [139] (retitled Phantom Ship for American audiences), starring Bela Lugosi as a deranged sailor. It was not a commercial success, although Begg considers it "a period piece well worth watching." [140] A 1938 short film titled The Ship That Died presents dramatizations of a range of theories to explain the abandonment: mutiny, fear of explosion due to alcohol fumes, and the supernatural. [141]

Reference is made to the ship in the second season of the BBC TV science fiction series Doctor Who. In the episode "Flight Through Eternity" (1965) the Doctor's time machine the TARDIS materialises on the Mary Celeste. The pursuing Daleks also materialise, in their own time machine, causing the terrified crew of Mary Celeste to throw themselves into the sea. Both time machines then dematerialise, leaving the ship deserted. [142]

In November 2007, the Smithsonian Channel screened a documentary, The True Story of the Mary Celeste, which investigated many aspects of the case without offering any definite solution. One theory proposed pump congestion and instrument malfunction. The Mary Celeste had been used for transporting coal, which is known for its dust, before it was loaded with industrial alcohol. The pump was found disassembled on deck, so the crew may have been attempting to repair it. The hull was packed full, and the captain would have no way of judging how much water had been taken on while navigating rough seas. The filmmakers postulated that the chronometer was faulty, meaning that Briggs could have ordered abandonment thinking that they were close to Santa Maria when they were 120 miles (190 km) farther west. [143]

At Spencer's Island, Mary Celeste and her lost crew are commemorated by a monument at the site of the brigantine's construction and by a memorial outdoor cinema built in the shape of the vessel's hull. [144] Postage stamps commemorating the incident have been issued by Gibraltar (twice) and by the Maldives (twice, once with the name of the ship misspelt as Marie Celeste). [145]

The Ghost ship expedition

In complete darkness, 125 metres below the surface in the middle of the Baltic Sea, lies a shipwreck. Almost completely intact despite sinking almost 400 years ago. 2009 saw the start of an international research project about this wreck, a combination of maritime archaeological analysis, frontline technical development and a documentary film production for the international market.

MMT’s survey vessel IceBeamMMT’s survey vessel IceBeam

The Baltic Sea is probably the world’s best location for ship archaeology. One reason is that most organisms that normally consume wood in the oceans are absent in this cold brackish water sea, including the infamous shipworm ‘Teredo Navalis’.

The hulls of wooden wrecks therefore stay in one piece with the masts erect for hundreds of years on the dark seafloor of the Baltic Sea. Another important precondition is that this northerly inland sea has long been a busy sea route and the site of many shipwrecks.

The Discovery

In 2003, Deep Sea Productions and MMT (Marin Mätteknik) discovered an exceptionally well-preserved shipwreck about 30nm east of the island of Gotska Sandön. The discovery was made during a side-scan sonar search for a Swedish reconnaissance plane lost in 1952. Inspection using ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) showed the wreck to be an almost intact merchant ship from the 17th century.

The wreck was visited on five different expeditions between 2003 and 2010. A variety of survey equipment was used, including four different multi-beam echo sounders, two side-scan sonars and six ROVs.

Since 2009, the wreck’s discoverers have worked together with the MARIS institute at Södertörn University in an international scientific project aimed at examining the wreck, now dubbed the ‘Ghost Ship’. The examination shows that the 25 metre long ship is of a type called fluyt. Construction details and wood samples indicate that it was built around 1650.

Besides being an archaeological survey, the Ghost Ship project also aims to develop new technological methods for deepwater archaeology and documentation at depths beyond the reach of divers. The work is documented in a TV film produced for National Geographic Television, to be aired in 2011.

MMT´s image of the ghost shipMMT´s image of the ghost ship

Fluyt Ships

The fluyt was a heavy duty, easy-to-handle ship type developed by the Dutch toward the end of the 16th century.

In the 17th century, fluyts and other Dutch-built ships powered the success of the global Dutch economy. In the middle of the 17th century, thousands of Dutch merchant ships visited the Baltic every year, trading manufactured goods, spices, cloth, dried fish and salt. For the return voyage, the fluyts carried raw materials such as iron, chalk, timber and grain.

Underwater Investigations

The Ghost Ship wreck was discovered using a 500kHz side-scan sonar which showed a typical snub-nosed wooden wreck with two standing masts and a very high pointing bowsprit. The image showed an unusually high aft section, indicating a very old vessel.

The data recorded via two separate surface-mounted multi-beam 300kHz and 90kHz echo sounders were unfortunately very unsatisfactory. Wooden wrecks on a very soft muddy seafloor seldom yield satisfactory bathymetry data. One explanation is that the energy may be absorbed both by the seafloor and the relatively soft water-drenched wood.

The total darkness at 125 metres demands considerable artificial light. For detailed inspection the limited view from standard ROV video is sufficient, but to achieve an overview, the entire vessel needed illumination. This was provided by four LED lights mounted above the ROV as well as a 50,000 lumen light ramp lowered from the aft A-frame of the IceBeam. The lights had to be lowered below the wreck’s mast tops. This required very precise position holding by IceBeam and ship movements were no more than 0.2 metres.

Very thorough video documentation was made for the archaeological work, including site plans and sketches of the ship. Thanks to precise measurements by laser technology these plans are exact and correct in scale.

An Entire Ship

Archaeology is often about research and reconstruction of scarcely distinguishable residues, hard to interpret remnants or crumbling ruins. Not so with the Ghost Ship. An almost intact three-dimensional ship is a different kind of challenge for a maritime archaeologist, both in practical terms and regarding interpretation.

During the 2010 expedition, IceBeam was equipped with a single transducer Reson 7125 multi-beam echo sounder mounted under a sub-Atlantic Mohican ROV. It recorded reference points for the entire wreck site.

The beams of the echo sounder penetrated the upper deck and the holds so very accurate measurements of the outer hull, the captain’s quarters, the holds and the forecastle were taken and presented in extraordinary detail.

The final detailed 3D model of the Ghost Ship allows scientists to look inside the ship, study its inner construction and distribution of space, and the functions performed in various parts of the ship. The model, which collates over 6 million depth soundings, can also create cross-sections of the ship, both lengthwise and across the beam from bow to stern. This is absolutely unique material, of unequalled value to researchers. It can be turned into a construction design for a small 17th century ship more than a hundred years before such designs were made.

Boarding the Ship

Mini-robots and a camera mounted on an extension arm allowed the scientists to ‘board the ship’. Through a window in the stern, furniture and equipment can be distinguished. In the middle of the cabin there is a table turned upside down, a seaman’s chest and benches along the sides. A small 6-7 man crew lived in a confined space aft.

Boarding the Ship

Mini-robots and a camera mounted on an extension arm allowed the scientists to ‘board the ship’. Through a window in the stern, furniture and equipment can be distinguished. In the middle of the cabin there is a table turned upside down, a seaman’s chest and benches along the sides. A small 6–7 man crew lived in a confined space aft.

A Swan?!

The top of the rudder, in the stern, is decorated with three flowers. This motif is traditional for Holland and recurs on later ships.

Above the rudder on either side of the stern there were originally two male wooden sculptures depicting Dutch mid-17th century merchants in fashionable clothing sporting bulging money pouches in their belts. The sculptures have fallen off and are now lying on the seafloor beside the wreck. One of these ‘corner men’ (hoekman in Dutch) was salvaged during the 2010 expedition.

The Ghost Ship is virtually complete, with the exception of the top part of the stern, called the transom, which is missing. Parts of the transom are lying on the seafloor behind the ship. Here too are the flagpole and the large ship’s lantern. A sculpted piece of wood lying among other timbers has been identified as the body of a swan. It was customary in those days to have a large sculpture on the transom depicting the name of the ship. The real name of the Ghost Ship was probably The Swan!

Abandon Ship!

Two out of three masts are still pointing towards the surface. Following the shipwreck the sails and rigging remained intact, but as ropes and sailcloth deteriorated over the years, yards and mast tops collapsed. By documenting their current position it is possible to deduce how the sails were set at the time of the disaster. This in turn tells us what the crew must have been doing just before the ship went under.

The impression is that they were trying to slow her down and stop her at sea. Maybe the ship was leaking and because the pumps couldn’t keep her afloat the crew decided to abandon ship. They tried to keep her steady enough to give everyone a chance to get into the work boat they probably had in tow. No human remains have been identified on the wreck of the Ghost Ship.

Acknowledgements The Ghost Ship Project is a joint operation between Deep Sea Productions, MMT and MARIS, Södertörn University.

Partners: The Maritime Section of the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency The Institute of Nautical Archaeology, Texas A & M, USA The National Maritime Museums, Sweden Kalmar County Museum, Sweden The Ghost Ship project receives funding from the Knowledge Foundation, Sweden.

Project team, Key personell Carl Douglas, Deep Sea Productions Malcolm Dixelius, Deep Sea Productions Johan Rönnby, Södertörn University Ola Oskarsson, MMT Olof Nilsson, MMT

Found: A Shipwrecked Nazi Steamer, Still Filled With Cargo


About 40 miles off the coast of Poland, nearly 300 feet below the surface of the Baltic Sea, a beam of light cut through the cold water and fell onto the metal hulk of a ship. As the light panned across the wreck in September 2020, it cast long shadows across the seafloor. For the first time in 75 years, the Nazi-era steamship Karlsruhe had been seen by human eyes.

“It is one of the last unresolved mysteries of the Second World War,” says Tomasz Stachura, the president of the SANTI diving company and a technical diver who dove on the wreck last month. The steamer “carried quite a large load and was an utterly submerged story … This story must be completed.”

Two German ships called Karlsruhe sank in the Baltic during World War II—one at the beginning of the war and one at the end. Remarkably, both were identified only this year. In September, the German cruiser Karlsruhe—which was sunk in April 1940—was identified off Norway’s southern coast. The same month, to the east, Stachura’s team dove on the German steamer Karlsruhe, which was sunk in April 1945. At the time, Germans were fleeing the Red Army, which was pushing through occupied Eastern Europe and into German territories such as East Prussia.

The main intrigue lies in the ship’s cargo hold, where wooden crates hint at what may be Nazi loot from Eastern Europe. Tomasz Stachura / Santi

Germany’s hasty flight was part of Operation Hannibal, one of the largest sea evacuations in history. During the last five months of the war in Europe, millions of Germans moved westward, as did cargo that was deemed valuable or useful to the war effort—which was looking increasingly grim for Germany. So far, finds from the shipwreck include well-preserved military vehicles, china, and many sealed wooden boxes in the ship’s hold, which require more thorough excavation to unpack and study.

It’s not just in Indiana Jones movies that Nazi crates are cause for intrigue. According to SANTI, Karlsruhe was the last ship to leave the port at Königsberg, the historically Prussian city that is now Kaliningrad, Russia, which has led Stachura to speculate that Karlsruhe may have spirited away the ornate Amber Room of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. Originally built in Berlin at the beginning of the 18th century, the room was an ostentatious ensemble of gold leaf, mirrors, and several tons of amber. In 1716, King Frederick William I of Prussia gifted it to Peter the Great of Russia. In 1941, it was dismantled by the Nazis, brought to Königsberg, and then—like many of the war’s looted artifacts—it vanished.

The ill-fated Amber Room in 1931. In 2003, a replica, reconstructed Amber Room was put in its place in the Catherine Palace. Branson DeCou / Public Domain

While some say the room’s extravagant panels were destroyed in bombings, some still hold out hope that the room is intact—hidden away somewhere, or collecting barnacles at the bottom of the sea. “We do not have any hard evidence that the Amber Room is there, but nobody has any hard evidence that Amber Room is elsewhere,” Stachura says. “The truth is that the Germans wanting to send something valuable to the west could only do it by means of Karlsruhe, as this was their last chance.”

Diving on the wreck is laborious: Twenty-five minutes on the site requires two and a half hours of decompression, Stachura says, and his team is seeking funding from the Polish Maritime Office to continue its work. The physical exertion of diving and opening the crates at such a depth carries the risk of blackout, and Stachura says that a diving bell would be needed in order to have enough air for the work. For now, the crates have been photographed underwater, and his team can hardly wait to learn more about their contents. “All we have to do is look into them and check,” Stachura says. Perhaps easier said than done.

Divers find wreck of German World War II ship that was bombed and sunk with 1,083 on board

A team of Polish divers say they have found almost intact the wreckage of German World War II steamer Karlsruhe, which was bombed by Soviet planes and sunk in the Baltic Sea in April 1945, killing hundreds on board. The 10-member Baltictech team say the wreckage rests 290 feet under the sea dozens of miles north of Poland's coastal resort of Ustka.

In the wreckage, they say they have found military vehicles, china and sealed chests in the ship's hold, all in good condition.

A wreck of a German Second World War ship "Karlsruhe" is seen during a search operation in the Baltic sea in June 2020. Tomasz Stachura/ Baltictech/Handout via REUTERS

"It looks like, after months of searching, we have finally found the wreckage of the Karlsruhe steamer," the Baltictech group said on Facebook, posting an underwater photo of an apparently well-preserved military vehicle.

The group said the discovery could also help solve a 75-year-old mystery - the whereabouts of the Amber Room, an ornate Russian chamber that was looted by the Nazis. Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the room was part of the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, but was last seen in Koenigsberg, Reuters reported.

"We don't want to get excited, but if the Germans were to take the Amber Chamber across the Baltic Sea, then Karlsruhe Steamer was their last chance," the Baltictech group wrote on Facebook.

The Amber Room was constructed in Prussia and then given to Tsar Peter the Great of Russia in 1716 as a present. Reuters reports that the Germans dismantled the room and took it to Koenigsberg during the war. It disappeared during Allied bombing raids on the city. A replica of the Amber Room was later constructed in the Catherine Palace.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Doris Schroeder Koepf and Lyudmila Putin , from left, admire the reconstructed Amber Room in the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, May 31, 2003. ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO

The divers said they accessed Allied, German and Soviet documents detailing the fate of the steamer and spent more than a year looking for it, believing it was among the "most interesting, yet uncovered, stories from the Baltic Sea bed."

Trending News

The documents, which were shown to The Associated Press, say the Karlsruhe was built in 1905 at the Seebeck yard in Bremerhaven. Toward the end of World War II, it was included in the Hannibal Operation that evacuated Germans and Nazi troops from the East Prussia's Koenigsberg area as the Soviet Red Army advanced and was taking control of it.

A wreck of a German Second World War ship "Karlsruhe" is seen during a search operation in the Baltic sea in June 2020. BALTICTECH via Reuters

On April 11, 1945, the steamer left the port of Pillau - which is now the Russian port of Baltiysk - with 150 troops of the Hermann Goering regiment, 25 railway workers and 888 civilians, including children, and hundreds of tons of cargo.

The next day, in the port of Hel, it was included in a convoy going to the German port of Swinemunde, which is now Swinoujscie in Poland.

On the morning of April 13, 1945, the ship was spotted by Soviet planes, bombed and sank within about three minutes. Some 113 of its passengers were rescued by the convoy, among the 1,083 on board, according to Nazi Navy documents, a German cable intercepted by the British and survivor accounts stored in German archives.

A diver checks the wreck of a German Second World War ship "Karlsruhe" during a search operation in the Baltic sea in June 2020. BALTICTECH via Reuters

Last month, Norwegian divers announced they discovered the wreckage of a German warship &mdash also called the Karlsruhe &mdash that was struck by a British torpedo in 1940.

First published on October 3, 2020 / 10:10 AM

© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

An abandoned ‘ghost ship’ washes up onshore after more than a year at sea

The mysterious vessel landed ashore amid a burst of violent, stormy weather, wedging itself onto a rocky outcropping and perplexing locals and authorities. How could such a large ship have been marooned? Was anyone inside?

A jogger first noticed the 2,400-ton vessel on Sunday, sitting below a seaside cliff on Ireland’s southern coast. Later that day, the Irish Coast Guard sent a rescue helicopter to the scene, hoping to make contact with any crew members who may have been aboard the ship.

As it turns out, the boat that had washed ashore near the city of Cork was known as a “ghost ship,” long floating around the Atlantic without anyone aboard. Since being abandoned by its crew nearly 17 months ago, the MV Alta had drifted alone across the ocean, rusting and breaking down as it skirted near Africa, Europe and the Americas.

“This is one in a million,” John Tattan, an official with the local branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, a nonprofit that rescues people stranded at sea off the British and Irish coasts, told the Irish Examiner. “I have never, ever seen anything abandoned like that before."

Tattan added that it was particularly bewildering that the Alta managed to make it past the many fishing boats off Ireland’s southern coast without being detected.

The government of County Cork has warned the public to stay away from the location of the wreck, noting in a statement Monday that “it is located on a dangerous and inaccessible stretch of coastline and is in an unstable condition."

Built in 1976, the MV Alta was sailing under the Tanzanian flag and had most recently changed ownership in 2017 — although it was not clear to whom. The cargo vessel was sailing from Greece to Haiti in September 2018 when it was disabled in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, leaving 10 crew members stranded about 1,380 miles southeast of Bermuda. Unable to make repairs, they had to be airdropped a week’s supply of food as they waited for help.

Copper for coins

Archaeologists think that the ship was journeying from the Baltic Sea and was bound for Antwerp (now in Belgium, but in the early 1500s was in the Netherlands) when it sank. The cargo of copper on board could represent one of the earliest uses of copper for coins in Europe.

Stamps on the copper plates showed they that had been produced by the wealthy Fugger family of Germany, Manders said, adding that chemical tests on the metal showed it was identical to the first copper coins used in the Netherlands.

Cities in the Netherlands were early adopters of copper coins in the 16th century, when the currency was first introduced as an affordable alternative to payments in gold and silver coins and by barter, he said.

The shipwreck, therefore, represents three key developments in Dutch history: a pivotal change in shipbuilding techniques, the growth of the Dutch economy after the 1500s, and the introduction of copper coinage. "So we have three things that make this such an exceptional ship, without having dived on the ship yet," Manders said.

The timbers brought up by the salvage grab from the seafloor showed no evidence of infestation with shipworm and were in remarkably good condition, he said. Maritime archaeologists hope to make their first dives to the wreck this summer. Until then, the shipwreck site is being watched by the Dutch coast guard.

Watch the video: Baltic Sea Anomaly - The Mysterious Underwater Object (January 2022).