5 spooky maritime stories that will keep you up at night

Disclaimer: These stories probably aren't going to actually keep you up at night. Unless you are of a very weak disposition. In which case, TURN BACK NOW...
5 spooky maritime stories that will keep you up at night

Ghost ships have long been a thing of intrigue.

Did you ever see that film?

You know the one about the ghosts? On a ship? 

Oh yes, that's right. It was called Ghost Ship. (Oh Gabriel Byrne how far you fell...)

After all, few things capture the imagination better than a ship that sails the seas under mysterious circumstances, or one that is carrying the weight of a thousand ghosts.

To celebrate Halloween we've put together a list of the top five spooky stories from the maritime world.

Read on if you dare. (You probably will dare. They're not that scary...)

The Mary Celeste

This is the most famous of all the ghost ships across the land. Many a worker has used the simile, “it’s like the Mary Celeste in here” to describe an office which has been almost eerily abandoned. (We work in a small (maritime industry-focused office, it happens a lot).

In 1872 a ship was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. Bobbing along with its sails up and looking no worse for wear, when sailors came across the vessel they boarded and quickly discovered that there was no one on it. All of the crew’s personal things were still there, and so was over 1500 of barrels full of alcohol. The only things missing were a lifeboat, the captain’s log boat, oh and the entire crew of the Mary Celeste.

Conspiracy theories abound…

The Flying Dutchman

Probably best known nowadays for its inclusion in the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean films, the Flying Dutchman is a maritime legend that has inspired countless different stories. (Some including Johnny Depp. Some not.) 

According to the tale (of which there are many, but here's the general jist) a Captain called Van der Decken tried to steer the ship through the Cape of Good Hope during a terrible storm. The legend goes that, after failing miserably to navigate the Flying Dutchman to safer waters, the ship and its cursed crew were doomed to drift for all eternity. Good one, Captain.

This is one curse story that's lasted through the ages. Even now, fishermen and sailors say they have spotted the dilapidated vessel still floating in the water. Spooky enough for you? No? Well keep going...

The Caleuche

The story of the Caleuche comes from Chilean mythology. Described as a "ghost ship", the vessel allegedly comes alive near the island of Chiloé, and carries the ghosts of people who have drowned at sea. According to the legend, the ship is beautiful to look at, and always appears lit up against the night sky. Sounds of music and laughter can be heard coming from below the decks. It's almost like they want to entice you onboard. Come on in, the water's fine...

According to the (lucky) individuals who have seen it the Caleuche is only ever visible for a few seconds before it disappears... As if it was never there. Strange that. 

One version of the Chilean story also tells us that three water spirits, who look like mermaids, are the ones that summon the ghosts of those that died at sea.

The Ourang Medan

In June 1947, the S.S. Ourang Medan sent out a distress call from its position in the Strait of Malacca. Two American vessels, the City of Baltimore and the Silver Star, responded and immediately rushed to the coordinates.

During this time a radio operator on the Ourang Medan sent Morse code which spelled out the following message:

“S.O.S from Ourang Medan *** we float. All officers including the Captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead * * *.”

After some unintelligible dots and dashes, the phrase “I die” appeared and then the radio went silent.

According to the tale, when the Silver Star crew boarded they found no damage to the vessel but the Ourang Medan was full of corpses. The entire crew plus the captain (and a dog) were on their backs, with faces frozen into expressions of pure terror.

But the creepiness doesn’t end there. According to the story, a fire suddenly broke out in the ship’s cargo hold and very soon after the Ourang Medan exploded and sank into the icy depths. No trace was ever found. 

The SS Baychimo

This is one phantom ship that actually exists! Launched in 1914, the SS Baychimo was used in trading routes between Hamburg and Sweden until the First World War. It continued to work until October 1, 1931 when the vessel became trapped in pack ice at the end of a trading run. The crew temporally abandoned the ship to hike to the town of Barrow for shelter. But by the time the crew returned, the ship had broken free.

Over the next 38 years the SS Baychimo stayed adrift and people constantly tried to board her. In March 1933 a group of Eskimos managed to get onboard only to be trapped in a freak storm for 10 days. In 1939, Captain Hugh Polson reported trying to board, but creeping ice floes intervened.

The last reported sighting of the Baychimo was in 1969 when she became, once again, frozen in an ice pack.

In 2006, the Alaskan government funded a project to solve the mystery of the ghost ship of the Arctic.

She has not yet been found again.  


by Laura Stackhouse

readmt.com Editor

Laura Stackhouse is the Web Editor of readmt.com, an official publication of the International Marine Purchasing Association (IMPA). To discuss news, features or contributing to readmt.com please get in touch.

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