Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ghost Ships

There are two interests that I love- the water and the paranormal, so it's only natural that I would have some interest in stories about ghost ships.
The term ghost ship has two separate meanings. One meaning refers to a ship that is found sailing abandoned with no sign of the crew and things sitting out as though the crew will be back at any moment. A good example of this would be the Mary Celeste.
On December 5, 1872, the ship Dei Gratia came upon the Mary Celeste floundering on the sea. The captain of the Dei Gratia knew Captain Briggs, the captain of the Mary Celeste, and was surprised to see the ship derelict as Briggs had a reputation as an excellent captain. Men from the Dei Gratia boarded the abandoned Mary Celeste to determine what was going on. The ship was found in good seaworthy condition. It appeared as though the crew had left in a great hurry. They discovered that the chronometer and sextant were missing. There was water between the decks and the Galley was in bad shape. The stove was knocked out of place and cooking utensils were strewn about. There were no lifeboats aboard the ship and everything was soaked. A rope was found hanging over the side of the ship trailing in the water. The crew from the Dei Gratia managed to get the Mary Celeste into port. When the cargo was unloaded, they found 9 of the barrels of alcohol empty.
What happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste? Some feel that the cargo became unstable and that the captain decided to trail behind the ship in the lifeboat until such time that it was safe to board. However, for some reason, the ship outdistanced the lifeboat leaving the crew helpless on the sea. Another theory involves foul play. However, no evidence was ever found to prove that. Still other think that the ship was caught in the middle of a seaquake. And still others claim the crew was eaten by sharks during a swim.
Another story takes place February 1948. Distress calls were picked up by numerous ships near Indonesia. The SOS calls came from the Dutch freighter SS Ourang Medan. The signals claimed, "All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge. Possibly whole crew dead." This message was followed by indecipherable Morse code then, "I die." Within hours of the first distress signals, the first rescue ship arrived on the scene. Upon arrival, the rescue vessel tried to hail the Ourang Medan but there was no response to their hand and whistle signals. A boarding party was sent to the ship and what they found was astonishing. All the crew and officers of the Ourang Medan were dead, their eyes open, faces looking towards the sun, arms outstretched and a look of terror on their faces. Even the ship's dog was dead, found snarling at some unseen enemy. When nearing the bodies in the boiler room, the rescue crew felt a chill though the temperature was near 110°F.
The decision was made to tow the ship back to port. As the ship was prepared to be towed, smoke began rolling up from the hull. The rescue crew left the ship and barely had time to cut the tow lines before the Ourang Medan exploded and sank.
What happened the the crew of the Ourang Medan? Was it a UFO? Some other paranormal event that scared everyone to death? There is some speculation that the Ourang Medan was carrying illegal chemical weapons (this was post WWII). Could something they were secretly transporting leaked, killing everyone aboard?
The other definition of a ghost ship is of course a ship that has been lost that reappears as a ghost, or a ship that is haunted by ghosts. One example of this would be the notorious Flying Dutchman.
While sailing the ship around the Cape of Good Hope (southern tip of Africa), Captain Van der Decken refused to wait out a storm and instead sailed right into it. It's said the Captain vowed to sail around the Cape even if it took until doomsday. The ship was lost, but is now seen by other vessels. Seeing the spectral Flying Dutchman is considered to be a bad omen.
Another famous ghost ship is The Queen Mary. While The Queen Mary is still very much a solid and real vessel, some of its inhabitants are not. One incident occurred in the area of the boat which housed the swimming pool. No one was allowed in that area of the ship, and the pool was completely drained. However, next to the pool was a woman dressed in a one piece bathing suit that looked to be from the early 1950's. The woman was about ready to dive into the empty pool. The crew member yelled for the woman to stop and she disappeared. Later, while checking the ship's records, the crew member discovered that a woman had drowned in the swimming pool.
Another story comes from watertight door number 13. A guard was patrolling that area with his dog when he heard a noise coming from door number 13. The dog stopped and refused to move any further. They searched the area but found nothing. Archives show that a man by the name of John Pedder was crushed and killed by watertight door number 13. Several years later, a guide felt a presence behind her. She turned and saw a young man standing there behind her. The apparition was there only a few seconds before disappearing. The guide later picked John Pedder's photo out of a line up. She was not aware of the tragic death occurring at door 13.
Another strange story isn't about an abandoned ship, a spectral ship or a ship housing ghosts. It's about the SS Watertown, an oil tanker on it's way from California to New Orleans via the Panama Canal. During the voyage, two of its crew were killed in a freak accident. The pair was given the customary burial at sea. The day after the two crewmen were buried, the rest of the ships crew began seeing the faces of the two men in the waves along side the ship. This happened every day until the ship arrived in New Orleans. The captain mentioned the phenomena to his employers who suggested he take a photograph of it. The captain did this and he captured an eerie photo. The negative was checked for fakery but a detective agency at the time, but no forgery could be found.
There are many mysterious tales of ships and ghosts on the sea. Check out the website for other stories.