Inside The 15 Most Frightening Stories Of Ghost Ships From History

Published May 3, 2024
Updated May 18, 2024

Over the centuries, numerous vessels have been found floating on the high seas without a crew — here are some of the most disturbing cases.

Ghost Ships

Alamy An illustration of the Flying Dutchman, a legendary ghost ship.

Throughout maritime history, sailors have reported stories with eerily similar details — stories of ghost ships appearing out of the blue, with not a single soul aboard and no sign of what happened to the crew.

These ships travel unmanned across the waters, reminding mariners who witness their silent journeys of the mysterious dangers of the open seas.

These ghost ships are an integral part of seafarers’ lore. But while many stories of these ships are simply urban legends, there are occurrences of real ghost ships that have been spotted across the oceans.

From the Mary Celeste to the SS Baychimo, here are some of the most mysterious real-life ghost ships from history.

The Infamous Ghost Ship Mary Celeste

Ghost Ship Mary Celeste drawing

DeAgostini/Getty ImagesThe Mary Celeste, a merchant ship found abandoned near the Azores Islands in 1872.

On November 7, 1872, the American vessel Mary Celeste set out on a voyage from New York City to Genoa, Italy. The people aboard included Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife and two-year-old daughter, and seven crewmen.

The ship’s last entry placed it near the Azores Islands, located about 1,000 miles west of mainland Portugal, on November 25th.

Then, on December 5th, Captain David Morehouse of the British brig Dei Gratia discovered the Mary Celeste abandoned 400 miles east of the Azores.

Morehouse sent his men to investigate, and they soon discovered that the entire crew was missing — along with a lifeboat. Eerily, nearly everything seemed to be in good order on the ship, aside from disassembled pumps. The crewmen’s belongings and a six-month supply of food and water remained in the vessel. Everyone’s clothing was neatly packed away.

Though there was about three feet of water in the hull, the boat was still seaworthy and did not suffer any serious damage. The ship was in good enough shape that Captain Morehouse was able to take it to Gibraltar. There, he informed British authorities about the missing crew.

Despite an investigation, the crew was never found and a court declared that it did not suspect foul play. In the following years, the story of the ghost ship Mary Celeste became legendary. Theories about what happened to the 10 passengers ranged from mutiny to wrathful sea monsters.

In 2002, documentarian Anne MacGregor and oceanographer Phil Richardson attempted to solve the mystery themselves. Using the data in the captain’s log, the two researchers postulated that Captain Briggs had misidentified his location by more than 100 miles. Additionally, the night before the last log entry, the ship had apparently faced rough seas and winds.

A disassembled pump found on the ship led researchers to believe that Captain Briggs may have worried about the amount of seawater in the ship’s hull. For a captain responsible for the lives of his crewmen and his family, he possibly made the ill-informed call to abandon ship out of fear of the ship sinking.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Paoletti, Gabe. "Inside The 15 Most Frightening Stories Of Ghost Ships From History.", May 3, 2024, Accessed May 18, 2024.