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10 Real-Life Ghost Ships No One Can Explain

by S.E. Batt
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Ghost ships aren’t always as scary as they first sound; they usually refer to real, physical ships out at sea without any crew. Sometimes they’re boats in transit that broke free of their restraints, and sometimes they sustain so much damage that the crew lost confidence and abandoned ship, appearing on-shore alive and well later on.

There are some, however, which are found empty and their crew totally unaccounted for. Here are 10 ships with strange disappearances, still-missing crew, and unexplained circumstances.

10The Ocean Wave


Photo credit: Miguel Leal

The story behind the Ocean Wave was supposed to be a warm one. Artist Bas Jan Ader set a three-part performance around the ship; first, he would be sent off by a student choir singing shanties to a piano. Then he’d sail from Cape Cod to Falmouth in England in a craft only 4 meters (12 ft) in length. When he would arrive 8–10 weeks later, he’d sing the ending to the song to finish the performance. The problem was, he never arrived in England.

His boat was found floating by itself, without a trace of Bas Jan Ader within. People speculated that a rogue wave took him, or that he became disorientated and fell in, or even that the whole performance piece was a mask for his own suicide. Either way, Bas Jan Ader was never found again.

9The High Aim 6


The High Aim 6 was a Chinese ship that left the port of Taiwan back in October 2002. It was located in January 2003 near Australia, without any of its crew onboard. For a while, the mystery was why it was abandoned in the first place; it was stocked with food, was in good condition, and wasn’t smuggling immigrants.

The High Aim 6 made news again when a single remaining crew member was located. It was only then that it got some sort of story: The rest of the crew had murdered the ship’s captain and engineer then left to go back to their homeland. The reasons behind the murders or the locations of the criminals are both unknown.

8The Jian Seng


Another one in Australian waters, the Jian Seng was found in 2006 without crew. The ship sported a broken tow-rope, which suggests it was in transit when the rope snapped. There were no signs of damage or piracy on the ship, so it was probably a simple case of a fragile rope. Mystery solved, right? Not as easy as first hoped.

There were no identifying marks on the ship. It didn’t turn up in searches for registered ships, if it had been registered at all. Nobody put a message out to look for a large ship that had broken free. Nobody claimed it. When they tried the ship’s engines, they found it inoperable. Even though speculation says the ship was a resupply vessel for fishing boats, nobody knows where the ship originated from.

7The Kaz II


Photo credit: Queensland Police

The Kaz II was a small yacht found off of Australia’s coast in 2008 and was reported to have been manned by three people on its departure, Des Batten and Peter and John Tunstead. On discovery, the yacht had a torn sail and contained a still-on laptop and a mug of half-empty coffee—but no crew.

A coroner stated he had solved the mystery, saying that one of the crew fell in trying to free a fishing line from the propeller, and a second followed suit trying to save him. The third turned the boat to fetch them, but the wind suddenly changed, and the yacht’s boom struck him into the water. This theory, however, has its fair share of critics, and the actual events of the disappearance are still unconfirmed.

6The Lunatic


Photo credit:

The Lunatic holds the story of Jure Sterk, a 72-year-old man from Slovenia. He wanted to set two records: to be the oldest man to sail nonstop around the world and to do it in the smallest boat without an engine. He was by no means a novice. He had already done a round-the-world trip in 1991 and wrote four books about his adventures.

He took a radio with him on the trip, but soon after New Year’s Day in 2009, he went silent. A passing ship found the Lunatic empty and with heavy storm damage and its emergency boat at the back missing. Jure and this emergency boat were never found.

5The Resolven


Discovered in August 1884 by the sailors of the HMS Mallard, the Resolven was found drifting at sea. The Mallard signaled to the crew but received no response, so they decided to board the ship.

On the ship, there were no signs of trouble; in fact, it looked as if it had been recently lived in. The galley had a fire lit and food was ready on the tables, but nobody was around to eat it. There were no obvious signs of structural damage or a fight. The only clue as to what happened to the Resolven was that the captain’s entire stash of gold coins was gone, and the lifeboat was also missing. The Resolven was taken in and refitted with a new crew, but its old one was never found again.

4‘Korean People’s Army’ Ghost Boats


Photo credit: CNN

A strange array of 12 wooden boats were found floating around Japanese shores. By the state of the boats, they had been out to sea for a long time, but what’s even more mysterious was their contents of 22 corpses.

Some of the bodies had their heads cut off, and one ship contained six skulls. The only clues of their origin were that one boat was labeled “Korean People’s Army,” and another contained a cloth that looked like a tattered part of the North Korean flag. The reason behind these ghost boats is still a mystery.

3The Sea Bird


The Sea Bird was a 1750 merchant vessel that grounded herself against Rhode Island. The ship was devoid of all humans, but it still contained a dog and a cat, which happily greeted those who investigated the ship.

After the ship was investigated, several clues were discovered. Coffee was boiling on the stove, breakfast was laid out, tobacco could be smelled, and coins were visible on tables, but there was no crew. The ship was still in perfect condition, with no signs of disaster or mutiny. The only clue to the clue’s disappearance was the ship’s most recent log: “Branton Reef sighted.” The ship’s emergency longboat was gone, but both the longboat and the crew never turned up again.

2Manfred Fritz Bajorat


A battered yacht found by local Filipino fisherman had nobody piloting it—but its single crew wasn’t missing. In fact, the body of the German sailor Manfred Fritz Bajorat was found within, slumped on his desk reaching for the radio, after a heart attack took his life. Even stranger, his entire body had appeared to be mummified.

He went missing from 2009 to 2016, so people believed he had been dead for several years, which would easily explain why he went missing. The actual mummification was predicted to be due to the dry salty air and would have taken a few weeks to start.

Then the autopsy came in with some shocking news: Manfred had died from his heart attack just a week previously. The reasons Manfred went dark for so long, and how his body mummified so quickly, is unknown.

1Mary Celeste


Photo credit: Wikimedia

If you read about various real-life ghost ships around the world, you’ll notice a lot of them are nicknamed as a certain country’s own Mary Celeste. It’s only fitting we take a look at one of the more famous ghost ships to exist.

In November 1872, Benjamin Briggs boarded the Mary Celeste as its captain, along with his wife, daughter, and eight shipmates. The goal was New York to Italy, but the trip didn’t last more than a month before it turned up without denizens. The ship had its lifeboat missing but had six months’ worth of food and water onboard and no signs of structural damage or a fight.

The ship has various theories: mutiny, pirates, sea monsters, a vengeful slave, and an explosion from crude alcohol. Whatever the cause was, the Mary Celeste lives on as the most famous ghost ship mystery ever.

+Further Reading


For many of us, mysteries are the most fascinating of all lists. Over the years we have published a huge range of mysterious articles. Here is a small selection of the very best for your further enjoyment:

10 Unsolved Mysteries With Creepy Surveillance Footage
10 Simple And Enduring Mysteries Of Our World
10 Bizarre Mysteries From Around The World
10 Victims Lured To Mysterious Meetings
Top 10 Unsolved Mysteries
Top 10 Mysterious People

S.E. Batt is a freelance writer and author. He enjoys a good keyboard, cats, and tea, even though the three of them never blend well together. You can follow his antics over at @Simon_Batt or his fiction website at

fact checked by Jamie Frater