With more than 6,000 satellites circling the Earth, imagery from above continues to assist oceanographers, archeologists, and experts from many fields of endeavor better understand unique features of the planet which mainly consists of water.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a famous English poet who was a founder of the Romantic Movement, wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the story poem about a sailor whose sail-ship became becalmed in the ocean, prompting him to conclude, “Water, water everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
Given the fact that 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water and that the oceans account for 96.5 percent of it, water also exists above the Earth in clouds and below the Earth in aquafers and groundwater. With water on, under and above the Earth in such proportions, it is little wonder that some ships have wound up being coined “ghost ships.”
While hundreds of such ships have been documented, the oldest account of a “ghost ship” occurred more than two centuries before Sputnik became the first satellite to orbit the Earth.
The first record of a “ghost ship” dates back to 1750, after the SV Sea Brig beached itself in Rhode Island without its captain, a single crew member, or any passengers to be found.
Eye witness reports revealed that the crewless ship was viewed as it sailed in and neared the port prior to its grounding on the beach. What happened to the captain and his crew remains a mystery.
Decades later, The Jenny was discovered floating in the stormy waters between the southern tip of Chile and the Shetland Islands in Antarctica. It had been abandoned after getting stuck in the ice of Drake Passage in 1823 and was found 17 years later in 1840. Its last port of entry had been Lima, Peru.
The latest “ghost ship” to be discovered was not via satellite imagery, rather a Chevron oil rig crew spotted the abandoned Jin Shui Yuan 2 (in Chinese characters) floating 100 miles from the mouth of Songkhla Lake off the Thai coast on Jan. 6.
After the Thai navy began towing the 262’ tanker, rough seas resulted in the sinking of the Jin Shui Yuan 2 about 30 miles off the Thai coast. The ship had no crew, and the authorities have no information about its origin, rendering it a true mystery ship.
A partial list of some of the most mysterious “ghost ships” is as follows: MV Jalita, SV Kaz II, Ourang Medan, HMS Resolute, SV Zebrina, Ryou-Un Maru, Teignmouth Electron, SS Baychimo, SV Ocean Wave, SV Bel Amica and SS Valencia.
In 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which maintains a database of ships worldwide listed 438 ships as having been abandoned since 2004. The crew members on those ships total 5,767.
For example, the MV Alta was abandoned, and it floated on the ocean currents of the mid-North Atlantic for more than a year before being encountered in 2019 by an ice patrol vessel of the British Royal Navy.
There were 70 ships abandoned in 2020, and 1,000 seafarers were involved. Some of the “ghost ships” wash ashore, and some crash onto rocks or reefs and sink while some remain floating wherever the ocean currents take them.
The longest uninterrupted data collecting stream of images of Earth that has been documented from space began in 1972 when NASA/USGS began recording images of the Earth’s surface.
A series of NASA/USGS satellites continue to aid climatologists and other scientists by documenting images of the Earth’s surface that can be compared to those images that have been recorded from 1972 to the present.
Archeologists have begun delving into those images, and the scientific community believes that there are as many as three million shipwrecks yet to be discovered. The newest technical equipment uses satellite imagery to pinpoint shipwrecks in shallow water along coastlines.
Perhaps the most famous of “ghost ships” was found on Dec. 4, 1872. The SV Mary Celeste, a merchant brigantine loaded with 1,700 barrels of crude alcohol, was sailing between Portugal and the Azores and heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar in good condition with the ship’s captain, his wife and daughter, and eight members of the crew missing. Why the ship was abandoned and what happened to them has never been discovered.