10 Captivating Ship Graveyards Around the World
By Tom, Urban Ghosts Media, 24 November 2014.
By Tom, Urban Ghosts Media, 24 November 2014.
The sea remains our last great, largely uncharted frontier. For centuries, mankind has struggled to tame the seas and the oceans of the world, with sometimes devastating consequences. The wrecks and ship graveyards of these ill-fated voyages still rest beneath the water, attracting the brave and the curious from all over the world.
10. Skeleton Coast, Namibia
The Skeleton Coast is aptly named; the Portuguese once dubbed it the “Gates of Hell”, and that pretty much, absolutely, neatly sums up the desolate stretch of African coast. Pristine and beautiful, its harsh climate has protected it from human encroachment, to a point. It gets its official name from the massive animal graveyard that litters the coast, full of the bones of turtles, whales, seals and other marine creatures. There’s also the shipwrecks.
Many of the wrecks are little more than pieces, battered by Antarctic winds. Look carefully, and you’ll see what little remains of ocean liners alongside gunboats and the tugboats that have tried valiantly to save so many other craft - and failed.
The most famous of the wrecks is the British Blue Star liner the Dunedin Star. It sits alongside the wrecks of the ships that tried to save it, and the giant whale bones that mark the graves of those who died in the attempts. The ship was on its way from Liverpool to South Africa and then on to Egypt with a full load of cargo when it struck an unknown, submerged object and was beached in 1942. Abandoned, some of the cargo wasn’t recovered until 1951.
There’s also the remains of another vessel dated to around 1860; its crew, nothing more than a dozen headless skeletons, were only found about 70 years ago. Someone survived the shipwreck; the only reason we know is the slate he had buried alongside the remains of his crew mates. It was etched with the message that the survivor was heading to a river to the north, but he was never found.
9. The Ship Graveyard of Abu Nuhas, Red Sea
The ship graveyard of the Red Sea isn’t far off the coast of Egypt; wrecks date from 1869 with the Carnatic to the most recent, the Giannis D (above) that sank in 1983. What makes the place, sitting off the coast in the northeast corner of the Red Sea, so dangerous? It’s the site of a submerged reef that has been deadly to a number of different ships - so many that it earned the name Sha’ah Abu Nuhas, meaning “father of bad luck reef.”
The Carnatic (above) was a passenger steamer that was originally launched in 1862 in London. For several years, she sailed between exotic ports like Calcutta, Suez, Bombay and China; the Suez Canal was months from opening, though, meaning that good had to be offloaded in Alexandria then shipped overland before being loaded onto another ship for the rest of the journey. In September of 1869, the Carnatic offloaded its cargo and began another run to Bombay. It wasn’t far out of port that the ship ran aground on a coral reef and began taking on water. Originally, the captain didn’t think it was too serious, and that the ship’s pumps would be able to handle the water while they lightened the load and allowed the ship to float off the reef. It wasn’t meant to happen, though, and 34 hours after first running aground on the reef, the ship broke in half. Bizarrely, the two halves of the ship sank together, and came to rest on the sea floor as if it were whole.
Other, more recent wrecks include the Kimon M (above). Sunk in 1978, it’s often confused with the nearby wreck of the Chrisoula K, which fell victim to the reef in 1981. Both ships collided with the northeast corner of the reef; the Kimon M remained beached on the reef for several days before wind, water and reef took their final toll and left the ship classified as a complete loss. The same fate ultimately struck the Chrisoula K, which sank carrying a load of tile from Italy.
8. The World War One Submarine Graveyard off the British Coast
Image: via io9
Lying off the southern and southeastern coast of England and covered by only about 50 feet of water are 44 World War one submarines. Only recently found, the submarine graveyard has been found to contain craft whose fates had long been unknown; so far, underwater archaeologists have found 3 English submarines and 41 German.
Germany has shared a list of craft it still considers missing even after a century. In fact, that century mark is an important one - after they’re officially 100 years old, underwater artefacts are governed by a completely different set of laws, rules and regulations. Until they hit that 100 mark, archaeologists have the opportunity to explore the wrecks and identify them.
It’s a tragic glimpse into a horrific fate; unlike wrecks from centuries past, there’s still likely the remains of sailors contained in the wrecks. Called “disaster samples,” they represent men who perished n a terrifying way. For the archaeologists of the English Heritage, diving and exploring the wrecks off the coast have become about telling the stories of those men, forgotten for decades. In total, 380 German U-Boats were used during World War I, and almost half - 187 - were lost at sea. Technology was still in its infancy, and at the time, those who volunteered for missions on submarines were going on little more than suicide missions.
7. Arthur Kill, Staten Island
The story of the ship graveyard at Arthur Kill in Staten Island is a sad one. More than three dozen ships sit on the southwestern corner of Staten Island, where they’ve been resting for decades. They weren’t originally sent there to die, though. They were originally sent there to be given new life.
During World War Two, the ships were left there as just one more step towards the harvesting and re-use of their materials for the war effort. But the nearby shipyards were overtaxed already, and stripping the old ships for parts fell to the bottom of the list of priorities. People dumped their unused, old boats there with perhaps the best of intentions, sacrificing them for the good of the war effort, but eventually, they simply went unclaimed and began to turn to rust.
The ship graveyard is extremely off-limits, but the wrecks that are covered in graffiti are a testament to how overlooked the No Trespassing signs are. The warnings are for good reason, too, as many of the wrecks are still leaking fuel and other contaminants - even radiation - into the nearby waters.
Perhaps most notably, the Arthur Kill graveyard is home to the submarine chaser the USS PC-1264, one of the first World War Two Navy ships to have an African-American crew. There’s also the Abram Hewitt, a fireboat that was on call during the sinking of the General Slocum, one of the worst marine disasters of the East Coast.
6. San Francisco’s Golden Gate Graveyard
Image: via caviews.com
Shipwrecks buried in the mud might be one of the last things you think of when it comes to California sun and San Francisco, but it’s now estimated that there are more than 300 shipwrecks sitting at the bottom of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Golden Gate Recreation Area.
Image: San Francisco Library, public domain
Ships that are decades - and sometimes centuries - old are just starting to surrender their stories. In September, 2014, underwater archaeologists found the wreck of the SS Selja. The ship was sunk in 1910 after it collided with another vessel; the ship had already had a long career of shuttling cargo between cities in the Pacific Northwest, Japan and China when it ended at the bottom of the bay.
They’ve also found the remains of a ship called the Noonday, a clipper ship that sank on New Year’s Day, 1863 and is now mostly buried in mud.
It’s been estimated that the wrecks at the bottom of the bay date back to at least 1595, which now rest alongside wrecks like the Puerto Rican, which exploded and sank in 1984.
Thick fog has been blamed in many cases for making the bay a dangerous place for ships. With visibility obscured by the fog, many of the wrecks at the bottom of their bay met their end when colliding with other ships or striking rocks.
There’s also a number of mystery ships that are only now being uncovered, mostly with the help of sonar surveys. Tugboats, fishing boats, tankers, cargo ships and clipper ships still wait to have their histories uncovered.
5. The Russian Submarine Graveyard at Olenya Bay
Olenya Bay is a cove off Russia’s Kola Peninsula - at one time, it was more likely the home of reindeer and arctic fox than rusting, man-made hulks, but during the Cold War, Olenya Bay became a convenient disposal ground for decommissioned or damaged subs.
Just around the corner from the cove is a Russian military base - during the 1970s and throughout the Cold War, the whole area was, not surprisingly, off-limits and highly restricted. It was a time when there was more on the minds of the people working there than proper disposal of what was little more than military waste; subs that did their military duty and then were decommissioned were brought to the base to be scrapped.
Workers were having a hard enough time keeping up with the demand for building new subs without taking a break to dismantle old ones, so the once-graceful crafts were, by some accounts, used as target practice before being dragged to the nearby cove and abandoned. Many sank, but the problems started happening when oil and other chemicals that hadn’t been properly removed started leaking into the water. A few decades later, clean-up crews started to take on the massive task of restoring the bay to something approaching its original condition.
Unlike many other maritime graveyards, this one isn’t resting at the depths of the ocean - several of the craft are floating on the surface, and the curious don’t have to don scuba gear to see them - they just have to take a look at Google Earth.
4. Truk Lagoon’s World War Two Ship Graveyards
Truk Lagoon, also known as Chuuk Lagoon, is a 40-mile-wide lagoon in Micronesia. In 1939, Japan established a base of operations at the lagoon, and in 1944, it was the site of a surprise attack by the American military. More than 400 tons of bombs and torpedoes were used on the ships there, sinking 40 ships and killing countless people. Ten weeks later, there was another bombing run that sank still more ships.
Today, the wrecks sitting at the bottom of Truk Lagoon can be explored by divers. While artefacts absolutely can’t be removed, it still presents a unique look at a bloody snapshot of the past. In addition to ships, there are also aircraft, tanks and other land vehicles that were sunk; even today, there’s still traces of fuels and oils in the lagoon, and many of the long-submerged ammunition and shells are still live.
Each wreck has a story to tell. The Amagisan Maru was sunk by nine planes dispatched from the USS Bunker Hill, and still leaks oil and fuel today. The Rio De Janeiro Maru is one of the deepest and most rarely explored of all the wrecks, her name still clearly visible on her hull. The Ojima sits on the bottom in several pieces, and the Nippo Maru, with its hold full of beer bottles, was only conclusively identified in 1969 during an expedition headed by Jacques Cousteau.
There’s also a number of ships that are still missing, with their wrecks unidentified or not located at all.
3. The Graveyard of the Atlantic
Image: NOAA, public domain
The coastline of North Carolina has long has a reputation for being the site of dangerous and potentially deadly waters. It’s known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, and what’s not known is how many ships actually lie at the bottom of the ocean off the coast. Since the 16th century, thousands of ships have met their end on the coast of shallow waters, small islands, coastal rivers and ever-changing geography due to storms that regularly pass along the coast. It’s such a dangerous place for ships that many residents have, for centuries, made a living salvaging vessels off the coast. And, not a few have made a living causing more wrecks.
Image: US Naval History & Heritage Command, public domain; USS Monitor sinking.
The strangely named Nags Head is said to have gotten its name from an early practice of tying a lantern to a horse and sending it running up and down the coast to create the illusion of a ship in the water, drifting in the darkness. Thinking it was safe passage, other ships would head for the light, and run aground.
Image: NOAA via Island Free Press
Because of its dangerous waters, the area was a favourite base of operations for pirates, and a haunt of Civil War blockade runners. One of the first ships to be fully explored and documented was the USS Monitor (above), discovered after sitting beneath 230 feet of water for 112 years.
The graveyard is also home to Civil War-era submarines, pre-18th century Spanish privateer ships, and the first German submarine to be sunk by the United States during World War Two.
2. Homebush Bay, Australia
Homebush Bay is the site of one of the most breathtaking shipwrecks on Earth. The SS Ayrfield, built in 1912 and launched as the SS Corrimal, now sits in retirement in Homebrush Bay. Originally a ship-breaking yard, Homebush Bay no longer functions as such as its residents were abandoned - but none quite like the SS Ayrfield (above). Since it was left in the bay, it’s been taken over by mangrove trees and become a literal floating forest.
Other ships in the graveyard of Homebush Bay have endings that perhaps aren’t so picturesque, but tell stories that are still pretty amazing. The SS Mortlake Bank was built in 1924, and ultimately met its end after entering Sydney Harbour and being hit with Japanese torpedoes in 1942. The HMAS Karangi was a defense ship that was also damaged during a World War Two attack, this one from their air. The SS Heroic also rests there, a tugboat that was drafted into service during the war and used to tow injured ships to the safety of nearby ports. It survived the war, but was sent to Homebrush Bay for breaking up in the 1970s.
There are also a variety of other ships, barges, dredges and lighters that sit in Homebrush Bay, waiting for the end that will never come. Just what’s going to happen to them is up for debate, as it’s also the site of one of the area’s fastest-growing residential communities.
1. Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore
Not all ship graveyards are in the ocean; at the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore park in Michigan, divers can explore the wrecks of countless ships at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Among them is the wreck of the Francisco Morazan (pictured). It had been under the command of a 24-year-old captain when it left Chicago in 1960, bound for Holland and loaded with cargo. The day after it left port, the ship was blinded by winds, heavy fog and snow, ultimately running aground off South Manitou Island. On the way down, the Francisco Morazan managed to mostly destroy another wreck that was directly below it - the carcass of the Walter L Frost, which sank in 1905.
There’s also the wreck of the Three Brothers, a steamer built for hauling lumber. Constructed in 1888, it sank in 1911, also off the coast of South Manitou Island. Not long after it was sunk, it was buried in the sand and thought lost, until 1996, 85 years later, the sand shifted and revealed the well-preserved wreck. The PJ Ralph, a partially destroyed steam barge, also sits off the coast of the same island.
North Manitou Island is also the final resting place of a number of ships. The J.B. Newland sits in incredibly shallow waters and is well-known as a dive site for new underwater explorers; the Alva Bradley is also in fairly shallow waters.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Congress, sitting at a depth of 160 feet. Originally called the Nebraska, it was around 30 years old when it sank in 1904. It’s classified as only suitable for experienced wreck divers, but presents a fascinating time capsule of early steam-powered technology.
[Source: Urban Ghosts Media. Edited.]