1The wooden ships found off the coast of Japan carrying decomposing bodies
At least 12 wooden boats have been found adrift along Japan's coast carrying chilling cargo—the bodies of 22 people in varying stages of decay.
The first boat was found in October 2015, and then a series of vessels were found in November. As of this writing, they are still being found. The latest, discovered floating off the north coast of Japan's main Honshu island, contained four bodies, all of which were "partially skeletonized."
The ships are believed to be from North Korea. Korean lettering was found on the hull of a boat containing ten decomposing bodies, which was one of three boats that were found adrift off the west coast of Japan on November 20. The writing said "Korean People's Army"— the name of North Korea's military defense forces.
But what the boats are is still a mystery. Some believe the vessels were fishing vessels that strayed off course while others suggest they could be transporting defectors.
2The inexperienced three-man crew who likely met with tragedy immediately after setting sail
In April 2007, the Kaz II was traveling with a three-man crew along the northwest Australian coast, when air surveillance noticed it was aimlessly drifting. Upon boarding, no trace of the crew members could be found.
Some believed the men—Des Batten, and brothers Peter and John Tunstead—met their fate at the hands of drug smugglers or pirates. Others felt they staged their disappearances for insurance purposes. However, in 2008, a coroner in Townsville, Queensland, ended the speculation and announced they died in a freak accident.
Coroner Michael Barnes believes the men were all relatively inexperienced sailors who met with tragedy only a few hours after setting sail. In his scenario, he said one of the brothers likely attempted to free a fishing line that had become wrapped around the yacht's propeller when he fell overboard. The other brother fell in while trying to rescue him. Batten tried to drop the sails so he could turn around and go back to his two friends, but a change in the wind's direction caused the yacht's boom to swing and knock him overboard.
"Once the three men were in the water there was very little chance they could get back on the boat," Barnes said. "It would be beyond their reach in seconds. From that point, the end would have been swift."
3The "unsinkable" ship that was found adrift near the coast of Fiji with no crew aboard
The loss of the 25 people on the MV Joyita on a 300 nautical mile voyage from Apia in Samoa to the Tokelau islands in 1955 has remained a maritime mystery to this day.
Just like the Titanic, the Joyita was considered unsinkable. When the ship was discovered on November 10, 1955, it was in very poor condition, with rusted pipes and a radio which, while functional, only had a range of about two miles as a result of faulty wiring.
Nevertheless, the extreme buoyancy of the vessel made sinking nearly impossible, leaving investigators puzzled as to why the crew did not remain on board and wait for help.
The ship's logbook, sextant, mechanical chronometer and other navigational equipment, as well as Captain Dusty Miller's firearms, were missing. A doctor's bag was said to have been found on deck containing a stethoscope, a scalpel and four lengths of a blood-stained bandage.
So what happened to the passengers and crew of the Joyita? Auckland academic David Wright says there is evidence that the boat was taking on water that was leaking from a corroded pipe in the engine cooling system for a long time before anyone noticed. Once the problem was discovered, its occupants abandoned ship in life rafts.
Someone in the party then sent out a mayday signal on a the boats radio, but it was not working. He believes the crew and passengers simply waited on the rafts for rescue by a Royal New Zealand Air Force Sunderland flying boat that never arrived and one by one they drowned or were killed by sharks.
4The Chinese ship that may have fallen prey to mutiny
The High Aim 6 (Haian liuhao ????) was found drifting aimlessly off the western Australian coast in 2003. Despite an extensive search, there was no sign of the ship's crew or any indication of what might have happened to them.
The ship had previously been seen some 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 kilometers) away in the Marshall Islands, halfway between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii. Shortly afterward, the owner reported it was missing after he had been unable to contact its captain. The only clue as to how many crew the ship may have carried was the discovery of some toothbrushes in the living quarters.
A few weeks after the boat was discovered, calls were still being made from Indonesia using the cell phone of the boat engineer. After checking the call records, Taiwanese officials deemed a mutiny probable. Indonesian police arrested the only member who could be tracked down. According to his declaration, members of the crew had killed the captain and the engineer on December 8, 2002, and then proceeded to go back to their homeland. He never gave a clear explanation as to their motive.
5The ship carrying cannibal rats that was rumored to be heading for Britain
In 2013, it was a real possibility—the Lyubov Orlova, which had been drifting in the Atlantic Ocean for almost a year and was filled with rodents who had been eating each other to stay alive, was headed for British shores.
Salvage hunters had their eyes on the ship, which was worth an estimated $1 million in scrap metal. In 2010, the vessel's owners jumped ship when they fell into debt and could not pay the crew. The abandoned boat was left in a harbor in St. John's, Newfoundland for more than two years. In January 2013, the ship was sold to the Dominican Republic to be scrapped. However, it broke loose soon after it left the dock. It was reportedly recaptured, but the line snapped again, and the boat was left drifting in international waters.
For a year, there were no people onboard, just rodents who had been in-breeding and feeding on each other to stay alive.
Luckily for Britain, the ship never made landfall. “Our professional belief is that it has sunk,” Chris Reynolds, the Irish Coast Guard's director, said. “We've discussed it with the UK, Norway and Iceland, and we're all pretty happy that it has probably sunk.”
6The massive, deserted schooner that ran aground in North Carolina
On the morning of January 31, 1921, the beautiful, huge, five-masted schooner christened Carroll A. Deering was found hard aground on Hatteras Diamond Shoals in North Carolina.
Abandoned and deserted, all of its eleven crewmen were missing. The ship's sails were up, and the galley showed evidence that a meal was about to be prepared. The crews' personal effects were gone, along with the ship's navigational equipment, log books, and life rafts.
The wrecked and battered hull of the Deering was all that was left to signify the vessel's strange passage. In March 1921, with the ship breaking apart on the shoals, it was towed away then dynamited. A month later, Christopher Columbus Gray, from Buxton, North Carolina, reported finding a note in a bottle that told of the capture of the Deering by pirates. At first, handwriting experts deduced the note was written by a crew member, but later came to the conclusion that Gray had written it himself.
The FBI investigated several theories on the crew's disappearance including everything from hurricanes to rum runners but came up empty handed, leaving the mystery unsolved to this day.
7The inexperienced sailor who suffered a breakdown while at sea
In 1968, when the Sunday Times of London announced that it was sponsoring the first ever non-stop around the world sailing race, it would be the first time anyone had accomplished such a feat. The challenge and thrill of being at the frontier of ocean sailing brought together some of the great sailors of the era, and also some who were more armchair-sailors, dreamers or adventurers. Unfortunately, Donald Crowhurst, sailing on the Teignmouth Electron, was one of the latter.
Crowhurst found sponsors, but if he didn't reach certain targets during the race or abandoned it too soon, he would have to sell everything he owned to pay them back. He set sail with great expectations, but, unfortunately, as he sailed further from shore, he realized that neither he nor the boat was strong enough. Caught between financial ruin for his family or certain death for himself, he came upon a solution—he would fake his positions throughout the race while staying safely in the Atlantic, then rejoin the fleet as they returned home, earning himself a safe 3rd or 4th place finish without too much scrutiny. He wouldn't win prize money, but he wouldn't be bankrupt either.
After months alone at sea, Crowhurst's mental state deteriorated under the weight of his deception. When he heard that there were only two boats left in the race and that the 2nd place boat had sunk as it headed north, he knew he would be exposed. The Electron‘s radio soon went silent. On July 10, 1969, the boat was found abandoned by a passing freighter—Crowhurst had committed suicide rather than return home.
8The mysterious fate of a ghost ship that has endured for almost 140 years
On November 5, 1872, the Mary Celeste left New York, loaded with raw alcohol, bound for Genoa. There were seven crew members aboard, as well as Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter. A month later, on December 5, a passing British ship spotted the ship at full sail and adrift about 400 miles east of the Azores, with no sign of the captain, his family or any of the crew. Aside from several feet of water in the hold and a missing lifeboat, the ship was undamaged and loaded with six months' worth of food and water.
Over the last 135 years, theories have ranged from mutiny to pirate attack to an explosion caused by fumes from the 1,700 barrels of crude alcohol in the ship's hold. In 2007, an investigation chronicled in the documentary The True Story of the Mary Celeste didn't offer a conclusion, but did suggest a scenario in which a faulty chronometer, rough seas and a clogged onboard pump could have led Briggs to order the ship abandoned shortly after sighting land on November 25, 1872.
9The artist whose solo voyage across the Atlantic may have been part of his art—or a way to commit suicide
On July 9, 1975, 33-year-old Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader said goodbye to his wife and set sail from Cape Cod on a solo voyage across the Atlantic.
He intended the trip to be a performance in three parts and entitled it In Search of the Miraculous. Just before he set sail, he arranged for a student choir to sing sea shanties around a piano in the gallery of his Los Angeles dealer. The voyage was to be the central element in the performance, and to end it, Ader planned a second sing-along when he reached Falmouth 8-10 weeks later.
Within three weeks, all radio contact with his boat was lost. He was last spotted near the Azores and was never seen again. No one knows whether Ader was swept to his death by a freak wave, became disorientated and jumped overboard, or if he intended all along to commit suicide.
His boat, the Ocean Wave, was found floating partially submerged 150 miles West-Southwest off the coast of Ireland. Ader's mother wrote the poem From the deep waters of sleep after having what she described as a premonition of his death:
From the deep waters of sleep I wake up to consciousness.
In the distance I hear a train rumbling in the early morning.
It is going East and passes the border. Then it will stop.
I feel my heart beating too. It will go on beating for some time.
Then it will stop.
I wonder if the little heart that has beaten with mine, has stopped.
When he passed the border of birth, I laid him at my breast,
Rocked him in my arms.
He was very small then.
A white body of a man, rocked in the arms of the waves,
Is very small too.
What are we in the infinity of ocean and sky?
A small baby at the breast of eternity.
Have you heard of happiness
Springing from a deep well of sorrow?
Of love, springing from pain and despondency, agony and death?
Such is mine.