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“Sea Ghosts”

Since our childhood we have been acquainted with the famous legend of the Flying Dutchman which is thought to betoken a wreck to any ship she encounters. However, there is a great number of other mysterious stories related to the sea ghosts. Along with phantoms of human beings, animals, ships, airplanes, cars and ancient battles, they are the subjects of in-depth study of a relatively new scientific discipline – ghostology (which derives from an English word “ghost”). Unfortunately, it can say very little about the very essence and substance of the ghost phenomenon, yet it managed to accumulate lots of facts about them.

In the following article, which we offer to your attention, the English writer Roy Bainton describes the most common types of ghosts which one may come across in the vast expanses of the oceans and seas.

Sea, ocean… How enchanting, thrilling and mysterious those words are! Somewhere behind the subtle coastline of our knowledge, in the darkest water depths covering 7/10 of the entire planet surface, live ghosts which follow in the wake of the ocean-liners. The marine secrets and mysteries are abundant and, according to some experienced travelers, one should treat them very seriously and with respect. Otherwise, there is a risk of going through lots of various troubles and disasters or even losing one’s life.

In 1959, I served as a seaman on the cargo-and-passenger ship Borodino that used to sail between the port of Hull (port in Great Britain) and Denmark.

It was a deadly cold November night, and the Borodino was anchored in the port of Hull preparing to leave in the direction of Copenhagen. Most of the crew members were still in the city. Apart from me, there were only a night-watch sailor, mechanical engineer and young steward on board. Tired, I was lying in my berth; the steward was in the next cabin. Soon after midnight, the electric light bulbs suddenly began to go out and then turn on again. Several minutes later, the entire ship echoed with a horrible scream that made your blood freeze. I darted out into the corridor where I bumped face to face into our pallid steward who was trembling with fear and hysterically shouting:

- He has come! He knocked at my door! I opened it and then I saw him… It was Percy… He was soaring and there were ugly bloody stumps instead of his legs. After that he went straight through the ship bulkhead and just vanished!

Later, another sailor told me that he had heard stories of the ghost of mechanic Percy McDonald, who died a terrible death suffering immense indescribable agony after both his legs had been cut off, due to carelessness or negligence, in the engine department. Frightened to death, the steward decided to quit his job and left the ship at the nearest port, and one month later I did the same thing.

Over those long years of voyage, I understood that that incident with Percy was but just a little episode in the endless train of paranormal supernatural phenomena that seem to so frequently happen in the sea.

Resurrection of the Pamir

21 December, 1957, at 3 a.m., all the vessels which were sailing the Atlantic Ocean received a SOS-signal sent by the German training vessel Pamir: Strong storm. All sails torn. 45-degree heel. Risk of sinking!”

This was the last message sent by the Pamir. This ship disappeared without a trace only to be resurrected later in the form of a ghost-ship.

Four years went by. Another training vessel, the Chili Esmeralda, while going through the English Channel, tried to cope with a heavy storm. All of a sudden, there appeared a ship that, despite the rough weather, sailed by as if experiencing no difficulties with the situation. It was the Pamir. After this mysterious encounter, the sea became calm and still, and the Esmeralda made her way to the port of destination safely.

Several months later, yachtsman Reed Bierce ran into heavy weather near the Virgin Islands, an archipelago in the Atlantic. According to his description, Reed Bierce also happened to see the Pamir which accompanied him all the way to the port, and when the shore came in sight, she vanished into the thin air. This ghost-ship accompanied other vessels, for example, the Norwegian steamship “Christian Radich”, American coastal patrol boat “Eagle”, German training vessel the “Gorch Foch”. Every time the Pamir materialized near some vessel that got into trouble, all the members of her crew, as if alive, were proudly standing on her deck. The eye-witnesses noticed one curious detail: at first, they saw seventy dead crew members on her ship deck. Next time when she appeared, the number of the personnel reduced. Thus, the seamen of that German ship counted only twenty men.

So, maybe, someday the last member of that ghost crew will disappear and then the Flying Dutchman of our century will be finally able to rest in peace.

Friend or Foe?

Unlike the earth ghosts, the sea ones do more good. This fact can be supported by statistics. I was encouraged to get myself into those calculations by a story heard by me in 1960 on the steamship the Halifax that circumnavigated the globe. One evening, an old mechanical engineer told me about the tragic events that had happened on the Piraeus. In 1948, when the Piraeus was on her way to Australia, the steam boiler exploded due to the lack of water in it. As a result of this explosion, a machinist on duty died. One year later, when the Piraeus docked in Sydney, mechanic…

Peter Johns was doing a preventive maintenance inspection of the ship engine. The steam boiler had a pump with the help of which water is pumped into the boiler. And, suddenly, it started to produce strange loud sounds. All the devices and measuring instruments indicated that the boiler was full so Johns turned the pump off.

The sounds stopped. Several minutes later they resumed, though the indicator showed that the boiler was full and the pump did not work, so, there should be no sounds at all!

Johns thoroughly inspected the indicator and was horrified when he found that it was out of order. In fact, the boiler was practically empty and was just on the verge of exploding. It was a pure luck that the mechanic detected the defect on time, managed to pump water into the boiler, thus preventing the possible explosion, which saved his life. So, it turns out that by producing those strange sounds, the pump warned Johns of danger in the most unambiguous manner.

Johns was a skeptically-minded young man and he did not admit there was any connection between his miraculous escape and the tragedy of the last year. But the stokers of the Piraeus, who knew the details of the machinist’s death, were of a different opinion. That day, suffering terrible death-agony, he had sworn there would be no more deaths as a result of any accidents and emergency situations in the engine room. So it happened: during those 23 years that the Piraeus ploughed the vast ocean expanses, the kind ghost was looking after the steam engine, protecting and opportunely warning his fellow seamen of all the defects and failures that could lead to a tragedy.

Living Curse

Some ship ghosts often happen to be friendly and well-intentioned, but, unfortunately, it is not uncommon for some living human beings to be a sheer curse. Here is what once happened…

In 1961, in the Australian port of Brisbane, on the board of the Halifax there appeared one Egyptian, a rather gloomy and unpleasant man, who quarreled with the crew all the time and practically never slept.

In the evenings, we used to gather together on the upper-deck to have a little chat, whereas this Egyptian, who introduced himself as Pharaoh, secluded himself with all his belongings in the sick-bay as no one actually wanted to share a cabin with him. Strange a person he was: at first, he provoked a scandal himself or was spoiling for a fight, and then he would portray things in the most favorable light as if he had nothing to do with the situation and it was other people who were to blame. In the style of a poor worthless actor, we would assume an offended air and organize a theatrical performance by knitting his thick brows, protruding his lower lip and sending curses on the heads of his imaginary offenders.

And, once, when after another squabble this Pharaoh had cursed three more seamen, the old Irish seaman told us:

- Fellows, I have met different kinds of scoundrels in my lifetime and, I should say, this one will leave many of them in the dust. I can smell he’s gonna cause us troubles and misfortune.

Indeed, he did. Literally on the next day, two seamen, whom Pharaoh threatened, fall ill with fever, and the engine broke four times during that Pacific Ocean voyage.

Pharaoh used to play the same performance many times: he dragged out his seaman’s trunk on the deck, sat on top of it and began to mutter something under his breath.

A week prior to our arrival to Panama, he gloomily warned us that a raging gale was going to start. And, indeed, at 4 p.m. the sky at the sea-line had turned sinister red and one hour later we found ourselves at the very epicenter of the terrible devastating tornado.

In Panama, Pharaoh went ashore and we all could breathe with relief. Soon we discovered that he had left his mysterious trunk on board of our ship. When we opened it, we saw that it was empty except for the newspaper of 1915 where a report on the sinking of the Luzitania was encircled several times. And here the following question arises: who was this Pharaoh? A human being or an evil spirit?

Doomed Submarine

But there are things that are even worse than a man who brings misfortune and misery. There exist some incomprehensible and malicious forces in the world oceans which tend to choose certain ships, and after this choice is made, based on the principles unknown to us, those vessels become doomed.

That is exactly what happened with the German submarine UB-65 during the World War I. Hardly had they managed to launch her, when a man died and another man was very seriously injured. During her first sailing test, in absolutely normal weather conditions, an old seaman went up on the deck and, without any hesitation… stepped overboard into the water. His body was never to be found.

Later, whilst undergoing diving tests, the UB-65 suddenly went out of control, foundered and one of the ballast tanks sprang a leak, leaving the crew without any means of replenishing the air. Water got into the accumulator batteries following which the toxic gas started spreading and filling the inner ship compartments. Repairs took 12 hours, by which time the men were half dead with suffocation. Fortunately, after this long struggle for survival the crew managed to eliminate the defect and eventually surface. On their return to port, the submarine was taking on a supply of torpedoes when one of them exploded, killing the second officer and five seamen and badly damaging the ship, which had to return to the dockyards for repair. The list of catastrophes, which fell to her lot, became longer and longer, but the most terrible one awaited the UB-65 ahead. One day, while patrolling the surface, a petty officer and one crew member reported that “the dead officer had just come aboard”.

It turned out that they saw a ghost of the 2nd officer standing on the bow, with his arms folded, sadly looking at the ship. Officer Pederson, who happened to see him, gave no rest to the crew members suggesting that the ship was doomed and haunted until the captain threaten to take him to the military tribunal. This threat silenced the officer for a while, but soon, on calling the nearest port, he deserted.

During her next cruise when the UB-65 surfaced near Portland (port at the north-west of the USA), the ghost with the arms folded appeared at the rostrum once again. The sailor on duty fainted from fear, but his strange apparition was put down to hallucination – not everybody can endure such a lengthy stay in the small cramped compartment under water. On the next day, however, this news was confirmed by the petty officer, who was near when the sailor saw the ghost and kept silence out of fear of incurring the anger of the captain who refused to tolerate any talk of ghosts, threatening the crew with severe penalties if the ghost was even mentioned on board. Maybe, that is why it was the captain with whom a terrible accident happened: when the submarine returned to base, the captain was found on shore with his head cut off.

During one of the subsequent cruises, the UB-65 chief torpedo gunner Eberhardt saw the ghost of the second officer at the ship rostrum once again and soon committed a suicide for no apparent reason.

After having been sailing for several months, in July 1918, the UB-65 reached the shores of Ireland. She surfaced in order to replenish the air supply…

And it was there that the seamen of the Reich were in for a surprise – they spotted an American submarine L-2 within the field of clear vision.

The German submariners began preparations for an attack and, all of a sudden, an explosion set off on the UB-65 board. Later the captain of the American submarine wrote in his report that when the enemy submarine began to sink he saw on her rostrum the phantom of a frozen person with his arms folded. That day all 34 members of the UB-65 crew died.

All those stories are but a shred of strange and mysterious events that have been happening at sea. No one can provide any more or less sufficient explanation to what had happened, for example, with the ship Maria Celesta which was found off the Portuguese shores with no one on her board 2 December, 1972. Up until now nothing is known about the origin of the so-called Flying Dutchman. Not to mention those scary bloodcurdling stories told by seamen concerning their numerous encounters with the monsters unknown to science which are hiding at the bottomless ocean abyss? The sea thoroughly keeps its secrets and mysteries wanting no one to discover the truth.