Image: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The tragedy of shipwrecks provide an irresistible attraction for many people. And especially so if the vessels involved met their end in mysterious circumstances. Many a vessel has gone to the bottom of the ocean, leaving no survivors alive to tell the tale. With that in mind, read on to find out about some of these intriguing shipwreck enigmas.

Image: Francisco Rodrigues – {{PD-US-expired}}

20. Flor de la Mar

ADVERTISEMENT

Unquestionably a grand ship for its era, the Flor de la Mar was launched from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon in 1502. With a name meaning “Flower of the Sea,” the 400-ton vessel sported three masts and was classed as a carrack. She plied the trade routes between Portugal and India, carrying cargoes of spices and other goods. But in 1507 she was pressed into service with an armada sailing for India on a voyage of conquest.

Image: Felix Andrews/CC BY-SA 3.0

The Portuguese fleet conquered various territories and captured an opulent haul of plunder. These immense riches were loaded aboard the Flor de la Mar, which embarked from Malacca in modern-day Malaysia in 1511. But the vessel soon met with bad weather and was forced under. Its treasure – claimed to be worth as much as $2.6 billion in today’s values – was consequently lost to the seas. Today, the shipwreck’s location remains a mystery.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via National Archives of Canada – {{PD-US-expired}}

19. HMS Terror

Constructed as a warship for Britain’s Royal Navy and entering into service in 1813, HMS Terror was powered by steam and sail. She saw action against the U.S. in the War of 1812, during which she bombarded targets such as Fort McHenry, Maryland, and Stonington, Connecticut. She also participated in the attack that culminated in the 1814 burning of the White House. However, in the 1830s she ended her days as a warship, starting a new career as an Arctic exploration vessel.

Image: duncan1890/Getty Images

In 1845 Terror set off on her third trip to the Arctic, this time as part of the Franklin expedition. She was accompanied by a second ship, the HMS Erebus. Unfortunately, the 129 men aboard the two vessels were never seen again after sailing into Baffin Bay in August 1845. The wreck of the Terror was finally discovered in 2016, two years after the Erebus’ remains had been found. Exactly how the crew perished remains the subject of speculation.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via Listverse

18. Zebrina

The Zebrina was built in the English town of Whitstable in 1873. The 189-ton schooner was originally charged with carrying meat from South America to Britain, but she never successfully fulfilled this purpose. Instead, the vessel was used for European transportation. In October 1917 Zebrina set sail from the port of Falmouth in southern England. The ship’s skipper on that voyage was a Captain Martin, and his vessel was loaded with Welsh coal.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/WatchMojo.com

Zebrina’s planned destination was the French port of Saint-Brieuc – but she never arrived. Instead, two days after she’d left Falmouth, she was found beached south of the city of Cherbourg. The Zebrina was more or less undamaged, but Martin and his crew were nowhere to be seen. Some believe that they might’ve been captured by a German U-boat, as World War I was raging at the time. One theory has it that after capturing the crew, the submarine itself sank. But nobody really knows.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Marsyas/CC BY-SA 3.0

17. Antikythera Wreck

We don’t know what name this shipwreck was sailing under when she sank in the Aegean Sea near the island of Antikythera in the first century B.C. Nevertheless, this sunken Roman vessel is one of the most spectacular finds of its kind. When divers located the wreck in 1900, it contained an astonishing array of artifacts. Some are even thought to trace as far back as the fourth century B.C.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP via Getty Images

The ship’s cargo included coinage, marble sculptures and a lyre made of bronze. But the most intriguing object recovered was the Antikythera mechanism, a sort of primitive machine. Though damaged by the sea, the device clearly exhibits discernible wheels and gearing. It’s perhaps more sophisticated than any other artifact found from that era or the 1,000 or so years that followed. It’s purpose? Well, we still don’t know that.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: John Cleveley/Royal Museum Greenwich – {{PD-US}}

16. Royal Merchant

The galleon Royal Merchant was launched in 1627 from the Royal Navy’s Deptford Dockyard on the River Thames near in the English capital of London. In 1640 the ship was moored in Cadiz, Spain, a stop-off on her way back to England. In her company was a sister ship called the Dover Merchant. Fatefully, though, a nearby Spanish vessel went ablaze in the harbor.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: SSPL/Getty Images

This Spanish ship had been laden with treasure due to be transported to Antwerp in Belgium. The Royal Merchant agreed to transport the huge cargo of coins and ingots and set off alongside the Dover Merchant. However, the ill-fated ship sank off England’s western tip. The Dover Merchant managed to rescue 40 of her crew, but 18 others perished. Despite extensive searches, the Royal Merchant’s wreck has never been discovered. Estimates of the lost treasure’s value have settled at more than an eye-popping $1.5 billion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

15. The World Trade Center ship

In an effort to construct a carpark in July 2010, workers were excavating below ground level at the site of the former World Trade Center. Here, at the place where the Twin Towers had been destroyed nine years earlier, they came across something surprising. Embedded in the deep mud were the timbers of a late-18th century vessel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Analysis of the wooden remains told experts that the vessel had been constructed with oak trees chopped down in 1773. The researchers also noted that the ship was a Hudson River Sloop which would’ve ferried both passengers and cargo. And wormholes in the timbers meant the ship probably sailed in the Caribbean, as well as along America’s Atlantic coast. But the owners and name of the ship remain a mystery.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Maltrópa/CC BY-SA 3.0

14. M.V. Alta

Launched in 1976, M.V. Alta was a merchant vessel that sailed under various names. New owners took on the ship in 2017, giving the vessel her seventh name of Alta. The next year, she was stricken by technical problems during a voyage from Greece over to Haiti. Without power, the ship was now at the mercy of the ocean currents.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: CATHAL NOONAN/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Coast Guard was forced to step in, reaching the ship in October 2018 and rescuing its crew. But now things got really weird. The abandoned ship spent the next year and a half drifting across the Atlantic. A British naval vessel spotted her in the Atlantic in August 2019, but the next that was seen of her was in February 2020. Then, she crashed into coastal rocks near the Irish village of Ballycotton. Even now, no one is sure who actually owns the vessel.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: State Library of New South Wales/{{PD-Australia}}

13. S.S. Waratah

The steamship S.S. Waratah was built in Glasgow, Scotland, and launched as a passenger and cargo vessel in 1907. The 465-foot-long ship had a carrying capacity of 6,000 tons and was to serve a route between Britain and Australia. In June 1909 Waratah arrived in Adelaide, Australia. A month later, she embarked from Adelaide for Durban, South Africa.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: State Library of New South Wales/{{PD-Australia}}

S.S. Waratah set sail from Durban on July 26, bound for Cape Town. She never arrived. A number of potential sightings during the next 24 hours were reported, but after that she was never seen again. After her failure to arrive at Cape Town, two Royal Navy cruisers mounted a search for the lost vessel. They found nothing, and repeated attempts to locate the wreck have also drawn a blank. Waratah was lost with more than 200 people aboard.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: NOAA

12. The Baron’s Ship

In 1976 an unidentified shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Israel. It wasn’t until 2008 that a proper exploration of the wreck identified it as a two-masted schooner from the latter part of the 19th century. And researchers were intrigued by the ship’s varied cargo. Goods in the vessel’s hold included everything from ceramic pots to sacks of peanuts.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/The Jerusalem Post

Researchers at Israel’s University of Haifa turned to archival material to try and pin down the identity of the wreck. They discovered that one Baron Edmond de Rothschild had sent three ships loaded with supplies to Israel, bound for a settlement he’d founded called Zichron Yaakov. Of those three ships, the later sale of two of them was clearly documented. But the third had disappeared without a trace from the records. Locals then apparently backed up the idea that it was Rothschild’s schooner, saying that the wreck had been known for years as the “Baron’s Ship.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Samuel Scott – {{PD-US-expired}}

11. San José

The day is June 8, 1708. A grand Spanish galleon known as the San José lights up on fire and sinks. Having been engaged in a naval battle with British ships off the coast of Colombia, some 600 people are now perishing as she sinks beneath the waves. What’s more, a huge cache of silver and gold goes to the bottom with her.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: YouTube/On Demand News

The precise cause of the conflagration that destroyed the San José remains unknown to this day. And it wasn’t until 2015 that the Colombian government announced that the wreck had been discovered. According to a 2018 estimate, the value of her cargo was as much as $20 billion. But even after her discovery, intrigue continued to swirl around San José’s shipwreck. After all, who exactly can rightfully claim ownership of the vessel’s fabulous treasure trove? A high-stakes legal battle continues.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images

10. Endurance

The 144-foot Endurance was designed for sailing or steaming through icy, polar waters. In December 1914 the ship embarked from Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the island of South Georgia on an expedition to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton. After departing from South Georgia, the ship made for the Weddell Sea.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images

However, this voyage was soon overtaken by thick pack ice which brought the Endurance to a halt. Eventually, Shackleton and his crew had no choice but to abandon ship. But miraculously, after incredible hardships, they all survived. Several attempts have been made to locate the Endurance’s wreck, one as recently as 2019. None have succeeded.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Apic/Getty Images

9. USS Cyclops

USS Cyclops was a cargo ship built to carry coal. Launched in 1910, the ship was later taken over by the Navy in 1917 after America joined World War I. In February 1918 the collier set sail from Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, bound for Baltimore, Maryland. It was transporting a cargo of manganese ore. But, after an unscheduled stop-off at Barbados, Cyclops never arrived in Baltimore.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Bettmann/Getty Images

A subsequent U.S. Navy investigation was unable to determine the fate of Cyclops. But rumors swirled around the ship’s disappearance. It transpired that her captain, Lieutenant Commander George W. Worley, was actually a German native called Johan Frederick Wichmann. Had he handed over the ship to America’s enemy? And later tales centered on the fact that she’d disappeared within the bounds of the legendary Bermuda Triangle. But ultimately, the fate of Cyclops and the 309 souls aboard remains an enigma to this day.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via History Daily

8. The Patriot

The Patriot was an American schooner that had acted as a privateer for the U.S. government, plundering British shipping in the Caribbean during the War of 1812. By December 1812 the ship was moored in Georgetown, South Carolina, with evidence of her pursuits concealed. The vessel’s captain was William Overstocks, who ordered that her guns be stowed below deck and her name hidden. Overstocks was keen to sail on to New York, perhaps to dispose of any loot he’d gathered.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: John Vanderlyn – {{PD-US-expired}}

The Patriot duly set off for New York on December 30, 1812. But the ship and all aboard were never seen again. The disappearance quickly became notorious because one of the ship’s passengers had been Theodosia Burr Alston. This was the daughter of America’s third vice president Aaron Burr, the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Various theories have been put forward to explain the disappearance, but researchers have never reached an entirely convincing conclusion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Sebastião Lópes – {{PD-US-expired}}

7. Las Cinque Chagas

Las Cinque Chagas was a 32-gun Portuguese carrack weighing in at 2,000 tons. In 1594 she was sailing from Goa in India back to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. Along the way, she encountered three British privateers under the command of the Earl of Cumberland. A fierce engagement followed. This became known as the Battle of Faial Island, and Las Cinque Chagas was overwhelmed.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Chris / CC BY-SA 2.0

The ship sank somewhere off Faial Island in the Azores archipelago, some 950 miles west of Portugal. Her sinking saw the deaths of all but 13 of the 600 or so on board. And it also saw the loss of a fabulously lavish cargo of precious jewels. One estimate has put the cargo’s value at $1 billion, but no trace of the wreck has ever been found.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Samuel Atkins – {{PD-US-expired}}

6. HMS Endeavour

HMS Endeavour is remembered as the ship that Lieutenant James Cook captained in his first circumnavigation of the world, a voyage that started in 1768 and ended in 1771. Launched as a collier named Earl of Pembroke in 1764, but British Royal Navy commissioned her as an exploratory vessel in 1768, renaming her as Endeavour. Under Cook’s captaincy, the ship sailed on three lengthy voyages of exploration.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Nathaniel Dance-Holland – {{PD-US-expired}}

Perhaps Cook’s most famous accomplishment was to be the first European to discover Australia. But on his third trip he was killed in a fracas on Hawaii. After Cook’s death the Endeavour had a checkered career, eventually sailing as a British troop carrier during the War of Independence. In 1778 she was deliberately sunk in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, an ignominious end for a once illustrious ship. Although her general location is known, her specific wreck is yet to be pinpointed.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Father Louis Hennepin – {{PD-US-expired}}

5. Le Griffon

Le Griffon was built and launched on the Niagara River near Cayuga Island at the orders of Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier. She first set sail in August 1679 with 32 on board. It had the distinction of being the first sailing ship to voyage across the Great Lakes of Michigan, Erie and Huron. In September 1679 she landed on an island in Lake Michigan to trade with Native Americans.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: nikkiwjourney

Local tribes had gathered with many valuable furs to exchange with the French traders. Her business accomplished, Le Griffon set off to return to Niagara. But she never reached her destination. Some say she sank in a storm, while others allege that hostile Native Americans or even mutineers destroyed her. Despite intensive searches, Le Griffon’s wreck has never been found and the precise nature of her fate remains unknown.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

4. USS Bonhomme Richard

USS Bonhomme Richard started life in 1765 as a merchant ship in the service of the French East India Company. At that point, it was known as Duc de Duras. But in 1779 the French gave the vessel to the Americans to use in their fight against the British for independence. The legendary sea captain John Paul Jones took command of her when she joined the Continental Navy. In September 1779 Bonhomme Richard set sail with a Navy fleet into the North Sea near Britain.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: via Library of Congress – {{PD-US-expired}}

Somewhere off the northeastern English coast, Captain Jones’ ship engaged in a ferocious battle with a British warship called the HMS Serapis. The Battle of Flamborough Head resulted in victory for Jones and his men. However, his ship was so badly damaged that it sank and the Bonhomme Richard’s crew transferred to the captured Serapis. There have been many attempts to locate the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard, but none have yet succeeded.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

3. The Surcouf

The Surcouf was a French Navy submarine brought into service in 1934. At the time, she was the most sizable submarine on Earth. The vessel even had a specially built hangar with a seaplane and a lock-up capable of holding 40 prisoners. Despite all this, the sub was not a great success. It had a reputation for being difficult to handle and was beset by design problems.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Keystone-France\Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

When France fell to Hitler’s forces in 1940, Surcouf ended up in the hands of the British Royal Navy. The British, it seems, were then at something of a loss about how to deploy this giant French submarine. Eventually, the boat sailed for Bermuda, and from there to Tahiti in February 1942. During that voyage, the submarine and her crew of 130 disappeared, never to be heard from again. There have been various theories as to her fate, with no firm conclusions reached.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Aldus Books London

2. S.S. Baychimo

At the end of World War I the 230-foot cargo ship S.S. Ångermanelfven was transferred to the U.S. as part of a reparations deal. In 1921 the Hudson’s Bay Company took ownership of her and renamed her Baychimo. Now, she sailed on commercial trips along Canada’s north coast. After several successful commercial voyages, the Baychimo came to grief in October 1931. She became locked in thick ice near the Alaskan town of Barrow, now called Utqiagvik.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Walter E. Frost

Some of Baychimo’s crew were airlifted to safety. However, 15 others stayed in a makeshift shelter and waited for the ice to melt. But in November, after a heavy blizzard, the men found that the ship had disappeared. They then tracked her down some 45 miles away. However, deciding that she was doomed, they abandoned her. But the ship stayed afloat and was supposedly seen many times over the years, the last time being in 1969. The final fate of this ghost ship is a mystery.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

1. Wasp

The Wasp was a privateer that harried British shipping during the War of 1812. The ship was heavily armed with a range of weaponry. She had a crew of 173, and from her launch in 1814 her captain was Master Commandant Johnston Blakeley, an experienced naval officer of Irish heritage.

ADVERTISEMENT
Image: Interim Archives/Getty Images

Wasp set sail from New Orleans in May 1814 bound for European waters. The ship had considerable success, sinking, burning or capturing many British vessels. Then, in September 1814, Wasp seized a merchant ship called Atlanta off the coast of Spain. Putting his midshipman aboard as master, Blakeley ordered the ship to sail to Savannah, Georgia, where she duly arrived. But the Wasp was never heard of again. Some said she’d been sunk by the British, but no definite evidence of her fate has ever been discovered.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT