The oceans on this planet are vast and can also be mysterious. From time to time, ships and aircraft go missing and a few are never found again. But this is a story in which the ship is found safe and sound but the crew and passengers have disappeared. The ship in question is the Mary Celeste and it still has the power to send a chill down the spine when its story is retold.
And its story begins on the 7th November 1872 when it set sail from New York bound for Genoa in Italy. The captain was Benjamin Briggs and he had his wife and two-year-old daughter travelling with him. In addition, there was a crew of seven also on board. The cargo consisted of just over one thousand seven hundred barrels of alcohol. At this point, I should ask you not to jump to any conclusions.
On the 5th December, another ship, the Dei Gratia, sighted the Mary Celeste in mid-ocean. At first, all appeared to be fine, even though the sails were said to have been set wrongly. But the strange thing was that there was no signs of life on deck and there was no response to any of the signals sent out. Two sailors set out from the Dei Gratia to investigate.
Once on board, they found the vessel to be in good shape. Below deck, all seemed normal as well. The cargo was still intact and there were no signs that there had been any sort of struggle. The captain ordered three of his crew to take charge and sail the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar where it arrived on the 9th December.
So, what happened to the crew? There have been a number of investigations and conclusions, some logical and others far-fetched as to the cause. The most likely reason is that it was found that the ship’s chronometer was faulty which had the effect of putting the ship over one hundred miles off course. We also know from the Captain’s Log that the last entry was made nine days before the ship was discovered.
In addition, it was reported that the bilge pump was not working which resulted in about one metre of water accumulating in the hold. This would not have been enough to put the ship in danger of sinking but it is possible that the captain and crew did not want to take any chances and left aboard the small lifeboat which was found to be missing and never found.
More fanciful theories include the crew being taken off the ship by a giant octopus. Not likely. There was also the proposal that the ship had been attacked by pirates but the valuable cargo was still intact. Could the crew have got to the cargo, got drunk and mutinied? Although a few of the barrels were empty, they were all found to have leaked. And, of course, there were no signs of a struggle.
After over one hundred and fifty years, we still do not have a definite answer to the mystery of the Mary Celeste.