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AMERICAN HISTORY

Missing Ships Through the Decades

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There are dozens of missing and unexplained disappearances of American ships and boats where no evidence of the ship or crew have ever been found. Here are just some of the notable ones lost.
 

 

Sinking Ship
 

Missing American Ships:

 

Andrea Gail - Lost in the Perfect Storm

SS Baychimo - Disappeared in the Arctic

USS Cyclops - Lost in the Bermuda Triangle

USS Insurgent - Missing Frigate

SS Marine Sulpher Queen - Not Seaworthy

SS Poet - Victim of the Atlantic

USS Wasp - The Victor Disappears

Witchcraft - An Unsinkable Luxury Yacht

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Gail - Lost in the Perfect Storm


The Andrea GailA fishing trawler, the Andrea Gail was lost at sea with its six crew members during the "Perfect Storm" of 1991. The 72-foot commercial fishing vessel was built in Panama City, Florida in 1978 and owned by Robert Brown. Holding a crew of six, she was in commission for 13 years before vanishing on a trip to Newfoundland.

 

The Andrea Gail and her six-man crew had been fishing in the North Atlantic Ocean out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. On September 20, 1991, the Andrea Gail along with a fleet of about 25 sword fishing  vessels, set out from Gloucester for the last fishing trip of the season bound for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland off the coast of eastern Canada. Loaded with ice, the crew hoped to catch some 40,000 pounds of swordfish -- the sooner the better, so they could get back home and share in the profits.

 

But, the crew wasn't catching as many fish as they had hoped and by the middle of October, they had barely enough fish to break even. As a result, Captain Frank William "Billy" Tyne headed east to the Flemish Cap where he believed they would have better luck. At some point, the ship's ice machine began to malfunction and would be unable to maintain the catch for much longer. Tyne then made the decision to set a course for home on about October 26th despite weather reports of dangerous conditions.

 

They were off the coast of Newfoundland, when the a high-pressure system slammed into a low-pressure system, which then merged with the remains of Hurricane Grace, creating what has been dubbed “the perfect storm.” Battered by massively powerful winds and waves as high as 100 feet, Captain Tyne's last radio transmission noted: “She’s comin’ on boys, and she’s comin’ on strong.” Her last reported position was 180 miles northeast of Sable Island at 6:00 p.m. on October 28, 1991.

 

The devastating storm battered the coast of New England and Canada, and after the worst of it had passed and the Andrea Gail had failed to return to port, a number of rescue missions, including the New York Air National Guard, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Coast Guard set out on an extensive air and sea search. Though they covered 186,000 square nautical miles, nothing was found but the ship's emergency beacon and a few pieces of debris. After a week of searching, the Andrea Gail and her crew were declared lost.

 

Weeks later fuel drums, a propane tank, and empty life raft, and radio equipment were found.

 

The crew members lost included:

  • Captain Frank William "Billy" Tyne, Jr., age 37, Gloucester, Massachusetts

  • Michael "Bugsy" Moran, age 36, Bradenton Beach, Florida

  • Dale R. "Murph" Murphy, age 30, Bradenton Beach, Florida

  • Alfred Pierre, age 32, New York City

  • Robert F. "Bobby" Shatford, age 30, Gloucester, Massachusetts

  • David "Sully" Sullivan, age 28, New York City

The story of the storm and the imagined fate of the Andrea Gail and her crew was later told in the book The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, as well as a Hollywood movie of the same name.

 

SS BaychimoThe SS Baychimo - Disappeared in the Arctic

A modern maritime mystery, some would call the SS Bachimo a ghost ship. Abandoned in 1931, she continued to sail without a crew for decades -- last being sighted in 1969.

 

The large 1,322 ton steam powered cargo ship, initially called the Angermanelfven, was first launched in 1914  by the Lindholmens shipyard in Gothenburg, Sweden. The 230 foot long ship was first used on trading routes between Hamburg and Sweden until World War I began in August, 1914. When the war was over, she was transferred to the United Kingdom as part of Germany's reparations for shipping losses. The ship was acquired by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1921 and rechristened the Baychimo. Based out of Ardrossan, Scotland, she was primarily utilized for transporting furs from northern Canada, but also sometimes carried other cargo and passengers. Trading with the Inuit settlements along the coast of the Northwest Territories of Canada, she made nine successful journeys, before her luck ran out in 1931.

 

At the end of a trading run on October 1, 1931, the Bachimo was loaded with fur pelts. Winter had come early that year and the crew and the ship were unprepared for the bitter weather. As they sailed along the choppy waters, a blizzard hit them, bringing with it with chucks of ice that surrounded the ship, eventually completely trapping the vessel in pack ice. Unable to continue the voyage, the captain ordered the crew to disembark and make their way on foot across the shifting ice floes to the town of Barrow, Alaska, over a half-mile away. There, the crew took shelter for two days before returning to check on the status of their abandoned ship. What they found was that the Baychimo had broken free of the ice and was aimlessly drifting about the sea. They then built a camp on the ice where they could keep an eye on the vessel. The severe weather continued and the ship was once more mired down in ice on October 8th.

 

On October 15th with the weather conditions showing no signs of letting up, the Hudson Bay Company sent an aircraft rescue party to evacuate the camp. Although 22 of the crew were rescued, the captain and 14 other crew members refused to abandon their ship and its cargo, and opted to remain camped out on the ice despite the punishing storm. Receiving provisions from the company, and building a wooden shelter, they were prepared to stubbornly wait out the entire winter if  required. On November 24th, a powerful blizzard struck the region once again and when it was over the Baychimo had disappeared. Her captain came to the conclusion that ship must have broken up during the storm and sunk.

 

However, a few days later an Inuit seal hunter came upon the camp telling the Captain and the remaining crew that he had sighted the ship about 45 miles away. The vessel was then found, but determining it was unlikely to survive the winter, the most valuable cargo was offloaded and the Bachimo was finally abandoned in the icy sea.

 

Though the ship should have been destroyed in the winter storms, no one gave her the credit she deserved, as she would be repeatedly sighted across the Arctic, drifting aimlessly for more than three decades. People managed to board her several times, but each time they were either unequipped to salvage her or were driven away by bad weather. The last time she was boarded was in 1939. But, still she drifted across the Arctic unmanned, seen close to shore at times, and at others far out to sea. The ship was last seen frozen in an ice pack in 1969, 38 years after she was abandoned. This is the last recorded sighting of Baychimo.


In 2006, the Alaskan government began work on a project to solve the mystery of "the Ghost Ship of the Arctic" and locate Baychimo, whether still afloat or on the ocean floor. However, the ship nor any trace of wreckage was found.

 

 

USS CyclopsUSS Cyclops - Lost in the Bermuda Triangle

A massive carrier ship that supplied fuel to the American fleet during World War I, the USS Cyclops, along with her 309 crew members and passengers went missing in the area of the Bermuda Triangle some time after March 4, 1918 and was never seen again.

 

The ship, named for the Cyclops, a primordial race of giants from Greek mythology, was first launched on May 7, 1910 by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia, and placed in service to the Navy on November 7, 1910. Operating with the Naval Auxiliary Services, she voyaged the Baltic Sea from May through July, 1911 supplying Second Division ships before returning to Norfolk, Virginia. She then operated on the east coast from Newport, Rhode Island, to the Caribbean, servicing the fleet. During the United States occupation of Veracruz in Mexico in 1914–1915, she fueled ships on patrol and evacuated refugees.

 

When the United States joined in World War I, the Cyclops was commissioned on May 1, 1917 and joined a convoy for Saint-Nazaire, France, in June, 1917. She returned to the United States the next month where she served along the east coast until  January 9, 1918. The ship was then assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service and sailed to Brazilian waters to fuel British ships in the south Atlantic.

 

In Rio de Janeiro, Commander Worley reported that the Cyclops’ starboard engine was inoperative because it had a cracked cylinder reducing her speed to 10 knots. As a result, the ship was ordered to return to the United States for repairs. On February 15, 1918 the ship departed Brazil carrying more than 12,000 tons of manganese ore used to produce munitions. Five days later she stopped in Salvador, Brazil on February 20th. After two days, she set sail again headed to Baltimore, Maryland with no scheduled stops. However, the ship deviated to Barbados along the way, landing on March 3rd, some 1,800 nautical miles from its destination. The Cyclops left the next day and was never seen again.

 

The Cyclops was scheduled to reach Baltimore on March 13th and when she didn't, a massive search including boats and planes was initiated along her entire course. However, no trace of the ship, debris, or survivors was ever found.

 

On June 1, 1918, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Cyclops to be officially lost, and all hands deceased.

 

So, what happened to USS Cyclops?

 

Though the Naval History & Heritage Command has stated she "probably sank in an unexpected storm", the actual cause of the ship's fate is unknown.

 

Several other theories exist including sabotage. Captain Worley had often been accused of being pro-German and was disliked by many of his officers and staff. Later it was found that the captain actually was German born and had changed his last name. Also boarding the ship in Rio de Janeiro was American Consul-General Gottschalk, purportedly to return to the United States to enlist in the US Army. However, Gottschalk was known to have been very popular among the German community in Brazil. Did one or both of these gentlemen conspire to destroy the ship? Why was there no SOS call made by the captain?

 

A second theory is that the ship was simply not seaworthy while carrying such a heavy load. Reportedly the ship's maximum load capacity was 8960 tons, but, she had taken on more than 12,000 tons of ore in Brazil. Reports of the unscheduled stop in Barbados indicate the Cyclops had landed due to the water level being over the Plimsoll line, indicating an overloaded condition. However, investigations in Rio proved the ship had been loaded and secured properly, so the ship moved on. Did its overloaded condition coupled with the cracked engine cylinder cause the Cyclops to sink?

 

 

Was the ship blasted by a German underwater mine or torpedoed by a German Sub? US Navy claims that such possibility does not exist if the ship had been on its right course. However, had the ship been off its track by a large margin, there was a high possibility of that to happen and the ship would have perished. However, German authorities at the time, and subsequently, denied any knowledge of the vessel.

 

Though the Navy conducted a full investigation and provided a 15,000 page report, filled with facts and evidence, no final conclusion was ever made as to the Cyclops' disappearance. Instead, the report concluded "Many theories have been advanced, but none that satisfactorily accounts for her disappearance."


This summation was written, however, before two of Cyclops' sister ships, the Proteus and Nereus, vanished in the North Atlantic during World War II. Both ships were transporting heavy loads of metallic ore similar to that which was loaded on Cyclops during her fatal voyage. In both cases, it was theorized that their loss was the result of catastrophic structural failure.

 

Afterwards, it was theorized that all three ships sank due to structural failure. It is known that Cyclops' sister ships suffered from issues with the I-beams that ran the length of the ship, which had eroded due to the corrosive nature of some of the cargo carried. This problem was also seen in other similar freighters, one of which was known to have snapped in two in calm seas.

 

Did the Cyclops sink to the ocean floor because of one of these reasons or does the answer lie with the many other missing vessels that have succumbed to the mysteries of the Bemuda Triangle?

 

The disappearance of the Cyclops remains the single largest loss of life in U.S. Naval history not directly involving combat.

 

 

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