Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vanishing Vessels

In July 1909, the SS Waratah disappeared without a trace somewhere pff the coast of South Africa between Durban and Cape Town. There were 211 passengers and crew on board. There have been many efforts to find the wreck ever since, but to no avail - even modern-day searches using the latest technology have turned up no clues. In 2004 treasure hunter Emlyn Brown, who spent the last 22 years searching for the Waratah declared that he was giving up: "I've exhausted all the options. I now have no idea where to look".

In A. Bertram Chandler's science fiction story "Into the Alternate Universe", a spaceship accidentally falls into "a crack between the universes", a vacuum without any matter except other people who had fallen there earlier. Being a spaceship, they are equipped to travel through the vacuum, unlike most other entities that fall into the crack. In their journey through the vacuum, they discover the SS Waratah, its crew and passengers suffocated.

The doubly-ironically-named Tempest sailed eastward to Glasgow from New York City on February 13, 1857 with crew, cargo and one passenger aboard. It never arrived in Glasgow, vanishing without a trace.

The L'Acadien II was a Canadian vessel that struck a wall of ice and sank on March 29, 2008 while being towed by Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir William Alexander off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Recovery efforts have surprisingly failed to locate the sunken ship, even though the area in which it sunk is fairly specifically known. The search, now abandoned, covered an area of approximately 9,800 square nautical miles and yet has turned up nothing.

The L'Acadien II had been on a seal-hunting expedition, and Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society stirred some controversy when he announced: "The deaths of four sealers is a tragedy but Sea Shepherd also recognizes that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups is an even greater tragedy."

Watson went on to say: "One of the sealers was quoted as saying that he felt absolutely helpless as he watched the boat sink with sealers onboard. I can’t think of anything that defines helplessness and fear more than a seal pup on the ice that can’t swim or escape as it is approached by some cigarette smoking ape with a club. This is a seal nursery and these men are sadistic baby killers and that might offend some people but it is the unvarnished truth – they are vicious killers who are now pleading for sympathy because some of their own died while engaged in a viciously brutal activity."

Because of Watson's statements, Elizabeth May (the leader of the Green Party of Canada) resigned from the advisory board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

At least 50 German U-Boats are unaccounted for after World War II. Mechanical failures and other accidents have been posited as possible reasons for their disappearance. Less likely is the possibility that they were sunk in circumstances of battle that somehow failed to be logged and reported by Allied forces. (And then there's the "Last Battalion" theory to consider.)

The Ångermanelfven was a steel 1,322 ton cargo steamer built in 1914. It was acquired by the Hudson's Bay Co. in 1921 and subsequently renamed the Baychimo. The ship was abandoned in the winter of 1931 when it became repeatedly stuck in ice. It was expected that the ship would soon sink, but instead it kept going, traveling a little further with each ice melt.

Over the years, there have been many sightings of the Baychimo, mostly by Eskimos, Inuit, and other sailors. Some even boarded the ship but could see no easy way to reclaim her. The last recorded sighting of her was in 1969, stuck once again in ice in the Beaufort Sea northwest of Alaska. In 2006 the Alaskan Government finally decided to capitalize on the folklore popularity of "the Ghost Ship of the Arctic", and set about to retrieve it. But it was nowhere to be found, and despite extensive searches, the ship has not been seen again.

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