According to the United Nations, there are an estimated three million undiscovered shipwrecks sitting on the ocean floors around the world. While many will remain undiscovered, a great number have been found, becoming exploration sites for divers, researchers, boaters, and marine enthusiasts. They rest in various stages of decay, and often have transformed into homes for budding marine life. Though they are just the remains of once-mighty vessels, they are far from simple marine litter. Each holds a hauntingly tragic beauty and serves as a window to history. Here are some of the most beautiful shipwrecks from around the world.
In 1918, during World War II, President Woodrow Wilson commissioned the construction of the Kiptopeke Breakwater, which was meant to consist of 24 concrete ships. Only 12 were actually made, and of that dozen, nine were hauled to Kiptopeke Beach to bring protection during severe weather conditions to what was then known as the Chesapeake Ferry Terminal. The Ferry no longer exists, but the ships, nicknamed the Concrete Fleet, are still there. A century later, they have deteriorated and decayed, and the result is quite beautiful. They also provide a home for coastal fish, shellfish, and birds.
The largest ship graveyard in the world can be found in Mauritania’s Bay of Nouadhibou. Nouadhibou was originally a port settled by French merchants before World War I. As the popularity of iron mining in the area grew, lawlessness began to overtake it. Soon captains discovered that they could abandon their vessels for a simple bribe, instead of paying hefty fees and doing the grueling work associated with shipbreaking. In fact, people are still abandoning their ships there today. The most famous of the bay’s ships is United Malika, a nearly 400-foot reefer vessel.
During World War I, steel was in short supply, so America starting making ships out of concrete. The S.S. Selma was a 7,500-ton reinforced concrete tanker built during that time. In 1920, after successfully serving several ports in the Gulf of Mexico, the S.S. Selma ran aground on the South Jetty at Tampico, Mexico, which left a 60 ft. long crack in the hull. It was thus abandoned, but not forgotten.
During Prohibition, authorities would take out cases of confiscated booze onto the ship’s remains and destroy them. Throughout the years, plans were made to convert it into a fishing pier, pleasure resort, and oyster farm, but all fell through.
Navagio Beach on the Greek island of Zakynthos is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The rusted shipwreck that sits on the beach only adds to its enchantment. The Panayiotis was a smuggler ship, containing such contraband as cigarettes, alcohol, and even humans. One theory is that in 1983, authorities caught wind of the smugglers and chased them into the cove (now called Smuggler’s Cove) where the ship got stuck. Another story, which came from the captain himself, is that in 1980, bad weather stranded the ship on the beach and thieves stripped it. When he returned to remove the ship, he felt the rusted vessel looking too beautiful to disturb.
Brightly Colored Decay
Along the shore of Batumi, Georgia’s main coastal town, a Turkish tanker called The Özlem (Turkish for “Desire”) ran ashore and was thus abandoned. Decay caused the ship to completely break in half, and eventually the middle section sank into the water, but the blue-colored, rusted ends still jut out of the water today. The colorful wreck has now become a bit of a tourist attraction for the area, and the kids from the surrounding towns love to use the remains as a diving board into the ocean.
This particular wreck has spawned life where there was once only corrosion. The SS Ayrfield was originally built in 1911 in the UK, registered in Sydney in 1912 as a steam collier, then later used in World War II to transport supplies to American troops stationed in the Pacific. It was retired in Australia’s Homebush Bay, an area that used to be a bustling port until toxic waster spillage transformed it into a ship-breaking yard. A few ships were left floating there for over 75 years, including the SS Ayrfield. But this ship is the only one that became overgrown with a mangrove thicket, transforming it into a majestic floating forest.
Every day for nearly 150 years, on a beach in San Telmo, Panama, a mysterious wreck emerges during low tide. That wreck is the submarine known as Sub Marine Explorer, built by a German inventor between 1863 and 1866. It was one of the first of its kind; hand-powered with a ballast system that would sink or raise the ship at will. Soon its creator got a “fever” and a new engineer took it to the Pearl Islands to harvest oyster shells and pearls. Then he and his crew also caught the same fever, which turned out to be decompression sickness, and the vessel was abandoned in San Telmo.
The SS President Coolidgewas built in 1931 for the Dollar Steamship Lines, and eventually became a luxury liner for American President Lines. It then collided with two Navy sea mines and sank off the coast of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean. Two men lost their lives in the incident, but over 5,000 safely got ashore. The ship was left where it sank. Earthquakes caused some sections of the ship to collapse beneath the water. It is now a popular site to visit for recreational divers because it is extremely accessible, and they can explore large areas of the wreck without specialized equipment.
In 1885, the coal-carrying Canadian schooner Sweepstakes crashed in rocks off of Cove Island and sank down into the shallow water, It was then towed into Big Tug Harbor in Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada, where it was discovered that the damage was beyond repair. She was stripped down of any valuable equipment and discarded, sinking about 50 feet from the harbor. While it has been subject to deterioration, it is one of the best preserved nineteenth-century Great Lakes schooners discovered. It’s a popular tourist site in the fall and spring, attracting divers and boaters. There is a glass bottom boat tour that visits the site as well.
Originally used by the Chinese to illegally import immigrants, the Sea Tigernow sits off Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii, attracting divers from around the world for the amazing marine life that has bloomed within its ruins. The ship was confiscated in the early 1990s and intentionally sank, becoming the tourist attraction it is now. The wreck, which rests in 110 feet of water with the deck sitting at about 90 feet, is home to green sea turtles, eels, eagle rays, schooling fish, and even the occasional reef shark. It is a luring site for advanced divers, as it is still perfectly intact.
The Adriatic’s Treasure
The Lina is one of the best-preserved shipwrecks in the Adriatic Sea. Built by the British in 1879, the ship was used to transport oil and wine from Italy. Then in 1914 it was sailing in a bad night storm, complete with a heavy fog, and it lost its course. It crashed into the rocky coast of Croatia and sank. Today divers enjoy swimming through its decaying cabins, viewing the marine life, which includes swarms of black-tail beams, salemas, and band-tail chromises. There is also an extremely large eel called a conger that has been living in the ruins for many years.
A Ship Of Many Uses
The SS Republic (originally named the SS Tennessee) was built in the U.S. in 1853 and initially served as a merchant vessel. It was then used to open the first regular passenger steamship service between New York City and Central America. She then became an armed Union service ship during the Civil War. After, she was sold at auction and used to haul passengers and cargo between New York and New Orleans. During her fifth trip, she found herself in the middle of a hurricane, took on too much water, and sank into the ocean by Savannah, Georgia. Luckily, most of the passengers survived. The ship was rediscovered in 2003.
Previously a rescue tug for the British Navy during World War II, the St. Christopher was sold for salvage operations in the south of Argentina. It then suffered engine problems and was ultimately beached in 1957 on the shore of Ushuaia, in the Beagle Channel in southern Argentina. The ship is now one of many that have been abandoned in the Ushuaia harbor. Many photographers love to try an capture a photo of the wreck as the sun is setting, as the fading light illuminates the ship most stunningly. It is also illuminated in the evening.
The British-built RMS Lusitania was made with the intention that it would serve as an armed merchant cruiser. They soon learned that it needed massive amounts of coal to run, and was deemed not economically sound for the role. It was, in turn, used for passenger travel across the Atlantic. Then in 1915, a German U-boat operating off the coast of Ireland fired a torpedo into RMS Lusitania, and the massive ocean liner sank in just 18 minutes. The attack was part of an unrestricted submarine warfare Germany waged against the UK. The attack left 1,198 people dead, including 128 Americans.
A rusty shipwreck that lays off the island of Gramvousa, Crete, Greece has become the landmark of the area. In 1967, the ship was transporting 440 tons of cement from Central Greece to Northern Africa. Terrible weather conditions forced the ship to anchor in Diakofti Bay in Kythira. It then continued its voyage, but again weather conditions caused it to anchor off the coast of Gramvousa. The right anchor was cut and the ship soon flooded with water. The crew abandoned the ship in the same place it remains today.
Benefitting the Economy
The people of the island Boa Esperança couldn’t have been happier that the Spanish cargo ship Cabo Santa Mariaran aground on their coast in 1988. Apart for being able to seize all of the goods that were aboard (while all of the crew got away safely), the wreckage has now become a tourist attraction for the area and actually is considered a symbol of the island. Wild Atlantic storms have caused a great deal disintegration, but the wreckage is still an impressive sight along the coast of Cape Verde, Africa.
Built in 1974, the MS World Discoverer was a cruise ship that would travel to the Antarctic polar regions so that passengers could observe ice floe movements. Then in 2000, bad weather caused the ship to hit a reef off the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean. After all of the passengers were rescued by a ferry, the captain grounded the ship on Roderick Bay. The ship was then looted by locals and soon declared unsalvageable. It still remains, lying on its side, half submerged, not yet too damaged by decay.
Originally named the City of York, the ship that became known as the Mediterranean Sky was built in 1952 in Newcastle, England, and served as a cruise line. While traveling from Brindisi to Patras in 1997, the ship was confiscated by the authorities for financial troubles. She stayed in Patras until 1999 and then was towed to the Eleusus Gulf in Greece, where she was abandoned. In 2002, the vessel began to take on water, causing it to tilt over. In order to stop it from sinking completely, the Mediterranean Skywas towed to shallow water and grounded.
The Sugar Boat
In the middle of Scotland’s River Clyde, near the banks of the town of Helensburgh, sits a rusting wreck known by the locals as “the sugar boat.” The ship’s real name is the MV Captayannis, and it was a Greek sugar-carrying ship that sank in 1974 after colliding with a BP tanker during severely strong winds. The captain tried to bring the ship into safer waters when it collided with the anchor chains of a British petroleum tanker ship, and water began to flood inside. It was then immediately steered onto a sandbar and beached on her port side, which is how she still sits today.
After 50 years of service as an ocean liner, the SS America was sold to transformed into a five-star hotel ship off of Phuket, Thailand. It was being towed from Greece by a Ukranian tugboat and hit a thunderstorm. The tow lines broke and couldn’t be reattached. The crew was rescued but the ship was left adrift, eventually running aground off the west coast of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. Two days later it broke in two and the stern sank into the water. In 2005 the port side collapsed and sank, and two years later, the entire ship was beneath the sea. Today it’s only visible at low tide.