When we hear the phrase ‘ghost ship’, it instantly ignites our imagination. But in East Asia over the past few years, reality has proven that the concept is not just a Flying Dutchman fable. Locals on a beach in Myanmar couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw a massive silhouette, eerily looming on the horizon. What unfolded next was a mystery that required drafting various authorities all the way up to the Burmese military. How could you even begin to decipher what stories this abandoned ship had to tell, when there was no trace of having been inhabited? The truth is more bizarre than you might think.
1. An Eerie Sight
The date was August 30, 2018. Out on the tropical shores of the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, in the country’s Yangon Region, a group of local fishermen stood in disbelief at the sight that disrupted their usual daily routine. There was a puzzling figure looming on the horizon. They had to alert the authorities.
From the fishermen’s perspective, the shape drifting towards the shore was positively unearthly. It looked like a ship devoid of all passengers and life forms, otherwise known as a ‘ghost ship’. The fishermen went into action. They immediately called the coast guard, navy and police, who would all notice something very bizarre from their observations.
2. First Responders
In a flurry of activity, all at once various Burmese authorities descended upon the beach. The Coast Guard, Navy and state police teams showed up to the scene in order to verify the foreign entity’s nature and purpose. But the boat did not give off any signal, not responding to any hails.
As they got closer, the Burmese authorities saw that the boat had hit a sandbar, leaving it at a standstill. The teams had taken turns observing the ship, and much to their astonishment they were seemingly unable to detect anyone on board. To further the mystery, no distress call had been made whatsoever.
3. Scant Few Clues
The teams set off from the beach to investigate further. The massive ship sat silent on the sandbar, offering few clues as to its origin or purpose. But as the authorities drew closer to the ship they could clearly see the words Sam Ratulangi PB 1600 painted on the ship.
They now had a name that they could look into. But where did this decaying ship come from originally, and how had it made its way to Myanmar completely unmanned? Could it have potentially run off course during a storm? Initial theories about the ghost ship ran wild, speculating many different ghoulish scenarios.
As news of the unusual ghost ship made the rounds in the area of Yangon, the country’s largest city, the Myanmar Navy was drafted for assistance. They arrived on the scene and met with the other authorities. The Navy personnel were most properly equipped to have a close-up look at the Sam Ratulangi.
They made their way to the expanses of the floundering vessel to take more detailed inventory, and soon realized that it had almost been completely covered by rust and rot. Though it had not been rendered unable to function by the decay, its state of neglect was obvious. However, this wasn’t the only aspect of the ship that left them scratching their heads.
5. Utterly Vacant
Authorities hoping to find clues as to why the Sam Ratulangi had run aground were baffled by what they discovered upon boarding the ghost ship. U Ne Win, the Yangon regional parliament MP for the nearby Thongwa township, reaffirmed and broadened the mystery of this empty behemoth in an interview with The Myanmar Times.
The statement read: “No crew or cargo was found on the ship. It was quite puzzling how such a big ship turned up in our waters.” The marine salvage crews scoured the boat, and found absolutely no sign of life onboard. What’s more, they couldn’t find any clues as to where the crew may have gone.
6. Origin Story
Searching the surface of the ghost ship itself had turned up all but fruitless. The investigators took a look into the background of the vessel with the hopes that it could provide some insights. A little research on the Sam Ratulangi showed that the 177-meter (580-foot) ship was a container ship built in 2001.
Reportedly sailing under an Indonesian flag, it had made its maiden voyage the same year, transporting huge amounts of cargo from one side of the world to the other. It sailed tirelessly for eight years, until one particular voyage seemingly became its last. Had the ship been drifting in the ocean for almost a decade?
7. Final Log
Burmese authorities rifled through any logs made of the Sam Ratulangi in an effort to find the last recorded evidence of its existence. Official records showed that the last documented voyage made by the Sam Ratulangi was nine years ago. It had been docked in Taiwan, its last known location, in 2009.
But following the documentation of that final voyage came a massive gap in any knowledge of the whereabouts of the ship. For nine whole years, it seemed, the Sam Ratulangi had been wandering the high seas totally undocumented and unaccounted for, until rearing its head on the Burmese sandbanks. Where it had been since then?
8. The Journey Is Halted
The geography of the Burmese coastline had finally halted the ghost ship’s odyssey. It was initially believed that the Sam Ratulangi ran into trouble when it made its way through the Sittaung River. With strong currents and shallow waters, this river is rarely used for larger trade ships, as it is nearly impossible for them to navigate.
Instead, the 260-mile-long river is primarily used by small vessels who wish to transport timber from one side of Myanmar to the other. Because of this, it was highly unusual for a cargo ship as large as the Sam Ratulangi to use the passageway. But that didn’t explain where the crew had gone.
9. An Improbable Scenario
The question of how had such a large ship with no crew ended up in Myanmar had initially eluded authorities and onlookers alike. Press in Myanmar had a field day with the bizarre and yet unexplained appearance of this ghost ship, and locals were left hungry for answers that just weren’t there.
However, one small clue was soon revealed, a tidbit of information that could answer just a few of their questions and work at beginning to unravel this floating mystery. It looked unassuming enough to the untrained eye: two cables were found at the front of the ship. But they heralded a major revelation.
10. Potential Witnesses
The investigators from the Myanmar Navy checked the radar logs from nine years before, seeking to understand the murky circumstances surrounding the Sam Ratulangi’s final voyage. One thing stood out to them: they noticed that the Sam Ratulangi had not been the only ship traversing the waters shortly before it had appeared in Myanmar.
Sailing near to the ship was a small tugboat called The Independence, and not by chance. The Independence had actually been towing the Sam Ratulangi at the time. If the Burmese Navy succeeded in locating The Independence, could those who had been on board shed some light on the ghost ship?
11. Finding Independence
The Myanmar Navy caught up with The Independence, located roughly 50 miles away from the Burmese coast. They questioned the 13 members of the crew about the working history of their ship and its mission with the Sam Ratulangi. As it turned out, there was indeed a strong connection between the two vessels.
As they informed the authorities, the crew members of The Independence had been on duty tugging the large cargo ship. When they encountered a patch of turbulent weather, they had been compelled to change their intended course. It was this shift that would help explain the Sam Ratulangi’s current location.
12. Cast Away
According to the crew members of The Independence, they had been tugging the Sam Ratulangi before it had made its mysterious appearance on the sandbanks of central Myanmar. They had been sailing on their way to a factory in Bangladesh where their towed cargo was to be unloaded and dismantled.
But when the two ships became separated, the Sam Ratulangi drifted away from the tugboat and was carried out into the waters of the Bay of Bengal, between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Still, the fate and whereabouts of the ghost ship’s crew needed solving. And in September 2018, investigators reportedly found the answer.
13. Jump Ship
According to reports, officials investigating the trajectory of the so-called ‘ghost ship’ made yet another bizarre discovery in a chain of odd anecdotes surrounding the floundering vessel. They estimated that the crew of the Sam Ratulangi had abandoned the ship after it got caught in the patch of inclement weather.
But the theorizing could only generate more questions than answers. The whereabouts of the Sam Ratulangi’s crew remain a mystery and authorities are still pending clarification. After seeking to understand the scope of all that the abandoned ship had been through, the investigation revealed one more incredible discovery about the ghost ship.
You would think that after having no maintenance and suffering so much neglect, the Sam Ratulangi would have been a useless shell of its former self. Yet even though the ship had been totally abandoned and had apparently gone undetected for nearly a decade and been abandoned, it had one more surprise for technical crews.
After it was discovered run ashore in the Yangon Region in Myanmar, it was described as still being in working condition! So the question remained, why had the Sam Ratulangi been hauled to be dismantled in Bangladesh in the first place? How had The Independence come across it and received their work assignment?
15. Not Too Shabby
Generally, ships at the size of the Sam Ratulangi have a life expectancy of around 25-30 years. But the Sam Ratulangi was well below that age. Despite that, the two lines found attached to the front of the boat indicated that there had been multiple attempts to tow it away.
Because of the ship’s relatively low age, to take it away to be dismantled rather than refurbished and put back into use seemed counterintuitive. So in this case there must have been something terribly wrong with the ship such that it was be sold off to the junkyard for spare parts and materials.
16. Shirking Responsibility
There was almost certainly a financial incentive for the crew of The Independence to have hurried off to Chittagong, Bangladesh, in order to get rid of the Sam Ratulangi. No one was claiming ownership over the ghost ship, and by rushing off to get it dissembled meant shedding responsibility for it as quick as possible.
The problem is that although dismantling found ships is the ultimate act of recycling, with every nut and bolt being re-purposed, the process tends to be unregulated. Many of the factory workers dissembling the ships can be hurt or maimed. So what became of the Sam Ratulangi after it washed up off the coast of Myanmar?
17. In Proper Custody
You will be glad to know that as the mystery surrounding it is gradually picked apart, the Sam Ratulangi is now in safe hands. Until the ghost ship’s chronology and the circumstances surrounding its disappearance are crystal clear, it will be staying under the capable protection of the Myanmar Navy.
Burmese authorities are hoping that over the next coming months, they will be able to further understand exactly what really went on with the cargo ship. They will be able to answer the questions surrounding its abandoned crew, the missing cargo, and, above all else, how exactly it vanished off the charts for nearly a decade.
18. Spooky Sights On The High Seas
Although the story of Sam Ratulangi PB 1600 and its unexplained voyage to the shores of Myanmar has shocked and confused people across the world, it’s not the only “ghost ship” to have appeared in the waters of East Asia in recent years. There are similar cases across the Western Pacific — often with far more dire results.
In Japan in particular the phenomenon has happened far more than once in recent years. In multiple instances, boats have washed up on its shores, almost all of which have been identified as originating in North Korea. The missing passengers are presumed to be either fishermen cast adrift, or political defectors.
19. A Grim Truth
The tale of Indonesian ghost ship Sam Ratulangi may have been eerie, but the circumstances surrounding the arrival of North Korean ghost ships on Japanese shores are often truly tragic and even horrifying. Unfortunately, whether lost fishermen or political defectors, in a lot of cases the crews on these mysterious vessels don’t survive.
But the questions still remain about what they were doing and how they got there. There have been at least 76 recorded cases of fishing vessels that ended up on Japanese shores alone. There was one case in particular that stood out from the rest — as its crew somehow miraculously survived the journey.
20. Sole Survivors
Most of the boats coming from North Korea that arrive on Japanese shores often contain a grim cargo: the bodies of passengers. But one particular incident in November 2017 stood out from the rest. Police in Akita Prefecture discovered eight North Korean men whose boat had beached on Japan’s northern coast — all were alive.
Whether these boats accidentally drifted or whether they’re part of a wave of people trying to escaping their homeland, is unclear. Theories ran wild in the Japanese press, with some claiming the men were even spies. But like the mysterious account of the Sam Ratulangi, hopefully time will only provide more answers.
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