A group of fishermen in the waters off the coast of the southeast Asian country of Myanmar got the surprise of their lives in the summer of 2018. While working in the country’s Yangon Region, the men’s routine was suddenly interrupted by … well, they weren’t sure what.

In the distance, they could see a dark shape. And it seemed to be coming toward them. When it got close enough for the fishermen to get a good look at it, the men were shocked by what they saw. They knew, immediately, that they had to alert the authorities … the police, the Myanmar Navy, even the Coast Guard. What was this bizarre shape? Let’s find out.

Officials Arrived to Determine the Threat Level

The police, military officials, and the Coast Guard all descended on the scene. By this time, the object was close enough to be identified as a ship. The first thing they did was to try to ascertain whether the foreign ship posed a threat to the country and its people.

Source: Wikimedia/Official U.S. Navy Page from United States of America

The Coast Guard hailed the ship and requested a response signal. Nothing happened. They tried again. Still no response. In fact, they could see no signs of life on the ship…no sailors on its deck. Could they be dealing with a ghost ship?

What Is a Ghost Ship?

Although the name implies something supernatural, in reality, a ghost ship has nothing to do with specters and spooky apparitions. As explained in Fleetmon.com, “Ghost ships are vessels floating with no living crew onboard. These abandoned vessels drift in the ocean and appear suddenly at some coast or are spotted mid-sea.”

Source: sea

That’s what appeared to have happened with this ghost ship. Without its crew to guide it, the vessel drifted aimlessly until the fishermen spotted it. But to find out where the ship came from, why it was abandoned, and how long it had been a ghost ship, the authorities would need to visit the vessel.

Stuck in Place

Boarding a ghost ship can be a dangerous endeavor. It was abandoned for an unknown reason – which could mean there is a hazard onboard – and there is no one at the helm. The ship could lurch unexpectedly.

Source: Unsplash/Fredrick F.

The authorities in Myanmar noticed that the ghost ship was no longer moving toward them. It had hit a sandbar and was stuck in place. This was the perfect opportunity for them to climb aboard the boat and start their investigation.

A Cursory Look Around

A team of maritime investigators boarded the ghost ship and fanned out, searching for signs of the crew. They found no one, not even human remains. It was like the crew of the vessel all vanished at once.

Source: Yangon Police

On the ship’s bridge, they discovered that the ship had never made a distress call nor were there any indications of trouble in the ship’s log. The investigators had only one clue to go on … the name of the ship written in giant letters on the side of the vessel. It read, “Sam Ratulangi PB 1600.”

Further Onboard Searches

While the military authorities began researching “Sam Ratulangi PB 1600”, the Myanmar Navy organized more people to conduct a more extensive search of the ghost ship. They could see that the vessel was beginning to decay … a sure sign that it had been abandoned for some time. But just how long?

Source: Yangon Police

A thorough examination of the ship revealed a lot more rust and decay than they originally saw. In fact, the abundance of rust was the reason why the ship was no longer operational. But, they all agreed, it was not the reason why its crew abandoned the ship.

“It Was Quite Puzzling

A Yangon official named U Ne Win was quoted in The Myanmar Times as saying, “No crew or cargo was found on the ship. It was quite puzzling how such a big ship turned up in our waters.” Win added that his team was committed to finding the answers.

Source: Unsplash/Ian Simmonds

Those answers, he felt, could be found by investigating the ship’s history. He believed that looking into the origin of the vessel and its last known voyage could yield the answers they were looking for.

Searching Maritime Records

The investigators searched maritime records for the Sam Ratulangi. Fortunately, this was a relatively easy task as information is readily available on the internet. Their searches provided them with an abundance of information about the ship … which only raised more questions.

Source: theepochtimes

They learned that the Sam Ratulangi was built in Indonesia in 2001. It was a 580-container ship. It made its maiden voyage the same year it was built and, in the subsequent years, it transported cargo to places around the world. Its travels stopped abruptly, however, in 2009.

Adrift for Nearly a Decade

According to the records, the Sam Ratulangi covered thousands of ocean miles for eight years and it appeared that the ship was capable of making many more journeys. But it made its final voyage in 2009.

Source: Wikimedia

The documents showed that the ship, which was registered in Indonesia, noted its last known location at a dock in Taiwan in 2009. In the more than nine years since then, the ship’s whereabouts were unknown. Could it have drifted without its crew for that long? And what happened to the crew?

An Eagle-Eyed Investigator Spots an Unexpected Clue

While a team of investigators was combing through the nautical records, another team continued to inspect the Sam Ratulangi to see if there was anything they missed. It turns out that there was! But it took an eagle-eyed investigator with years of experience in maritime investigations to spot it.

Source: tos

That clue – which others had not seen – was found in the front of the ship. The investigator noticed two cables that were out of place. More importantly, the investigator knew exactly why the cables were in the position they were in. They were tow cables.

Two Ghost Ships?

The two cables indicated that the Sam Ratulangi may not have been alone. The investigators learned that when the Sam Ratulangi disappeared in 2009, it was being towed by a tugboat, the Independence. And that the Independence was missing, too.

Source: Yangon Police

The Burmese Navy scoured the coastline and found what they were looking for. The Independence had run aground about fifty miles away from where the Sam Ratulangi was found. And, shockingly, there were people on the tugboat … a crew of thirteen.

Questioning the Crew of the Tugboat

The Burmese authorities rounded up the thirteen-member crew of the Independence and began questioning them about the ghost ship. They admitted that they had been tugging the Sam Ratulangi but were forced to change course after encountering bad weather.

Source: Unsplash/Robert Linder

The crew was not forthcoming with information. They indicated that they were planning to take the Sam Ratulangi to Bangladesh to be dismantled. But that didn’t explain where the ship had been for nine years and where its crew was.

Selling the Ship for Scrap

The crew of the Independence told authorities that they found the Sam Ratulangi as an abandoned ghost ship and, since no one had claimed ownership of it, they were asserting salvage rights on it. That’s why, they claimed, they were selling the ship for scrap.

Source: eastbaytimes

But the authorities had done their homework, and they knew that the tugboat crew’s story didn’t hold water. How coincidental would it be for the exact same ship that had been tugging the vessel when it vanished a decade ago would be the same ship that discovered it floundering in the ocean years later as an abandoned ghost ship? Something smelled fishy.

Rusty, but Still Seaworthy

The crew was questioned about their decision to sell the Sam Ratulangi as scrap. Sure, there was some wear and tear on the vessel, but it was still seaworthy. Besides, large cargo ships like this were built to last for 30 years or more. The Sam Ratulangi was only 17 years old.

Source: Yangon Police

The Burmese authorities suspected that the salvage story was just the cover story the crew was presenting so that the military would hand over the ship to them. They suspected that the crew had no plans to scrap the vessel. Instead, they theorized, they planned to keep using it for what they had been using it for. But what was that?

The Vessel Showed Signs of Upkeep

For a ghost ship that was supposedly drifting the ocean for nine years, the Sam Ratulangi was in remarkably good shape, especially its interior. The Burmese authorities theorized that the crew of the Independence had been maintaining the vessel for years.

Source: Unsplash/Kurt Cotoaga

The working theory is that the crew of the tugboat stole the Sam Ratulangi from the port in Taiwan in 2009 and sold its cargo for money. The vessel had then been sailing the high seas without the proper documentation, along with the Independence.

The Investigation Is Ongoing

The investigation into the ghost ship and the crew of the Independence is still ongoing. One thing seems to be abundantly clear … the crew of the Independence was engaging in illegal activities on the open seas. And both vessels were involved.

Source: Wikimedia/Indian Navy

Piracy is a likely scenario, but the group could also be involved in the illegal transportation of cargo. Until the Burmese authorities can get to the bottom of the situation, the ghost ship, the Sam Ratulangi, is safely in the custody of the Myanmar Navy.