As kids, most of us hear a ghost story or two, but rarely was the “ghost” a ship. Nevertheless, ghost ships do occasionally find their way into folk lore, whether they are fact or fiction. Fictitious ghost ships would have their draw, because the storyteller can elaborate as much or as little as they want, but the non-fiction version is incredible, because it is true. One such real ghost ship is the Sam Ratulangi. This ship is a modern day version of the ghost ship. Built in 2001, the ship disappeared after only eight years of service.
The disappearance is not totally unusual, but not being able to locate the ship is something else all together…especially in the year 2001. If a ship sinks, someone knows just about where to look, and with satellite coverage, someone will spot a ship that didn’t sink. And this was not small boat. The Sam Ratulangi is a huge cargo ship that is 580 feet long…not something that could be easily missed in the ocean. Nevertheless, for 9 years, there was no sign of the Sam Ratulangi. Most people assumed that the ship sank back in 2001, and gave up hope of ever finding it again.
People who love the beach, know that you often find things that have washed up on shore, but no one expected a 580 foot ship to suddenly show up within sight of the beach…bottles, driftwood, even parts of a ship wreck or plane crash, but not the whole ship, and definitely not after 9 years. Nevertheless, there it was just a couple of miles off the coast of a village in Myanmar. The ship was empty, both of cargo and of crew. It is unknown exactly what happened to the crew. The ship is enormous, and it’s pretty hard to imagine someone not seeing this drifting out on the ocean, so why had it reappeared? It was visible from the shore, but someone had to be brave enough to go onboard to check it out. The ship was seized by the Myanmar navy, until more information could be found.
The appearance of the Sam Ratulangi was a mystery, but soon there was a clue that could lead to solving it. Radar had shown there were two ships suspiciously sailing in their waters in the preceding days. They presumed the huge ghost ship was one, but where was the other? The Navy tracked down a small tugboat called Independence, and found out that it had been transporting the huge cargo ship. After questioning the 13 crew members of the Independence, it was confirmed they had been hauling the Sam Ratulangi, but had it had been cut loose following some severe weather on the sea. They claimed they were planning on dragging the ship to Bangladesh where they would sell it to ship breakers where the vessel would be stripped down, dismantled, and anything valuable would have been salvaged. Ship breaking is pretty big business these days. Modern ships are only expected to last around 25 to 30 years before they are decommissioned due to corrosion. That leaves lots of working valuable equipment onboard these ships even if the body of the ship isn’t. Shipyards allow the owners of these ships to make some money from what is otherwise an expensive hunk of metal that will soon sink to the bottom of the ocean.
Even though the Sam Ratulangi disappeared over nine years ago, this tugboat had done what no one else apparently had, and found it in the middle of the ocean. Not willing to let this colossal ship drift around aimlessly any longer, the crew of the Independence hooked their tugboat to the Sam Ratulangi and began hauling it toward Bangladesh. So, while the mystery of how the Sam Ratulangi had disappeared, and how it avoided detection for nine years, as well as what happened to it cargo and crew, will likely never be known, the mystery of how it ended up of the Myanmar shore was solved.