The 10 Shipwrecks That Are Still Unexplained Publishing House

According to UNESCO, there are approximately three million shipwrecks scattered across the Earth’s surface.[1] The ocean is a vast place, and sea travel can be a hugely isolated and dangerous endeavor. Some ships are destroyed by storms, others run out of supplies or hit land, and some just outright vanish, never to be seen again.

For every shipwreck we understand, there are at least ten which are still shrouded in mystery. They are uniquely haunting places, catastrophes frozen in time and preserved hundreds or even thousands of feet below the surface. Here, we delve into some of the strangest shipwrecks that are still unexplained today.

1. The World Trade Center Ship


One of the greatest tragedies of the modern world happened on September, 11, 2001: Four commercial aircraft were hijacked by terrorists and flown toward key landmarks in the US. Two of these planes hit the 110-story World Trade Center towers, which collapsed later that day.

The disaster resulted in the total destruction of the World Trade Center, which had to be cleared of debris ahead of reconstruction plans. The ground was broken as part of a scheme to build an underground security and parking complex. But excavation had to be halted in 2010 when diggers encountered something very unusual 6.7 meters (22 ft) below ground level, slightly south of where the two towers had once stood: a shipwreck.[2]

Later analysis discovered that the trees used to build the ship were cut down in 1773, a few years before the Declaration of Independence. It was built from the same white oaks that also supplied builders with the materials they needed to construct Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Archaeologists later found that the ship had almost certainly been built in Philadelphia, which was the center of the American shipbuilding industry at the time. As a result, the vessel was probably sailing during those key few years when America broke away from Britain.

Archaeologists still aren’t sure how the ship ended up there, but it is commonly understood that the area was still sea at the time of the American Revolution. The ship may have been scrapped and buried on purpose as part of a conscious attempt to extend the Manhattan coastline, or it could have just been another unfortunate victim of the fickle ocean.

2. The Mary Rose


The Mary Rose was undisputedly the pride of the English navy for over 30 years. When it was first launched in 1511, the Age of Sail was only just beginning. It was the largest ship in the English fleet and one of the most advanced in the world: It took full advantage of the recent invention of the gunport and was one of the first ships in history capable of firing a broadside. It fought in numerous battles against England’s primary enemy at the time, France, before sinking in the midst of battle in 1545.

The circumstances of the Mary Rose’s demise still aren’t understood.[3] On the day of the battle, the English fleet was docked at Portsmouth harbor, making it especially vulnerable. The French galleys launched a surprise attack, and the Mary Rose and another warship sailed out to drive them off. According to a contemporary report, the Mary Rose suddenly leaned right, causing water to flood in through the open gunports. The ship sank quickly after that, taking over 90 percent of her 400-man crew down with it. It sank within full view of Southsea Castle: Today, a buoy marks the site, which can easily be seen from the castle walls.

A number of theories have been put forward to explain the tragedy, none of which are entirely satisfactory. One theory suggests the ship had been made too heavy by the most recent refit, which added more men and guns, but the refit was nine years before the sinking. A French captain present at the battle said it was sunk by a cannonball, but no evidence found at the wreck conclusively supports this. Another contemporary said that it was hit by a gust of wind while it was turning, and it had just fired its guns, which, added together, tipped the ship too far to the right. The Mary Rose has since been recovered from the seabed and is preserved in a museum in Portsmouth, but even now, analysts disagree over exactly what caused the sinking.

3. The Jenny Lind


In 1850, the Jenny Lind was more than 480 kilometers (300 mi) from the Australian mainland when it suddenly struck land. The ship had hit a small ridge which lay just below the water. The crew then survived for 37 days on a small, sandy quay while they built a new ship, before sailing over 600 kilometers (370 mi) to Moreton Bay on the Australian mainland. All 28 crew members survived.[4]

The feat was widely recorded in the newspapers at the time, and shortly after that, the surprise bit of land, known as Kenn Reefs, started appearing on navigation maps. After that, travel past the ridge—which lay right in the middle of a busy trade route—was much safer. But even today, we don’t know quite how many ships the ridge has actually claimed. The Bona Vista crashed into it in 1828, and a record made in 1857 states that the southern end of the reef was already “strewn with wrecks” even then. Modern estimates assume that at least eight ships have met their end on this deadly atoll.

The main problem is the incessant strength of the sea which batters the atoll. A trip to Kenn Reefs in the 1980s found that both the Jenny Lind and the Bona Vista were still half-visible above the water, but another trip in January 2017 found that they had since been destroyed. The tropical weather and powerful currents quickly reduce any ships that wreck there to their metallic parts, making it impossible to tell just how many have been claimed. The investigators are persistent, though: They’re currently in the process of cataloguing all the material still visible and checking contemporary shipping records in an effort to come up with an estimate... Show More

10 Shipwrecks That Are Still Unexplained

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