In just a few weeks the chatter on the ship had gone completely quiet.
He was now all alone on the ship with no company. His bosses had made it sound so simple but it would take much longer than anticipated. If only he knew what he had signed, he never would have done it.
In 2017, Mohammed Aisha Was over the moon when he got a job with MV Aman.
He was posted on a ship as the chief officer. The transport company promised to pay him well for the job. As the ship left Syria he was excited about the journey. But things would soon turn sour.
Aisha didn’t think anything would go wrong, but he faced a harsh realization once they left the port.
The port in Adabiya, Egypt informed them that their classification certificates had expired. Each port was sent documents that granted permission for ships to pass through. These documents were supposed to be valid, but theirs weren’t.
From Bad To Worse
As one of the senior workers on the ship, it was partially Aisha’s job to correct this problem. They also found out that the safety report of equipment that they had on board was also expired.
Aisha was fuming. The owner was supposed to sort this out way before any of them even boarded the ship. But bad news continued to present itself as the days passed.
To make matters far worse the government wouldn’t let them leave port until everything was sorted out.
Aisha had to sit down when the next problem arose. The company was having money troubles and they didn’t have enough fuel. It seemed that the crew felt they weren’t being paid enough to stick around.
So the crew started to leave and head back home to their families.
To make things even worse Aisha was considered responsible for the ship since its captain was Egyptian. He was unaware he would sign a document condemning him to what would feel like a prison.
Aisha couldn’t believe it as the authorities took away his passport and told him to stay aboard the boat.
After a few months, it was annoying but didn’t seem too bad. He counted the days until he could leave. It felt like the day might never come.
But then the power to the ship was cut. He just hoped the food and water would last. It didn’t, and when he ran out of food and water, he began to panic,
Then he thought about the document they made him sign. What if it was something he shouldn’t have signed?
The ship was now dark and his only company was that of rats and bugs.
No one would come to help him or drop off supplies. The days alone took their toll on his mind until he felt like he was losing it. It only got worse when, after two agonizing years, he found out his mother had passed away. He learned of this news through the ship’s radio connection to the authorities.
Begging For Help
He begged the authorities to give him his papers, but they refused and left him to be stranded.
He cried himself to sleep almost every night. He wanted to be with his family. He felt foolish for signing the papers. He didn’t know that the papers meant he would be staying on the boat for 4 years.
Moved By Storm
The ship was pushed 4 miles down the shoreline by strong winds and waves.
He now sat closer to shore. The food had run out and he could feel his strength slipping away. Aisha made the impossible decision to try to swim to shore to get help. Now, it was life or death.
Taking A Chance
He was weak and hungry but he pulled through the dirty waters of the Suez Canal, his phone and the tiny amount of cash he had left in a waterproof bag.
He had only two goals; eat and charge his phone so he could send his message out. But would anyone listen?
Through the help of his family, he managed to post his videos about living on the abandoned ship.
Some had thought he had vanished or drowned at sea. They had no idea that he was essentially and irrationally detained by legal handcuffs. That’s when the international arguments started.
Only One Friend
The company said that they still couldn’t do anything.
The Egyptian government said they wouldn’t. In the middle of it all sat a sick and starving Aisha. His only allies were the International Transport Workers Federation. He prayed every night they could save him.
The first ray of actual hope came when one of the ITWF’s members said he would sign a document that would make him legal guardian of the ship, relieving Aisha of his forced legal binding duties.
They went back to the ship together. This time with fresh supplies and fuel. They’d find a way to deal with it but the fight wasn’t over yet.
After four miserable years of being forgotten, Aisha would finally be able to go home! He was finally beginning to smell the sweet scent of freedom.
But just as he was beginning to get his hopes up, the government doubled down on their efforts to suppress him. Still, they wouldn’t let him leave. That’s when the ITWF stepped in.
It was a heart-stopping snag.
And, for a few months, the local government refused to return his passport, even though all the necessary and legal steps had been taken. But, in the end, he felt the lifesaving document in his hands again. The ITWF also gave him more.
They paid for his flight home and medical treatment.
He sat on the plane, exhausted but anxious to get back to his family. He would hug them and never let them go. He would visit his mother’s grave and beg for forgiveness. But… when he had recovered, would he ever sail the ocean again?
The Naval officers kept aboard the rusty, old ship and quickly spread out to search it. They had been told to remain calm – despite the eerie circumstances under which it appeared in their waters – and find out what was going on as fast as possible.
But after a thorough investigation, they discovered there was no one on board and the ship had been missing for a decade. And what was that hanging off the front of it?
On the morning of August 30, 2018, two fishermen sat in their small boat off the coast of the Yangon Region in Myanmar. They had been waiting patiently for the catch of the day, just as they had done every morning of their working lives. But this day would be like no other.
The men slowly rose to their feet as a large shape shrouded in fog emerged on the horizon. But that wasn’t a shipping lane. Not one from this century anyway.
The panicked fishermen stared at each other in disbelief as it slowly dawned on them that the ghostly vessel was heading right for their boat.
As they desperately made their way out of the old, rusty ship’s path, they called the Coast Guard. But by the time they arrived on the scene, it was too late.
The creepy-looking ship ran aground on a sandbar before the Coast Guard, Navy, and state police descended on the beach.
It was immediately obvious to them that this wasn’t a Burmese ship. No one had ever heard of Sam Ratulangi PB1600, let alone reported it missing – which was strange because while the old ship appeared to be in good working order, there was absolutely no one aboard. How did such a large ship end up like this?
A statement from U Ne Win, Yangon regional parliament MP for the nearby Thongwa township, told The Myanmar Times, “No crew or cargo was found on the ship. It was quite puzzling how such a big ship turned up in our waters.”
What they didn’t explain was the intriguing clue to the tragic origins of the ship that the Coast Guard found hanging off the bow of the ship.
The Sam Ratulangi was a 177-meter (580-foot) container ship built in 2001. It was reportedly sailing under the Indonesian flag and embarked on its maiden voyage on that same year.
It sailed for eight years, transporting cargo throughout the world until one fateful voyage when it became lost at sea. But how did it arrive on the beach in Myanmar a whole decade later? And what happened to the crew?
According to manifests discovered aboard the ship, the Sam Ratulangi’s last official voyage began off the coast of Taiwan in 2009, sending chills down the spine of the officer that discovered it.
But the two cables found hanging off the front of the shape helped fill the gaps between when the ship last set sail and when it almost plowed into a pair of fishermen with no crew at the helm almost 10 years later.
The Plot Thickens
The cables prompted a naval investigation of the area. Soon enough, officers discovered a tugboat named Independence about 80 kilometers from where the ghost ship was found.
This time when the navy boarded, they were relieved to find signs of life. Aboard Independence were 13 Indonesian crew members. But if the crew members were all Indonesian, and the Independence was flying a Singapore flag, where was the tugboat from? And did they have any information about the mysterious reappearance of the Sam Ratulangi?
A Time For Diplomacy
The Indonesian government was quick to point out that although the crew was made up of its own people, what the navy had found was a commercial vessel. “It has nothing to do with the Government,” insisted Muhammad Iqbal, director at the Indonesian Department of Citizen’s Protection.
So who were they? The Navy soon got the answers they were looking for.
After interrogating the crew members, Myanmar’s Navy discovered that the Independence had been towing the ghost ship to a factory in Bangladesh.
But tempestuous weather south of the Yangon River had led them into trouble and caused the cables to snap, sending the empty vessel right at the fishermen.
The owner of the Independence tugboat is thought to be from Malaysia, although exactly how he came across the Sam Ratulangi and what happened to its original crew remains a mystery as the investigation continues.
Bangladesh is well-known for its ship-breaking industry. Hundreds of old commercial vessels are dismantled in Chittagong every year, despite the controversy surrounding its poor regulations and dangerous labor practices. The investigation continues.
The Sam Ratulangi isn’t the first “ghost ship” to appear in recent times. Several fishing boats have been swept off to the coast of Japan, believed to be North Korean boats that headed too far out in search of fish.
And while the idea of lost ships and dangerous conditions might turn most people away, one man had the opposite reaction – one that nearly got him arrested.
Tim Murphy had spent his entire childhood near the crashing waves of the Californian coast.
By the time he turned 25, he had his deep-sea diving certification as well as Captain’s license. And well in his thirties, he had established a pretty unique hobby – exploring and photographing abandoned ships and nautical graveyards.
Clear Life Goals
His main goal was to visit and document the ships in India’s Alang Ship Breaking Yard – but he couldn’t get the greenlight and with the buzz of activity around disassembling the vessels, a covert mission would be dicey at best.
So, he settled for the Bay of Nouadhibou instead – although it did come with its own set of problems.
The dead-ship yard was infamous for officials taking bribes so people or companies could dump their unwanted vessels without the hassle of fees or bureaucracy.
This was perfect for Tim, because the ships had accumulated over time, and he would be able to put together a sort of “aging” process through photos. So, as soon as he had the cash, and a few handy connections, he hopped the next flight to Nouadhibou.
Like A Spy
As he handed over a significant bribe to one of the security guards, and was snuck in during the early morning hours, Tim couldn’t help but grin at the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere.
It was like he was a spy sneaking into a secure government facility…sort of. As their little dingy made contact with the first ship, Tim felt his heart race.
He only had one day, but when he walked into the first floor and saw the smorgasbord of photo opportunities, he wondered if he would have enough time.
Tim quickly pulled out his camera and pressed the shuttered button like his life depended on it.
Rows of broken slot machines had given their last quarters long ago and moldy poker tables lay in pieces across the grimy tiled floor.
The grand dining room might have been vibrant greens and golds at one point, but now it rested in hues of dusty yellow. It was a photographer’s dream. But the next ship would blow his mind even more.
Still Looks News
This one looked like it could have been shepherding tourists even to this day.
Red velvet chairs had little to no dust and the cabins suits still had their beds made! He looked closer at the stationary and printed phone instructions. It must have been a dumped Ukrainian ship. Suddenly Tim heard a high-pitched whistle.
Time To Go
It was the signal to leave.
He looked at his watch. It was already 6pm! He had completely lost track of time, not to mention how many memory cards and batteries he had churned through. But there was no time to waste. He sprinted down the hall and climbed down the flimsy ladder to the waiting, and anxious, security guard.
Tipping A Bit Extra
They made their way to hole in the fence where Tim had been picked up in the morning.
He grinned, thanked the guard, and slipped him another hundred dollars. It was well worth the tip! The man’s eyes grew as large as his smile. He said Tim could come back any time for more photos!
Well Worth It
Sadly, however, he had to catch a flight late that night.
As he sat in the taxi, on the way to the airport, he scrolled through his snapshots. They were more than he could ever hope for. This was certainly going to catch a few eyes!