How a ‘ghost ship’ wound up empty and adrift on the Indian Ocean

The Sam Ratulangi ghost ship is shown in this image released by Yangon Police in Myanmar. Yangon Police/Facebook

A mysterious cargo ship found floating on the Indian Ocean last week was cut loose from a salvage boat in a storm, investigators in Myanmar say.

The so-called ghost ship, which has been identified as the Sam Ratulangi PB 1600, was initially discovered by fishermen on Aug. 27, prompting Myanmar’s navy to launch an investigation.

Myanmar officials said the rusty cargo ship was in rough but working order, although there were no traces of a crew on board.

The deck of the Sam Ratulangi cargo ship, which was found deserted in late August, is shown in this image. Yangon Police/Facebook

The 177-metre-long ship was built in 2001 and last recorded near Taiwan in 2009, according to the ship-tracking site Marine Traffic. The ship was registered in Indonesia and has been considered decommissioned or lost for nearly a decade.

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In a Facebook post, Myanmar’s navy says it found two long cables attached to the nose of the ship, prompting speculation that the ship might have been towed by another vessel.

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The navy caught up with a tugboat off the coast of Myanmar and questioned its Indonesian crew last week. 

The tugboat crew said they set out from Jakarta, Indonesia on Aug. 13, to haul the ship to a salvage factory in Bangladesh. A storm hit them on Aug. 26 and snapped their tow cables, forcing them to abandon the wreck somewhere on the Indian Ocean.

A man is shown on the deck of the Sam Ratulangi cargo ship. Yangon Police/Facebook

Chittagong, Bangladesh, is a major hub for ship-breaking services. More than 80 per cent of obsolete commercial vessels are broken down on beaches in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, although the process has been criticized for harming the environment and putting workers at risk. Large ships can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in scrap metal.

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It’s still unclear what happened to the ghost ship between its last known movements in 2009 and its failed trip to the scrapyard last month.

The cargo ship is owned by an individual in Malaysia, according to a report from Eleven Myanmar.

The Myanmar navy says its investigation is still ongoing.


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