15 Amazing Shipwrecks, Boat Graveyards and Abandoned Vessels Across the World

abandoned-shipwrecks (Image: FL3JM, cc-sa-3.0)

In addition to their natural beauty and forbidding, often uncharted depths, the world’s oceans are a repository of history and a treasure-trove of man-made relics that span the ages. From the sunken remnants of ancient cities and submerged plane wrecks to the most famous shipwrecks in history, the oceans offer a largely unexplored final frontier immediately beyond our shores. This article examines some of the most impressive shipwrecks yet discovered, both under and above the waves, coupled with a selection of abandoned boat and ship graveyards in extreme corners of the earth. (Above: the wreck of Russian battlecruiser Murmansk, Norway.)

Wreck of SS American Star (SS America), Fuerteventura

ss-america-american-star-wreck-Fuerteventura (Image: Wollex, cc-sa-3.0)

The battered remains of the magnificent SS American Star represent one of the world’s most documented shipwrecks. Originally called SS America and considered by many to be the most beautiful liner ever to fly the US flag, the vessel, which was launched in 1940 for the United States Line, ran aground off the Canary Islands in 1994. At the time of its wrecking, SS American Star had been under tow to Phuket, Thailand. Originally slated for scrap, her fortunes had changed when the breakers defaulted on payment, affording a new lease of life as a floating hotel in Southeast Asia. But in a cruel twist of fate, the ship’s tow lines broke in stormy weather and she foundered on a reef off Fuerteventura. Her wreck became one of the most widely recognised shipwreck images, but two decades of relentless pummeling by the sea have reduced the historic liner to a barely-visible pile of twisted steel.

Wrecked Russian Spy Ship, Red Sea

wrecked-russian-surveillance-ship-red-sea (Image: Adam Horwood, reproduced with permission)

This wrecked Russian Moma class surveillance vessel occupies a spot at the bottom of the Red Sea that has become a de facto ship graveyard (more below). Located at a depth of 25 metres in waters between Egypt and Sadan, the spy shipwreck has become a popular dive site and makes for some incredible underwater photography.

The Vast Ship Breaking Yards of Bangladesh




Chittagong-Bangladesh-ship-breaking-yard-5 (Images: FO TravelAshraf Uz Zaman; reproduced with permission)

Chittagong, Bangladesh – one of the world’s largest ship breaking yards. At its peak employing over 200,000 locals and accounting for half of all Bangladesh’s steel, the scale of this operation is truly epic. In 2008, with 40 premises working simultaneously, Chittagong was the largest shipbreakers in the world, processing millions of tons of steel contaminated with the toxic substances that largely make this industry a no-go in the West, due to tough environmental regulations and health and safety laws. And though the deaths of numerous workers have shone a light on this controversial practice, Bangladesh remains at the heart of the global ship breaking industry, recycling some of the world’s most enormous ships. (Read more here.)

Abandoned Staten Island Ferry, New York City

abandoned-staten-island-ferry (Image: Bob Jagendorf, cc-nc-4.0)

We’ve featured it before but absolutely love the photo! This abandoned Staten Island ferry is one of several locally iconic vessels slowly decaying into rust in the borough’s boat graveyard (see more below). Taken by photographer Bob Jagendorf, the old ferry once served the well-navigated route between Manhattan and Staten Island before retiring to the yard pending eventual breaking.

Rusting Soviet Submarine Graveyard, Kola Peninsula


submarine-graveyard-abandoned-kola-peninsula-3 (Images: www.submarines.narod.ru, reproduced with permission)

Rusting in peace near the Olenya Bay naval base on northwest Russia’s forbidding Kola Peninsula, a ruggedly inhospitable landscape inside the Arctic Circle, lies this amazing fleet of long-derelict military submarines. The abandoned subs have reportedly occupied this spot within one of the world’s most bleak naval facilities since the 1970s, when overworked shipyards struggling to cope with increasing Cold War orders for new vessels simply didn’t have the resources to decommission and dismantle retired ships.


submarine-graveyard-abandoned-kola-peninsula-5 (Images: www.submarines.narod.ru, reproduced with permission)

To remedy the problem and free up space, several vessels were sunk as underwater targets while these submarines were towed to Nezametnaya Cove and abandoned – much to the concern of environmentalists. While a handful were reportedly scrapped during the 1990s, more recent Google Earth imagery shows others still lying near the shore – little more than contaminated, wrecked monuments to the collapsed Soviet Union.

World Discoverer Cruise Ship Wreck, Solomon Islands



world-discoverer-wreck-solomon-islands-3 (Images: Philjones828, cc-sa-3.0; Adrian Turner, reproduced with permission)

At 287 feet long, the World Discover may have been relatively small for a cruise ship, but listing 46 degrees to starboard, its forlorn hull makes for an impressive and very accessible wreck site in the Solomon Islands’ Roderick Bay. Built in Germany in 1974, the vessel was originally called BEWA Discover and operated by Denmark-based BEWA Cruises, before being sold on several times over the coming decades and registered in various ports from Liberia to Singapore.

world-discoverer-wreck-solomon-islands-4 (Image: Adrian Turner, reproduced with permission)

Ultimately renamed World Discover – which remains faded yet resplendent on her rusting hull – the vessel struck an uncharted reef in Sandfly Passage on April 30, 2000. There were no fatalities that day, other than the ship itself, which has remained in Roderick Bay amid civil strife that hampered her salvage. The shipwreck has since become something of a tourist attraction, though its proximity to the shore has made it an easy target for looters.

Abandoned Explorer Submarine Wreck

abandoned-submarine-wreck-explorer (Image: James P. Delgado, cc-3.0)

The rusting Sub Marine Explorer is one of the world’s oldest submersible wrecks, built in Brooklyn, New York between 1863 and 1866 for the Pacific Pearl Company. The vessel was abandoned in Panama just three years later due to a combination of problems arising from depletion of the pearl beds through overfishing and design flaws leading to decompression sickness. Sub Marine Explorer was ‘rediscovered’ by archaeologist James P. Delgado in 2001, despite being known to locals for generations. The wrecked vessel has since featured in a documentary by National Geographic.

Red Sea Car Ferry Wreck – MV Salem Express




salem-express-red-sea-shipwreck-4 (Images: Adam Horwood, reproduced with permission)

For all its beauty, the waters of the Red Sea are among the Indian Ocean’s most treacherous, thanks to a combination of fierce storms and unforgiving reefs that have sent hundreds a vessel to the seabed throughout history. One of among many Red Sea wrecks is the ferry MV Salem Express, which sank during the early hours of December 17, 1991. That chilling night, the roll-on/roll-off car ferry sank in minutes after colliding with Hyndman Reef while operating between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In a tragic and controversial chain of events, at least 470 souls lost their lives and some bodies were never recovered. Despite that, the eerie wreck is now accessible and, along with other unfortunate vessels at the bottom of the Red Sea, offers some of the world’s most spectacular wreck diving.

The Wreck of ‘Ozlem’, Black Sea

ozlem-shipwreck (Image: Richard Bartz, cc-sa-4.0)

Broken in half amidships, the wreck of a vessel called Ozlem lies semi-submerged north of Batumi on the Black Sea coast. With its bow protruding prominently from the water and stern visible to the rear, the rusty orange-brown hues of corrosion contrast surprisingly pleasantly with the deep blue painted hull. Shipwrecks may not be good for the environment, but they can occasionally add to it in a strange way.

Staten Island Boat Graveyard, NYC


staten-island-boat-graveyard-nyc-2 (Images: Bob Jagendorf, reproduced with permission)

The ferry above isn’t the only abandoned vessel to grace the shoreline yards of New York’s Staten Island. Officially known as Witte Marine Scrap Yard or Arthur Kill Boat Yard, this collection of decaying, decommissioned vessels from the city’s past has become a drawn for urban explorers, known locally and more widely as the Staten Island Boat Graveyard. Among the wrecks are small fishing boats and trawlers, as well as – of course – iconic ferries that once played their role (as modern ones still do) connecting Staten Island to Manhattan via the long established waterway.

Decaying Fishing Boat ‘Pibroch’, County Galway


pibroch-wreck-Connemara-Ireland-2 (Images: Rob Fahey, cc-sa-3.0)

Named after a Gaelic music genre that’s enjoyed a revival in recent times, this old fishing boat brought its catch ashore many years ago and, after mooring up, never left the jetty again. Rusting away peacefully near the Connemara fishing village of Letterfrack, Pibroch appears to have found a new lease of life – sort of – as a subject for local photographers looking to capture scenes of quiet decay along Ireland’s rugged Galway coast.

Sunken Japanese Ship Graveyard in Truk Lagoon




truk-lagoon-sunken-tank (Images: Adam Horwood, reproduced with permission)

Comprising 50 awesome shipwrecks and around 270 aircraft, Truk Lagoon (aka Chuuk Lagoon) in Micronesia boasts one of the world’s most amazing sunken ship graveyards. Thanks to Operation Hailstone – the US Navy raid of Feburary 17-18 1944 against anchored Japanese vessels – divers can explore dozens of military relics of World War Two’s Pacific Theatre. But that’s not all. Trains, tanks, automobiles and other lost treaures clutter the seabed near sunken cargo ships such as the Nippo Maru. Meanwhile, another lost vessel, the San Francisco Maru, earned its nickname the ‘Million Dollar Wreck’ on account of its impressive cargo following its discovery in 1969 by French maritime explorer Jaques Cousteau.

The Ghost Fleet of Suisun Bay, California

ghost-fleet-suisun-bay-2 (Images: Telstar Logistics (see website), cc-nc-3.0)

One of the world’s most impressive – and powerful – still-floating ship graveyards, meanwhile, is America’s National Defense Reserve Fleet, also known as the ‘Ghost Fleet’, which has been based in California’s Suisun Bay, near San Francisco, since the 1950s.  Over the years, the silent collection of World War Two-era military and merchant vessels has included battleships, troop transports and tankers. Its most famous resident, however, has been the mighty battleship USS Iowa (BB-61), which was laid down in June 1940 and decommissioned in 1990. Since 2012 the Iowa has served as a museum ship in Berth 87 at the Port of Los Angeles. The mothballed vessels comprising the remainder of the ghost fleet, though technically available for reactivation, are unlikely to set sail again. In fact, due to environmental concerns, the rusting vessels are being removed from Suisun Bay in stages between now and 2017.

Bowling Harbour Boat Graveyard, Scotland



bowling-harbour-boat-graveyard-scotland-3 (Images: John Guerrier, reproduced with permission)

Glasgow-based urban explorers have extensively documented the abandoned Bowling Harbour boat graveyard on the River Clyde in Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Among the wrecks visible over the years have been a steam trawler, torpedo boat and minesweeper dating to World War Two. Several have been salvaged, others added to the rotting collection. Bowling Harbour served as a shipbuilding and repair centre from around 1790. But the post-war decline in Scottish shipbuilding transformed the once-thriving stretch of river into a boat graveyard. Those that remain reflect just a small number of the vessels that have ended their days in Bowling Harbour, a place that has become a sorry monument to its former glory.

Keep reading – The Bizarre Case of the Two SS Mahratta Shipwrecks


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