Mallows Bay: The “Ghost Fleet” of the Chesapeake

Chesapeake Ghost fleet: the ship graveyard of Mallows Bay, Maryland (Image: Maryland Department of Natural Resources via Flickr; Mallows Bay shipwrecks)

Mallows Bay lies close to the Chesapeake, situated on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. It’s a beautiful and unassuming spot, but it’s also the resting place for scores of abandoned ships, many of which date back to around World War One.

Shipwrecked boats dating back to World War One litter Mallows Bay on the Potomac River (Image: Maryland Department of Natural Resources via Flickr)

According to Sometimes Interesting, the decaying wrecks that now litter the bottom of the shallow Mallows Bay were originally part of a major shipbuilding effort approved by President Woodrow Wilson as transport vessels for the war effort. But today, a graveyard of around 230 United States Shipping Board Merchant Fleet Corporation shipwrecks haunts the murky waters of the Chesapeake.

(Images: Maryland Department of Natural Resources via Flickr)

Sometimes Interesting claims the number of ships and the rush to manufacture them would set the taxpayer back around $1 million per vessel – despite the fact that they were built out of wood instead of the more expensive steel. As the ships were never meant to be used in combat, the corners cut during their production were deemed acceptable. But a year and a half into the project, only 134 of the 1,000 ships were completed, with another 260 partially built.

(Images: Maryland Department of Natural Resources via Flickr)

By the time Germany surrendered on November 11, 1918, only 76 of the steamships had ever been used. Building continued under the assumption that the vessels would ultimately see some form of service. But a combination of factors, including poor construction and the development of the diesel engine, rendered the ships obsolete before they were even completed.

(Images: Maryland Department of Natural Resources via Flickr)

They steam vessels were abandoned in the murky shallows of Mallows Bay. Some of the decaying hulks have been salvaged over the years, but hundreds more lie wrecked where they were moored generations ago. Their rotting carcasses have put Mallows Bay on the map over time, earning it the legitimate moniker of a ship graveyard. The Mallows Bay ghost fleet has since garnered the dubious reputation of “the largest shipwreck fleet in the Western Hemisphere”.

(Images: Maryland Department of Natural Resources via Flickr)

However, the old Mallows Bay shipwrecks are certainly not lost. The Chesapeake Conservancy is currently working with a number of partner organisations, including NOAA and the Department of Natural Resources, to designate Mallows Bay, with its 185 documented wrecks, as a National Marine Sanctuary. Find out more here.

The shipwrecked vessels of Mallows Bay near the mouth of the Chesapeake in Maryland, USA

(Images: Maryland Department of Natural Resources via Flickr)

Related: Abandoned Warships: 10 Decaying Aircraft Carriers, Submarines & Other Military Vessels


About the author: Debra Kelly



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