The Disappearance


Despite extensive investigations and the passage of time, the crew’s disappearance and abandonment of the Mary Celeste remains a mystery. Over the years, experts and historians have presented various theories, ranging from weather to pirates and monsters. The ship was discovered adrift with its cargo intact and had no sign of a fight or immediate danger. It is an unsolved case perplexing historians and the public alike. Here are some of the proposed theories, some more grounded in reality than others, to explain the disappearance.

Realistic Theories

Compass commonly utilized for navigation

Navigation Error

In an age where navigation was anything but perfect science, one theory is that the captain’s failing equipment or a significant navigational error caused the crew to believe they were in imminent danger. This scenario emphasizes sailors’ awareness of their tools and surroundings, hinting that a fatal misjudgment could have led to a needless abandonment. While there is no solid proof to back up this claim, the deviation from its planned route into so thought uncharted waters is a feasible claim. It could have precipitated a sense of alarm among the crew, compelling them to abandon the ship.

Psychological Breakdown

Psychological stress could have induced mass panic and may have contributed to the crew’s mysterious disappearance, fueled by lengthy isolation and possibly external factors causing a mental breakdown. This hypothesis investigates the psychological basis of the crew not holding up. Scientists cite that the potential for harmful gasses from the cargo could have produced a lethal environment, forcing the crew to evacuate the ship, even though it was cited that the cargo was likely safe and in pristine condition. Furthermore, it was considered that tainted drinking water might have been to blame for having provoked hallucinations or health problems, causing the crew to leave.

Excerpt from a newspaper surrounding the mystery
Why They Might Abandon Ship, discussion of possible hysteria

Mary Celeste in a possible storm, rough waters

Weather Scare

This theory hypothesizes that the crew sensed an oncoming natural disaster, such as a waterspout or violent storms, that frightened the crew into abandoning the Mary Celeste. The possibility that malfunctioning weather equipment misled the crew into believing an urgent threat, resulting in their hasty departure, adds another element of human error to the puzzle. This theory, however, leaves us to explain why the ship was in perfect shape with sails unharmed if it did experience a great storm and why the crew would leave the safer vessel for a lifeboat if they thought they were approaching a storm.

Fantasy Theories

Sea Monsters and Paranormal Activity

Tales of sea monsters have haunted sailors’ nightmares throughout history. This idea dives into the deep well of human fear of the unknown, and the natural instincts and need for explanation, generating the claim that what forced the crew off their ship was not of human or weather related reasons. For obvious reasons, the lack of scientific proof makes this theory better suited for the movies and books than historical study.

Legendary Kraken, monster of the deep, pictured as a giant squid. Engraving 1870

Artwork of the “Ghost Ship”


The idea that pirates or hostile forces boarded and forced the crew to abandon the ship drew much public attention. However, the truth of the matter, as evidenced by the intact goods and the lack of stolen items, contradicts these dramatic events. In addition, there was minimal evidence of a struggle or violence aboard the vessel, suggesting that the reason for abandonment couldn’t have been pirates.


… or rebellion against the captain’s command, arose as a possible motivation for desertion. This theory is that an internal conflict between the crew and the captain and his family, possibly due to the idea that they were off course or lost, could have caused the crew to panic and led them to abandon. However, Captain Briggs’ had a reliable reputation and sailed with a known loyal crew, causing doubt on the possibility of a mutiny among his seamen.

Painting of the Mary Celeste, and the discovery of the abandonment by a lifeboat

The Journey

The map depicts the route of the Mary Celeste’s transatlantic voyage, which began on November 7, 1872, from Staten Island, New York. The ship’s intended trajectory was Genoa, Italy across the North Atlantic was toward . The journey, however, evidently, came to a halt on November 25, 1872, when the vessel’s last known position was noted in the captain’s log near Santa Maria Island in the Azores archipelago. Approximately ten days later, on December 5, 1872, the Mary Celeste was discovered floating, devoid of her crew, in an area of the Atlantic Ocean near the Azores.