In 1872, a ship by the name of Mary Celeste was spotted off the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean – completely intact and undisturbed aside from its missing crew. Not a single person, alive or dead, could be found, despite everyone’s personal belongings still sitting undisturbed where they had been left. Even little things such as valuables and piano music were right where they should have been. It was as if its crew had simply evaporated. There were no signs of a struggle and no cargo was missing. To this day, the case of the disappearing crew of the merchant ship Mary Celeste is one of the most famous maritime mysteries in history.
So what happened to the ship’s crew? Historians have been trying to figure out their fate for decades, but the question was finally solved by scientists. One fact that is known about the Mary Celeste is that of its cargo of 1701 barrels of alcohol, 9 were empty. Although an obvious answer is that the sailors went overboard with a party, the truth is even more spectacular. In 2006, Dr. Andrea Sella, a professor of chemistry at University College London, created a replica of the Mary Celeste’s hold to find out how to create an explosion without leaving a trace of fire. He simulated a leak of the ship’s nine barrels of alcohol and found that once the vapour was ignited, say by a pipe or a spark, it created a pressure-wave type of explosion. There was a spectacular wave of flame but, behind it was relatively cool air. No soot was left behind and there was no burning or scorching.
Ergo, the mystery of the Mary Celeste is most likely as follows: there was a leak of the alcohol, the vapour of which fuelled a massive ghost explosion that swept through the ship. The sailors, completely unscathed but utterly horrified, would have piled into the ship’s lifeboat without any useful things like food or water, eventually sinking or dying of thirst and exposure. The Mary Celeste would have still looked perfectly fine as it drifted the vast ocean, all by itself.