The Mystery of the Mary Celeste. Part Three: the Rediscovery of the Cursed Ship

The writer Clive Cussler led an expedition for Numa and found the wreckage of the ship in a reef off Haiti

A cursed ship, the Mary Celeste. The disquieting mystery of the disappearance of the entire crew was not the only misadventure had by the brigantine in its brief life. Since it was launched in 1861 in the waters off Spencer Island, in Nova Scotia, the sailing vessel became famous for its bad luck.

Its first captain, Robert McLellan, who was one of the owners of the brigantine, caught pneumonia and died on board nine days after taking command, without even finishing its maiden voyage. He was the first of three captains who died on board the Mary Celeste, without counting Benjamin Briggs, who disappeared into nothingness in the ocean. In one of her first voyages, the brigantine violently hit a fishing vessel. It was towed into the shipyard for repairs and during the works a fire broke out on board the ship destroying the topside.

During its first ocean crossing, the Mary Celeste caused another serious accident with another ship, just as it was entering the Channel. The incident led to the dismissal of the captain, who was one of the few to come out alive! And the list of bad luck is still not finished, the ship was then stranded in Glace Bay, in Canada. At this point her owners decided to get rid of her and sell her to the first bidder. This happened in 1867.

The new owner, the New Yorker Richard Haines, spent more money on repairs than he did in buying her she was so far gone. Haines, who evidently did not believe in the superstitions of the sailors, thought it best to change the name. He was the one to name our brigantine the Mary Celeste.

Its first name was, instead, Amazon. The ownership of the vessel was divided in four shares, including Captain Briggs, and the vessel began running the trade routes between American ports and those of the Mediterranean. This did not last long. Not even three years later, the Mary Celeste was found adrift of the Azores with nobody left on board.


The investigation on the disappearance of Captain Briggs, his family, and the entire crew, including the cat, having ended in a puff of smoke, the ship was released to its owners, who immediately put it up for sale at cost. But the story of the cursed ship was the talk of all the sailors and nobody wanted to work on board the Mary Celeste.

In her last 11 years of life, the brigantine changed owners 17 times. Her last captain, Gilman Parker, deliberately sank her in the Rochelais reef, off the island of Haiti. Parker’s intent was to defraud the insurance, simulating an accident that had never happened by setting fire to the ship to hide his scam. But the Mary Celeste wanted to have the last laugh and refused to catch fire!

Parker was therefore dragged into court by the insurance company and found guilty. Considering however the reason behind the fame of that ship, the judge decided not to rub salt into the wound. He sentenced the captain to pay a fine, but avoided putting him in jail. His destiny, however was already marked. Three months later, the false castaway died. Of his two partners in crime, one committed suicide and the other ended his days in an insane asylum.


Clive Cussler, author of the Dirk Pitt books and founder of Numa, the National and Underwater Marine Agency

The story of the Mary Celeste and the mystery surrounding her, has sparked the fantasies of novelists, mystery detectives, treasure hunters and dreamers from around the world. It is not surprising therefore that it was a writer who found her wreckage! And the writer in question could be no other than Clive Eric Cussler, the “father” of the diver Dirk Pitt and two other audacious adventurers of the land and sea, who adventures have always kept readers in suspense right to the very last page.

As the authentic person he is, Clive Cussler loves mixing reality with fantasy, and took out of his books Numa, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, giving the agency of his Dirk Pitt novels a real life. Today Numa is one of the most important diving associations in the world, specialised in the search for cursed ships, hidden treasures and archaeological mysteries which would certainly be of interest to Dirk Pitt.

And it was on an expedition with Numa, led by Cussler and his cinema producer friend John Davis, that they found, on 9 August 2001, the wreckage of the Mary Celeste abandoned in a reef off the coast of Haiti. “We were just lucky –replied the author to reporters congratulating him on his discovery – we were given the privilege of writing the final chapter in this story, even though the great mystery surrounding it will never be resolved”.

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