The last harbor: top 7 picturesque ship cemeteries

7 largest shipwreck cemeteries in the world

Mankind learned how to build ships at the same time when the first states emerged – in the 3rd millennium BC. The history of shipbuilding goes back about 4,000 years, and for the same number of years sunken ships have found their last mooring at the bottom of the seas and oceans. Historians claim that at least 3 million ships have sunk from the 10th century B.C. to the middle of the 20th century A.D.

Shipwrecked Frigate.

Shipwrecked frigate

Before the invention of the steam engine more than half of the ships were wrecked and sank within 1-2 years of operation. Rowing and sailing ships also sank in naval battles and storms, and more often the disasters were caused by strong winds and storms. In the XIX century, when sailing ships were replaced by steamships in the fleets of naval powers and people learned to forecast the weather, the number of shipwrecks decreased.

Two world wars in the twentieth century added thousands of shipwrecks – combat and support vessels, cargo and cargo-passenger liners, and submarines. The wrecks were raised to the surface of the water and towed to port in isolated cases.

Most of the dead ships have forever remained under the water column. Over 4 thousand years in the world’s oceans, shipwrecks have formed cemeteries – sections of the bottom, where lying hundreds of ships wrecked in different centuries.

Ancient Roman galleys, British frigates, pirate galleons, American steamships and Soviet warships neighbor in the underwater graveyards. There are many more such sites along the shipping lanes, and explorers of the deep regularly find new sunken ships. We will tell you about the 7 largest graveyards of shipwrecks that are known today.

1. Caribbean Sea, area of the Greater Antilles

Shipping routes through the Caribbean Sea were established after the discovery of America, because it is the shortest route from the Pacific Ocean to the ports of the Atlantic. Merchant, military and passenger ships have regularly passed by the Greater Antilles for 500 years.

Galleon of the Spanish Silver Fleet

Galleon of the Spanish Silver Fleet

But the weather in the Caribbean Sea is changeable, there are strong storms 8-12 times a year, capable of carrying large and medium-sized sailing ships to the bottom. Yes, and pirates in the XVI-XIX centuries, this sea is considered a great place to get the gold and goods from the merchant ships.

At the time of the “gold rush” there was a route through the Caribbean Sea, which was used to bring jewels from New Land to Spain and Portugal. And it was only natural that hundreds of frigates and galleons carrying gold were attacked by pirates.

The sunken ships are now inhabited by fish

Now the sunken ships are inhabited by fish.

The exact number of ships lying at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea has not been established. Researchers say that there are from 1000 to 3000 ships sunk there, at least 450 of which are Spanish sailing ships that perished between 1500 and 1800.

As of today, a maximum of 20% of the wrecks in the Caribbean Sea have been explored. And the most famous of these are:

  • The Spanish sailing ship San Antonio, which carried gold and jewels and perished during a storm in the fall of 1621.
  • The Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, which sank in 1641 with tons of gold and jewelry on board.
  • The English frigate Winchester with 60 heavy guns (cannons), wrecked in 1695.
  • The 10 galleons of the Spanish Silver Fleet, sunk in 1715, during a severe storm.
  • The Spanish galleon Rui, lost in a storm in 1733.
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According to treasure hunters, the Caribbean Sea is not only a large cemetery of sunken ships, but also a treasure trove of untold wealth. Hundreds of tons of gold and jewelry lie buried in the holds of Spanish and English sailing ships.

2. the Pacific coast of Micronesia, the area of the Chuuk Islands

In the waters of the Pacific Ocean near the islands of the state Chuuk hidden under the water a cemetery of warships. Ships considered the pride of the Japanese Pacific Fleet rest there. The plan of the Japanese government was to use these ships to seize first Micronesia and New Guinea and then Australia. But fate had other plans.

Sunken warship in Micronesia

A sunken warship in Micronesia

In 1944, Japan occupied Micronesia. There was a large naval base with more than 100 ships of the 4 Imperial Navy. During Operation Hilston, conducted February 17, 1944 by the U.S. Navy, the base was defeated and the Japanese ships were sunk.

Divers inspect shipwreck

Divers inspecting the ship’s remains

Divers estimate that 60 large and 100 small Japanese warships sunk by U.S. naval forces rest in the Chuuk Island area. In addition to ships, this graveyard also contains Japanese Air Force aircraft – at least 275 fighter planes.

This graveyard of shipwrecks is popular with divers and researchers of World War II. But even today it is not safe to swim there – there are bombs left unexploded on dead ships.

3. Coral Sea, area of the Great Barrier Reef

The graveyard of ships in the Coral Sea near the coast of Australia is no less than in the Caribbean Sea. The main cause of shipwrecks here was the coral reefs that ships encountered during storms and fogs.

Great Barrier Reef cemetery

The cemetery on the Great Barrier Reef

This cemetery was formed during the colonization of Australia by the British Empire – in the XVIII-XIX centuries. And 60% of the ships lying at the bottom of the Coral Sea, once sailed under the British flag and carried goods, precious metals and families of the colonizers.

Exploring an underwater ship graveyard

Exploring an underwater cemetery of ships

Shipwrecks near the Great Barrier Reef were discovered in the late 20th century. Today, less than 10% of the ships lying on the underwater coral reefs of the Coral Sea have been explored. And the most famous are the following found ships:

  • The British military frigate Pandora, which sank due to a collision with a reef in 1791.
  • The brig Swiftsure (formerly L’Inconstant, in which Napoleon Bonaparte left Elba Island in 1815), which struck a reef and sank in 1829.
  • The 109-meter long passenger liner Yongala, which perished in a storm in 1911.

4. The Atlantic coast near Sable Island

Floating island Sable medieval sailors called “devourer of ships. Near it they found the last berth of 400 passenger and merchant ships. According to observations of the Canadian lighthouse keepers on the island in the XIX century there was sinking an average of 2 ships a year. But in the XVII-XVIII centuries, disasters were more frequent – the sailing ships could not withstand storms, and they were run aground.

Floating Island Sable

Floating Island Sable

There are two reasons for the mass deaths of sailboats and steamships near Sable: fickle weather and loose sands hidden under the water. As the cold Labrador Current collides with the warm Gulfsteer here, the weather is constantly changing, and a light tailwind can turn into a hurricane in a matter of minutes. And the bottom near Sable is uneven and covered with sand, in which for 2-3 days completely dragged the wind-blown ships on the shoals.

The British ship “Francis” on Sable Island

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Of the hundreds of ships that ran aground near Sable and perished in the loose sands, the most famous are

  • The English ship Francis, carrying the belongings of the Duke of York, which perished in the late eighteenth century.
  • The English ship Princess Amalia, which sank in 1801.
  • Passenger steamer “State of Virginia,” sunk in 1879.
  • The French steamer La Burgogne, sunk in the summer of 1898.
  • Steamship Crafton Hall, grounded and swallowed by the sands in the spring of 1898.

5. Bay of Biscay, closer to the Spanish coast

The picturesque Bay of Biscay, stretching between the Spanish and French coasts, is considered cursed by sailors. Because of the rough underwater currents and changeable weather, more than 200 Spanish, Turkish, French and British merchant ships have perished in the bay. War frigates sunk during the Anglo-French wars also rest here.

French shipwreck in the Bay of Biscay

French shipwreck in the Bay of Biscay

The shipwreck graveyard in the Bay of Biscay has been collecting for centuries, so there are significant treasures and historical monuments hidden under the waters here.

Wine from a shipwreck

Wine from a shipwreck

For example, rare wines made in the 16th century have been brought to the surface from one ship. A bottle of wine which had been submerged for 400 years has been auctioned at a price of 2,000 British pounds.

6. English Channel, off the coast of the city of Diehl

10 km away from the British town of Deel in the English Channel, lies the notorious Goodwin Shoals, where over 2,000 ships were sunk between 1600 and 1991. The cause of most of the wrecks was the loose sands which crushed and pulled in the ships that were “lucky” to run aground.

Goodwin Shoal

Goodwin Shoal

The tricky thing about this stretch of the English Channel is that the location of the shoals is constantly changing and it is impossible to predict which spot ships need to avoid. The sands shift at high and low tides and the captains of the sailing ships relied only on their luck when passing the shoal of Goodwin.

Luck did not smile on everyone, and the ships loaded with goods, gold and jewels regularly went underwater. The crews and passengers of the wrecked ships were not always able to escape – according to researchers, 50,000 people met their death here.

Shipwreck in the English Channel

Shipwrecks in the English Channel

Of the 2,000 ships buried beneath the waters of the English Channel, the most famous are:

  • The English warship Styling Castle, which perished in a storm in 1703
  • The 50-gun English frigate Marie, which sank in 1703
  • Steamship Violet, sunk with her crew in 1857
  • The steamship Mahatta, which ran aground and split in two in 1909
  • The ocean liner Montrose, wrecked in 1914
  • The cargo ship Prospector, wrecked by a collision with the cruise liner Chusan in 1953.

7. Aegean Sea, the area of the Greek island of Fourni

Archaeologists found a ship cemetery in the Aegean Sea in the 21st century. They were struck by the number and variety of ships resting there on the seabed. In 2015 and 2016, 55 ships were explored, and this is only a small part of the underwater cemetery. The oldest of the vessels found here is a rowing galley, built in the 6th century B.C., and the newest is a steamer, which sank in the early 19th century.

Shipwreck in the Aegean

A shipwreck in the Aegean Sea

The reason for shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea is the rocky shores of bays, where sailing ships were hiding from the north wind and drifted. If the wind suddenly changed direction and a hurricane broke out, the ships in the bays were smashed against the coastal cliffs.

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The most famous ship graveyards in the world

For centuries, the world’s oceans have been one of the main routes of communication for civilizations that inhabited different continents. Millions of ships have sailed the seas and oceans, carrying passengers and valuable cargo like works of art. For entirely different reasons, many of these vessels sank. Some of them were not built well and some were attacked by pirates. According to UNESCO, more than three million ships currently lie at the bottom of the seas and oceans, but of course this is not an exact figure. From time to time, scientists manage to find them, and from the bottom they get a lot of antiques, which are transferred to the largest museums in the world. By studying these artifacts, researchers learn a lot of interesting things about the lives of people of past centuries. For the purposes of this article, I invite you to take a look at some of the most interesting shipwrecks that scientists have ever been able to find.

The Titanic shipwreck was not found until many years after the disaster.

UNESCO is the United Nations (UN) agency for education, science, and culture. The agency studies national cultures and addresses problems in the social sciences and geology.


Wrecks are considered to be real “time capsules”, looking at them you can learn a lot of interesting things about the everyday life of their crews and the people of distant times in general. For example, in the crash sites of ancient Greek and Roman ships, scientists have found statues and other works of art. They have all been carefully dragged ashore and sent to museums. For example, in 1900, near the island of Andikytira (Greece), a bronze statue of the “Antikythera Youth” was found. Approximately the same historical masterpieces have been found inside many other ships and their number, perhaps, does not count. But, let’s move away from the topic of ancient Greek ships and consider a few more recent examples of sunken giants found.

That “Antikythera Youth” of bronze

The Titanic shipwreck.

The enormous steamer Titanic was built between 1909 and 1912 for the White Star Line. The largest ship of her day, she sailed on her maiden voyage, April 10, 1912, en route from Southampton, England, to New York, USA. Four days after sailing, she collided with an iceberg and within three hours sank 600 kilometers off the island of Newfoundland, Canada. In one of the most famous disasters, more than 1,500 people died-a total of 2,224 passengers, of whom only 706 survived.

Documentary footage of the Titanic

The remains of the legendary ship were found only in 1985. It happened during French expeditions led by oceanographers Jean-Louis Michel and Robert Ballard. As expected, the ship was broken in half and sank to a depth of 3.8 kilometers – the bow and stern were about 600 meters apart. Scattered around the ship were personal effects from the 1910s and dead bodies. Thousands of items were successfully recovered from the bottom and displayed in museums. Most are housed in Branson’s Titanic Museum located in Branson, Missouri.

Branson’s Titanic Museum

During her decades at the bottom, the Titanic became home to many organisms. When divers descended on the ship, they found at least 28 species of animals in its vicinity. On the metal surface of the wreck was found a huge number of bacteria that live by feeding on rust. They were given the name Halomonas titanicae after the place where they lived. Subsequently, these bacteria were proposed for use in destroying shipwrecks that in any way interfere with human activities.

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This is what the front end of the Titanic looks like now

Lifting the Titanic from the bottom is impossible because its base is too fragile to use machinery. At the moment it is under UNESCO protection and remains of interest to many scientists and film directors. Most likely, we will never see this ship on land again. Unless, someday, our planet will lose all water and aliens will come to it. That’s they will be able to consider a mysterious ship with a very rich and tragic history.

One of the best documentaries about the legendary ship is “Ghosts of the Abyss: Titanic” from 2003. I recommend that you watch it!

The Wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge

In 1710, a ship called the Concorde was built in the English city of Bristol. In 1713, the ship passed into the hands of Spain, and then began to be used to transport cargo by the French. During one of its voyages in 1717, the ship was attacked by a crew of pirates led by Captain Edward Teach, also known as “Blackbeard. Contrary to stereotypes about the brutality of pirates, he was a wise leader, avoiding the use of force and leaving no trace of torture and murder on the ships after his attacks. He is the prototype of many characters in pirate works.

This is how Edward Teach is portrayed in literature.

After capturing the Concorde, he increased the number of cannons from 14 to 49, changed the interior and renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge. If historical data is to be believed, she ran aground in 1718 and sank. However, the location of the remains of the ship for a long time could not be found. It happened only in 1996, thanks to the labors of the research company Intersal. Evidence that scientists are dealing with the ship Edward Teach, appeared only by 2011. This was evidenced by such finds in the vicinity of the ship’s remains as a bronze coin from the 1700s? Remains of utensils made to honor rulers of those times and a syringe used to treat venereal diseases.

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“Queen Anne’s Revenge” in the artist’s view

As it turned out, the ship did not go to the depths of the seas and oceans, because its remains were found only 7 meters deep. In addition to the aforementioned items, the researchers managed to find 21 cannons, which were produced in different countries. The abundance of musket bullets, cannonballs and other small arms suggests that the pirate crew of more than 400 men were well armed.

The wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge

The site of the sinking of the Queen Anne’s Revenge is still being investigated to this day. You can learn more about it and the pirate Edward Teach from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Blackbeard. In it, the stereotype that pirates were bloodthirsty brigands is well demolished. The movie presents them as ordinary people who wanted to accomplish at least something. Again, I recommend it!

Shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea

That scientists would someday be able to locate the remains of the Titanic and the Queen Anne’s Revenge, people had already guessed. Especially since the researchers knew exactly what regions to look for them in. But some ships were found quite by accident. One of the most high-profile discoveries was made in 2016. That’s when News Wise reported that the remains of 23 shipwrecks had been discovered in the Aegean Sea. This sea is considered the cradle of the history of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, so it is not surprising that at the bottom were the ships of these civilizations.

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Of course, the ancient ships made of wood are much worse preserved than the metal Titanic.

Most of them were located in the area of the Fourni archipelago. During the study of the remains, scientists found that the ships were built at different times. And we are not talking about a couple of decades, but in the time span between 525 B.C. to the 1850s. Most of all, the researchers were interested in the ancient ships. For example, they were able to find a Greek ship, which was built around 525 BC. Nearby it sank merchant and cargo ships.

The utensils that were transported in the ships

Divers found only piles of dinnerware inside them. Apparently, it was the sinking of ships that moved along the trade route that connects the Aegean and Black Sea to Cyprus and Africa. The reasons for their sinking are still unknown. Perhaps they were caught in storms or attacked by pirates. From the great interval between the dates of their sinking, it may be assumed that the reasons were always different. Although, it is very strange that so many ships gathered in one place.

Researchers often find Viking ships. My colleague Artem Sutyagin recently told me about one of them, which had lain under water for more than 1000 years.

The largest cemetery of ships

It may seem that lying at the bottom of 23 ships – it is a lot. However, it is not. Once a research group Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project, which consists of British and Bulgarian scientists, found a cemetery with 40 ships. All of them lie at the bottom of the Black Sea and, for the most part, belong to the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The researchers found the place completely by accident when they wanted to draw a map of the seabed at a depth of 1800 meters. And they needed to do this in order to find out how the flooding of coastal areas after the Ice Age affected ancient people.

One of the ships found at the bottom of the Black Sea

The researchers’ ship sailed about 1,250 kilometers along the Bulgarian coastline. It was then that the scientists noticed that there was something on the bottom. Eventually they were able to discover five hundred ships, which were also built at completely different times and were at the bottom for completely different reasons. Many types of ships were known to science only by descriptions from historical documents. So, thanks to the discovery, they were able to literally touch the mysterious objects of antiquity. Thanks to the fact that the remains of the ships were in an area with a minimum concentration of oxygen, they are perfectly preserved.

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On the subject of sunken ships, I suggest you read another article on Fortunately, we have plenty of them. For example, in 2019 I told you that scientists managed to find one of the ships of Christopher Columbus. This find is considered unique because many other ships were eaten away by the so-called Shipworms. Inside the article you will also find a video that shows exactly what the shipwreck looks like underwater.

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