People Who Went Missing At Sea

Unless you're a die-hard Agatha Christie fan, you probably walk through life with the wholesome assumption that if you board any given form of human transportation, sooner or later you'll disembark more or less unscathed. And in the vast majority of cases, this is a fairly safe bet. Cruise ships, however, are an odd and unsettling exception. According to cruise ship industry data, over 300 people have gone mysteriously missing from cruise ships since 2000. That feels like a pretty high number for what's meant to be a pleasantly predictable sun tan fest on the open sea — especially when you consider that this figure only takes into account those cases where the unfortunate passenger's final fate remains unknown. So, what's the deal with disappearances on cruises, or at sea in general? And where do these cruise companies get off being so peppy and upbeat when they're clearly floating death traps with a suspicious fondness for bad reggae music and overpriced sunscreen? Cruise ships are how most everyday people get on the ocean nowadays, but plenty of people have gone missing at sea from other boats as well. Here are some of history's more memorable cruise ship and oceangoing disappearances.

What happened to Amy Lynn Bradley?

In 1998, 23 year-old Amy Lynn Bradley set out with her family on a luxury Caribbean cruise ship, the Rhapsody of the Seas. Amy took to exploring nocturnal life onboard, regularly drinking and carousing with cruise ship band member Alister "Yellow" Douglas.

On the night of her disappearance, Amy parted ways with her paramour at around 1 a.m. Aside from a brief sighting of Amy asleep on the balcony later that morning, that was the last time she was seen aboard. By 6 a.m., a frantic ship-wide search was conducted, but the trail was already cold. No evidence of foul play or trace of Amy's whereabouts was found. And that seemed to be the end of the story. The family grieved. The cruise company's PR department went into overdrive for a while, and the whole incident looked set to vanish quietly into cruise ship folklore.

Then the Amy sightings started. In 1999, a Navy sailor claimed to have seen her at a Curacao brothel. From 2004 to 2005, pictures of Amy (recognizable by her distinctive tattoos) appeared on a Venezuelan escort website. The Bradley family also claim to have received anonymous pictures of Amy, scantily clad and in an unfamiliar setting. Was Amy abducted against her will? Did she leave of her own accord? Or are these sightings so much urban legend, the boring reality being a simple case of one too many drinks with a man named Yellow, and a fatal flop into old briny?

Three Aussie blokes...

Three "typical Aussie blokes" (why do so many stories start that way?) decided to head out on a sailing expedition in 2007. They weren't exactly old salts when it came to life out on the open sea, but they figured a pleasant coastal jaunt off Queensland's Great Barrier Reef was safe enough. Three days later their ship was found adrift in the ocean, with no trace of aforementioned blokes. Investigation of the abandoned ship revealed an incongruous scene. Half-finished coffee cups and newspapers lay around, suggesting a pleasant day at sea. But knives were strewn across the cabin floor — as though there'd been a mad scramble for weapons.

The coroner chalked up their fate to "an unfortunate series of events." The propellor likely became snarled in fishing line. The first bloke is thought to have attempted to free the line with a hastily-grabbed knife, falling into the ocean in the process. Bloke two likely followed him in a failed rescue attempt. At this point, in an attempt to turn the vessel and retrieve his friends, bloke three is likely to have dropped the ship's sails. A sudden wind change may have swept the boom around, knocking him overboard just like you see in the movies. All three blokes likely drowned as their vessel disappeared over the horizon.

A mid-life crisis gone awry, or foul deeds afoot?

John Halford was a regular, working-class family guy staring down the barrel of retirement. At 63, his sudden decision to head out alone on an Egyptian river cruise was viewed with surprise and concern by his wife and family, especially given their money difficulties and troubled relationship. But he was adamant, and in 2011 he set off on his solo cruise adventure. The cruise itself was uneventful for Halford. He stayed in regular touch with his family by text, and on the last day of his cruise dropped his wife a note saying he'd be home soon and that he looked forward to seeing them. That night, somewhere between midnight and the early morning hours, John Halford disappeared. A search of his room revealed a suitcase filled with gifts for his wife and children. No remains were found, which is curious given how close the boat was to shore.

Halford's disappearance has some interesting incongruities. His wife found it odd that he'd tap into their meager family savings for this one-off experience, especially since they were already having problems with their money and their marriage. Then there are the gifts. Were they a clumsy attempt at a final goodbye to his wife and kids, or had he planned to return home and simply fallen from the ship in the dead of night?

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

One last cigarette

The English Channel isn't exactly the first patch of ocean you think of when it comes to mysterious disappearances. It's no Bermuda Triangle. Sure it's a pain to swim across the thing, but a boat ride from London to Paris is the oceangoing equivalent of a jaunt to the corner shop for a carbonated beverage. Richard Fearnside was taking a quick ferry trip across the channel one dark night in May 2013, when he popped upstairs for a cigarette and was never seen again.

It's possible this mystery is as simple as a guy leaning a bit too far over the railing after one too many beers and taking a fatal dip into the churning waters of the English Channel. The problem is, no one knows definitively. Pressured by Richard's parents for a clue as to what happened, the cruise line admitted the only CCTV cameras installed on the vessel were monitoring the gift shop. Essentially, they shrugged and presumably hoped a few PR platitudes would make the whole incident go away.

But it didn't. Over 100,000 people signed a petition to pressure cruise lines into cracking down on ship-wide surveillance, a request the cruise industry has scrupulously ignored.

Cruise ship company turns a blind eye

In 2004, Merrian Carver embarked on a cruise along the frigid coastal waters of Alaska. Around halfway through the cruise, Carver disappeared. No one knows exactly when she disappeared, but when housekeeping noticed her room hadn't been used for a few days, management were (as one would expect!) duly informed.

You might imagine that a huge search was launched, or that search and rescue teams were called in to trawl the freezing Alaskan waters for any trace of Carver. But none of that happened. In fact, higher-ups appear to have done precisely nothing. Staff were allegedly advised to forget about Merrian's disappearance and to focus on their daily duties. Subsequent investigation revealed that when the vessel reached its next port of call in Vancouver, Carver's possessions were quietly destroyed. No police reports were filed and the cruise line didn't attempt to make contact with her family. Ultimately, Carver's father would fund, coordinate, and oversee his own investigation into what happened to his daughter. He proved the cruise company had carried out a systematic cover-up, even erasing video footage. In 2013, the remains of a 40-year-old woman were found on Merry Island off the coast of Canada. It's unclear if DNA testing was done.

Something is fishy

In 2017, Daniel Belling and his wife, Xiang Lei Li, took a romantic Mediterranean vacation together on the cruise ship MSC Magnifica. One night, according to Daniel Belling, his wife got off the boat when they were berthed near Rome to attend to an urgent business matter — and was never seen again. While it was a juicy piece of gossip to fellow passengers, crew aboard the cruise weren't particularly surprised or concerned. It seemed a plausible enough story, particularly given that the couple didn't appear to be enjoying themselves greatly.

The story lost some of its credence, though, when staff realized all of Li's possessions remained in their cabin, right down to her wallet, ID, and her shoes. Something didn't quite track. Further investigation revealed that no record existed of Li disembarking the ship. The Irish Times reports that on his return flight home, Belling was arrested on suspicion of murder. He remained in custody for months as a criminal investigation was carried out. Ultimately, nothing would stick. Belling was released months later in April 2018, with insufficient evidence to make a conviction. Neither Xiang Lei Li's body nor any evidence of her whereabouts were never found.

A new life in Venice?

A Disney tourist experience isn't exactly the setting you expect for deeds of foul infamy. In 2011, 24 year-old Rebecca Coriam worked aboard the cruise ship Disney Wonder as an entertainer. CCTV captured footage of Coriam in what appeared to be a heated conversation on the ship's internal phone line. After hanging up, she walked out of the lounge and was never seen again.

We just don't know what happened to Rebecca Coriam. Disney's claim is that after the phone call, Rebecca went to the top deck of the Disney Wonder and was swept into the ocean by a rogue wave. While it's not an implausible explanation, her parents believe the pool walls were too high to allow this.

From here, the whole thing goes off the rails. According to various tabloids, one crew member is reported to have told a journalist, "I don't know anything about it. It didn't happen. You know the answer I have to give." Two months after her disappearance, Coriam's grieving family was supposedly notified of transactions on Rebecca's bank account, and her Facebook account password was changed. At some point another cruise worker came forward to say she had been romantically involved with Coriam and that Coriam had talked about committing suicide. We'll probably never know the truth.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A longer than planned journey

In 2006, a small yacht crammed with as many as 50 people set out from the Cape Verde Islands on the African coast — refugees bound for European soil. Somewhere along that long and hazardous sea route, the vessel drifted hopelessly off course. Four months later, the vessel was discovered drifting off Ragged Point, a remote corner of the eastern Caribbean.

Eleven survivors were huddled in the yacht's cabin, partially mummified and preserved by the Atlantic salt air. While it's impossible to reconstruct exactly what happened, evidence points to the boat running into trouble early in its voyage. An attempt was made to tow the boat back to its point of origin, but at some point the towline was cut, leaving the vessel completely adrift and its passengers doomed to drift at the mercy of the seas.

As reported by the Guardian, a note was found on one of the dead men: "I would like to send to my family ... a sum of money. Please excuse me and goodbye. This is the end of my life in this big Moroccan sea."

People-smuggling on the high seas

In 2003, a long line fishing boat set out on a standard trawl in the Indian Ocean. Six days later the vessel was discovered by the Australian Navy floating in a remote part of ocean north of Australian waters, its rudder locked in position and its engine dead. No one was on board, and there were no signs of struggle or foul play. Investigators determined that the first part of the ship's expedition had been a standard fishing mission. Days before, the vessel had been sighted off the coast of the Marshall Islands, clearly engaged in fishing activities with no hint of anything amiss. Conditions aboard the ship allowed investigators to rule out a standard case of modern-day piracy as well. Nothing of value aboard the vessel had been removed.

While no irrefutable answer to the crew's disappearance has been found, one intriguing possibility centers around the fact that eight of the ship's crew were picked up in the Indonesian city of Bali, where just months earlier a horrific terrorist bombing took place. Indonesian journalists uncovered an odd series of cell phone conversations between the ship's engineer and undisclosed persons of interest in Bali, suggesting the ship may have been helping terrorists responsible for the bombing get out of the country. Perhaps in the process of smuggling these dangerous criminals something went horribly wrong? Whatever happened, no trace of the crew has been found.

The sad case of Sylvester Butler Jr.

Sylvester Butler boarded a Pacific Island bound cruise ship, the Golden Princess (above), in May 2017. From the moment he boarded the cruise, Butler's behavior was noted by staff and other passengers as a little unusual. A lone passenger, he kept to himself, exchanging a polite nod or the occasional word but little else besides. Housekeeping staff noted that he never unpacked his bags and the only item he billed to his room was the occasional soft drink. Throughout the cruise's many stops along the way, Butler never left the ship.

Somewhere between Fiji and its final port of Sydney, Butler disappeared. Not much is known of his last days aboard. By then crew and passengers knew to give the man space, and the ship's CCTV system revealed no trace of his final moments aboard the ship. It's impossible to know exactly what led to the disappearance of Sylvester Butler.

However, the coroner's investigation into his personal life revealed some clues. Butler was suffering from a chronic genetic kidney disease, an ailment that already killed two of his siblings. The coroner surmised that Butler, whose condition had likely become terminal, decided this cruise voyage would be his last experience. Cruise ship suicide is not all that rare. Dr. Ross Klein, an industry expert on cruise ships, collected information on reported disappearances on cruise ships since 2000. His data indicates that up to 11% of cruise disappearances are suicide.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Eleven must be an unlucky number

The Carroll Deering was a huge commercial schooner, active in the early part of the 20th century throughout North America's oceanic waters. This was a tough vessel with an experienced crew of seasoned freight sailing veterans. In 1921, the Carroll Deering was discovered hard aground off North Carolina. All 11 of its crew were missing. Ship logs reveal the final months of the Deering were troubled. Sudden illness meant the captain and first mate were relieved of duty by replacements. Historical accounts also hint at significant and ongoing turmoil within the crew and a general air of distrust. In early January 1921, on shore leave at a seedy bar in Barbados, two other captains overheard one of the Deering crew boasting that he would "get the captain before we get to Norfolk."

Toward the end of January, a keeper aboard the Cape Lookout Lightship reported sighting the Carroll Deering off the coast of North Carolina. Crew aboard the Deering hailed the lightship and reported that the vessel had lost its anchors. The lightship keeper later testified that the Deering crew members were behaving oddly and that something seemed to be amiss. Only a few days later, the vessel was discovered with all hands missing. The sails were up and a meal was in the process of being prepared, suggesting that whatever happened occurred quickly. Nearly a century later, there are no plausible theories on what happened to the crew of the Deering.

A troubled sailor, an international search mission and a fun-sized bag o' peeps

When the USS Shiloh reported an American sailor disappearance somewhere in the Philippine Sea in June 2017, a massive search effort was launched. In a combined effort costing millions of dollars, the U.S. Navy and Japanese coast guard teamed up to search over 5,000 square miles of treacherous ocean. All for naught. The desperate hunt for Petty Officer 3rd Class Peter Mims was eventually called off with the bleak reasoning that no human could survive that long at sea. Mims' sister made an impassioned plea through local TV news coverage to continue the search. "He's still alive," she said. "He's got to be fighting for his life."

The disappearance of Peter Mims from USS Shiloh was described by the Navy as a tragic mishap. Naval disappearances like this happen with depressing frequency. It's a hazardous job.

Except that the sister was right. Peter Mims was very much alive and kicking. Under the combined crushing pressures of grueling hours at sea and family issues at home, Mims had slipped quietly into a state of delusional paranoia. Believing his crew were planning to poison him, he decided his best course of action was to hide. Throughout the whole search effort, Mims was holed up in a tiny escape passage leading out of the Shiloh's engine room. He was discovered alive a week later, covered in his own waste and clutching the oddly random assortment of a "camelback, a multi-tool, Peeps candy and an empty peanut butter jar."