The Mystery Behind The Abandoned MV Joyita Ship

The image of spectral ships manned by the undead have long existed in folklore around the world, and have recurred in culture throughout the centuries, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's haunting "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to modern depictions rendered viscerally eerie by CGI, such as in the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean." According to Marine Insight, ghost ships have traditionally been considered bad omens among seafarers, who traditionally believe such paranormal sightings are a warning that their own vessels are about to meet their watery doom.

And there is nothing creepier than the thought of a real-life ghost ship, floating silently, aimlessly, with no sign of life on board and no indication whatsoever of what happened to them. Most famous perhaps is the Mary Celeste, which was discovered adrift and crewless in the Atlantic Ocean in December 1872, weeks after departing from New York bound for Italy (via Ranker). But there have since been countless others, including the case of the MV Joyita, whose crew and passengers disappeared without a trace in 1955.

An unexpected disappearance

According to a contemporaraneous report from Life magazine (via Google Books), the MV Joyita had set sail from Apia, a port in Western Samoa east of Fiji, bound for the Tokelau Islands. The route would take the boat 290 miles across the Pacific, though with the 69-foot boat captained by respected seaman Thomas Henry "Dusty" Miller, the 15 crew members and nine passengers on board believed they were in capable hands.

So it was a great concern when the vessel, which had set off from Samoa on October 3, 1995, was reported missing three days later, after failing to arrive at its destination. The journey should have taken 48 hours at most (via Cracked), while the vessel was considered to be virtually unsinkable due to its highly buoyant design; it was, after all, a pleasure craft.

The Joyita was finally discovered 100,000 square mile search of the Pacific, the vessel having drifted almost 1,000 miles off course. 

An enduring mystery

According to Cracked, the recovery team encountered a disturbing scene: the boat floating at an angle in the water, its windows broken, the bridge obliterated as though it had been struck by some huge object. The lights were on, but the clocks were stopped, while the radio was tuned to the international distress signal — evidence that the inhabitants knew they were in trouble and had called for help that never came. 

All three lifeboats were missing, while a doctor's bag was found on deck continuing a number of bloody bandages, proving that passengers had suffered injuries while still onboard. On being towed back to Samoa, the vessel was shown to have been in a state of incredible disrepair, which investigators claimed must have been the case even before the ship departed, bringing "Dusty" Miller's sense of responsibility into question.

Theories involving mutiny, pirate attack, and a panicked escape from the boat — which was believed to have flooded in its lower decks without sinking — have all been forwarded as explanations for why the Joyita was abandoned, while some contemporaneous new stories claimed Japanese involvement (per the same source). But to this day none has been confirmed, and no trace of its passengers has ever been found.