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New Mary Celeste theory

by Merlin

The story of the brigantine Mary Celeste, found adrift in the Atlantic in 1872 with no sign of the crew, is well known and many theories have been proposed to account for the mystery. (The ship’s name is often incorrectly spelled as Marie Celeste, and for this we must thank Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote a short story based on the mystery.)

One of the most popular theories suggests that the cargo of 1,700 barrels of industrial alcohol became unstable and likely to explode, causing Captain Briggs, his wife, his daughter and his crew to abandon ship.

However, a recent paper by Captain David Williams in the Marine Observer suggests another possibility. Could a “seaquake” — an earthquake in the sea-bed that would cause shock waves to travel to the surface of the sea — have caused the terror that prompted the abandonment?

The Mary Celeste was found by the British brigantine Dei Gratia, whose captain reported that the galley stove had apparently been lifted from the galley deck and set down away from the chocks that held it tight against movement in heavy seas. The ship’s planking had sustained some damage, the wooden compass stand had been knocked over and some of the alcohol barrels appeared to have been loosened by vibration.

This would seem to indicate some sudden violent movement of the vessel, which could be consistent with the Mary Celeste being struck by a seaquake. Little appears to be known about seaquakes, particularly their frequency of occurrence, unless they also cause a tsunami, which can be defined as the waves from a seaquake which have reached land.

However, after nearly 140 years, we are unlikely ever to solve the Mary Celeste mystery.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10008189

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