This is the mystery of the Arctic ghost ship: Abandoned 1914 cargo vessel SS Baychimo drifted for decades – but is she still out there? Somewhere out there a phantom ship could well be drifting, having roamed the seas without a crew for decades. The coast of Alaska is certainly a remote place, and those of the Upper Arctic even more, and for this reason it’s difficult to believe that an abandoned ship has managed to navigate in those icy waters, alone, without crew, for almost 40 years. Yet, this is the story of a 1300-ton steam ship, built in Sweden in 1914 on behalf of a German company, and later used for the pelts trade with Inuit people along the coasts of Victoria Island, in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
This steel-hulled cargo steamer was launched in 1914 in Sweden, but back then was called SS Angermanelfven, and her job was to transport goods between Hamburg and Sweden. At the end of the 1st World War, the property passed to Britain, as part of Germany’s war reparations. In 1921, the Hudson Bay Company bought the Ångermanelfven, renaming it Baychimo, and used it on the northern Canadian routes. For the next 10 years she went up and down the bitingly frigid northern coast of Canada, collecting and off-loading pelts, until the October 1, 1931, when, during a trip to Vancouver, near the town of Barrow, Alaska, the 11th northernmost community in the world, was trapped in the ice. The crew abandoned her for a couple of days while they warmed up in the nearby Alaskan city, then returned to Baychimo, which had in the meantime freed from the ice, and floating free in the sub-zero water.
On October 8th the ship was run aground again, more drastically this time, and the Hudson Bay Company sent airplanes to recover a part of the crew, leaving 15 men, including the captain, who were decided to spend the winter there, in a wooden shelter built not far away . The aim was to wait for the ice to melt, to recover the ship, but on November 24th, after a very strong blizzard, the Baychimo disappeared. The captain and the rest of the crew simply supposed that she’d broken up and sunk in the storm. But a week later a native Inuit seal hunter informed the crew that he’d seen the ship about about 70 kilometers away. The excited crew tracked it down and boarded it, but it was in really bad condition, it was abandoned there and then and left to its fate. Surprisingly the ship did not sink, and the crew recovered the finest pelts.
After that she was sighted another 12 times over the following decades, including in 1932 off Wainwright, Alaska, by a trading party who boarded her, in March 1933 by Eskimos, who sheltered in her for 10 days during a storm and in November 1939 by Captain Hugh Polson, who wanted to salvage her. A creepy ghost ship able of withstanding the freezing and the icy arctic waters. In this years the sailors of other ships managed to board the Baychimo, recovering goods and other material, but none managed to “save” it. Hugh Polson was the very last person to board her. After 1960, the Baychimo was no longer sighted for many years, so much so that it was thought to have sunk. However, in 1969, she was intercepted for the last time by the crew of the icebreaker Manhattan, which was heading towards the Northwest Passage, and then and seen stuck in ice, between Point Barrow and Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea. At the time the ship was 55 years old, and had drifted, without anyone on board, for 38 years.
Her fate, to this day, is unknown and this is one of the most mysterious ghost ships of modern times. In 2006 the Alaskan government expressed an interest in solving the puzzle once and for all, but nothing to do. The lack of sightings in the last years, suggests that the ship has surrendered to the icy waters of the Arctic, to finally go to rest in the cold waters of the immense ocean, but no wreckage has ever been found either. Is she still out there somewhere on her eerie odyssey? We may never know. It is not said, however, that the Baychimo can be sighted, perhaps during a long Arctic night, once again…