Ghost Ships: The Pamir

The Pamir was a four-masted barque, with a steel hull, that was built at the Blohm & Vass shipyard in Hamburg, Germany. Launched on July 29th of 1905, she was the fifth of ten ships commissioned as one of the famous Flying P-Liner sailing ships of the German shipping company, F. Laeisz, in the South American nitrate trade and wheat trade. In 1931, she was sold to a Finnish shipping company to work in the Australian grain trade. While in port in Wellington during World War II, the Pamir was taken as a war prize by New Zealand on August 3, 1941. After about ten voyages, she eventually made her way back to Wellington in 1948. The Pamir was also the last commercial sailing ship to round Cape Horn, Chile, in 1949.

In 1950, a German ship owner saved her from the scrapyard by purchasing and modernizing her, adding an auxiliary engine and using her as a cargo and as a sail-training ship on route to Argentina. Within only a couple of years, the Pamir had been outmoded by modern bulk carriers and could not operate at a profit, so she was decommissioned in 1957.

On August 10, 1957, the Pamir set sail for Hamburg for the final time. Due to ill health, her regular captain, Hermann Eggers, had been replaced by Captain Johannes Diebitsch, who had little experience as master of cargo-carrying sailing ships. She left Buenos Aires with a crew of 86, including 52 cadets. Her cargo included 3,780 tons of barley, which due to a dockworker’s strike, had been loaded in a dangerously unstable manner.

Five hundred miles (800km) from the Azores, On the early morning of September 21st, the Pamir was suddenly faced with strong winds from Northeast, as Hurricane Carrie would pass behind the ship. Around 11:00 local time the ship suddenly started to increase her list to port.

It was reported that the ship was in need of significant repairs before the voyage, but the shipping consortium was in a financial crisis and could not afford the proper maintenance, nor were they able to recruit sufficient sail-trained officers, all which compounded the situation. The inexperienced crew did not shorten the sails or properly close all the hatchways necessary to prevent water intake. As water flooded the Pamir, which caused it to list severely to port, the captain did not order the crew to flood the ballast tanks for some unknown reason, which would have helped the ship to right herself. By this time, the ship listed so severely that the lifeboats could not be deployed as the port side was underwater and the starboard side was raised at too high an angle. The Pamir was sending SOS and distress signals; with her final messages being:

‘Urgency message – any traffic over radio has to stop’

‘Here German fourmastbark – Pamir – at position 35.57 n, 40.20 w– all sails lost – 45 degree list – still gaining – ships in vicinity please communicate!’

‘SOS, SOS, SOS from DKEF – rush rush to us – German fourmast broken – Pamir danger of sinking’

Several ships started to take course towards the Pamir, however at 13:03 local time she capsized, sinking 30 minutes later, 600 miles south south-west from the Azores Islands. 50 ships and the planes from 13 countries participated in the search. On September 24th, five men were rescued by the Geiger. Another crewman was rescued by the Absecon on September 25th.

Three damaged lifeboats that had come loose before or during the capsizing and the only lifeboat that had been deployed was drifting nearby. None contained any provisions or working distress signal rockets. Many sharks were later seen near the position. It was reported that many of the 86 men aboard had managed to reach the boats, but most died in the next three days. None of the officers nor the captain survived. The survivors claimed that nobody boarded a lifeboat before she capsized, and nobody jumped overboard: when she capsized, all 86 men were still on board.

Many strange reports were made over they years since the Pamir’s demise, with reports that she still sailed the ocean as a ghost ship. In 1961 another sail-trainer, the Chilean Esmereld, was battling a gale in the English Channel when she sighted sailing vessel that, despite the rough weather, sailed by as if experiencing no difficulties at all. It was identified as the Pamir. After this mysterious encounter, the sea became calm and still, and the Esmereld made her way to the port of destination safely. The Esmereld’s report was not taken very seriously until some months later, when the yachtsman Reed Byers reported seeing the Pamir off the Virgin Islands. His vessel was experiencing heavy weather and claimed the Pamir accompanied him all the way to the port, and when the shore came in sight, she vanished into the thin air. Other sail training vessels – the German training vessel Gorch Foch and the Norwegian steamship Christian Radich – also reported sighting the phantom ship, and the US Coastguard patrol boat, Eagle, crossed her path too.

Like other tales regarding phantom ships which have been known to aid other ships in distress, the Pamir has been reported to not take an active role in the rescue of stricken ships. However, grateful survivors swear that the Pamir exerted a ‘mysterious force’ which helped pulled them out of a squall and into calmer seas. An interesting footnote to the Pamir case is that every time she materialized near a vessel that had gotten into trouble, all the members of her crew, as if alive, were seen proudly standing on her deck. However, every time it has been sighted, its crew are fewer in number, suggesting that with every rescue the curse is lifted for one or more of its doomed sailors. Rescued seamen also mentioned that one of the Pamir’s crew could clearly be seen with their arm in a sling – a fact that was later confirmed by one of the Pamir’s surviving crew members. On her last materialization, only 20 were visible.