In 1883, the West Ridge sank while carrying British coal to India. The ship and its 28-person crew were never found. In 1877, the W.Gordon sank while sailing from Scotland to Australia and the ship and its 10-person crew were never found. In 1882, the Magdala disappeared on a voyage from Wales to Indonesia and was never found. On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, mysteriously disappeared and, other than a few pieces of debris, the plane and its 227 passengers and 12 crew have not been found. It was announced recently that the search for the MH370 may have solved two of the others. Which ones do you think they were?
“Then, as now, the disappearance of so many lives would have had a devastating impact on maritime families and communities.”
Some things never change, as Dr. Ross Anderson, Curator of Maritime Archaeology at the Western Australia Museum points out in the museum’s press release announcing the discovery of the two ancient shipwrecks. The WA Museum has been working with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to analyze sonar and video data taken by the search vessels Fugro Equator and Havilah Harmony between May and December 2015. The wrecks were found less than 36 km (22 miles) apart at depths between 3,700 and 3,900 meters (2.3 and 2.4 miles), making them some of the deepest wrecks ever found in the Indian Ocean.
Amazingly, while the hull of the wooden boat had disintegrated, small metal parts could still be identified, such as anchors, fittings and an iron water tank. The parts and the coal cargo were widely scattered, which Anderson says was due to an explosion – a common problem with ships carrying coal. More of the iron ship was still intact, enough to identify it as an iron barque – a ship having three or more masts with fore-and-aft sails on the aftermost mast and square sails on the rest. A piece of coal from one of the ships identified it as a British vessel. Unfortunately, those remnants are not enough to accurately name the ships, but Anderson has narrowed them down.
“For the wooden ship the brig W. Gordon and the barque Magdala are two possible candidates; for the iron ship the barques Kooringa (1894), Lake Ontario (1897) and West Ridge (1883) are possible, with the West Ridge best fitting the evidence.”
Could the number of ships missing and the close proximity of the two found suggest that something more might be the cause … a Bermuda Triangle in the Indian Ocean?
The press release refers to this area as the “Roaring 40s trade route.” That’s the nickname given to the strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere between the 40 and 50 degree latitudes which helped that area become a crowded corridor for ships sailing between Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Southeast Asia, China and Japan. Stronger winds to the south were called the Furious Fifties and the Shrieking or Screaming Sixties.
So it looks like the cause of the shipwrecks found looking for MH370 was bad luck. What was the cause of the disappearance of MH370? Perhaps in a similar way, search crews trying to solve a future mystery will accidently find the answer.
In the meantime, the Screaming Sixties sounds like a great name for a band in a retirement community.