Rat-Filled Ghost Ship Lost at Sea
Ministero per i Beni e le Attivita Culturali,
June 3, 2011 --
Found in 1986 six miles off the coast of Grado in northeastern Italy, this Roman shipwreck was recovered in pieces in 1999. Dating from the second century, the 55-foot-long, 19-foot-wide trade vessel was packed with some 600 vases called amphoras.They were filled with sardines, salted mackerel and garum, a fish sauce much loved by the Romans. Recently, archaeologists found signs that the Roman sailors maintained an oxygenated water fish tank on board the ship.
This 51-inch-long lead pipe was located in the stern area and fed into a hole bored in the ship's hull.
Beltrame (reproduced with permission from Del
The unique lead pipe was located in a sort of small bilge well (visible around the tube) and would have been connected to a hand operated piston pump (which was not found within the wreck). Sucking the sea water in a fish tank on the deck, the apparatus could have turned a simple small cargo vessel into a ship able to carry live fish.
The researchers were particularly intrigued by this hole in the keel, made to host the lead tube, which was 2.7 inches in diameter. "No seaman would have drilled a hole in the keel, creating a potential way for water to enter the hull, unless there was a very powerful reason to do so," researchers noted in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.
This diagram shows how the hydraulic system might have worked. The researchers calculated that the small trade vessel could have carried a tank containing around 4 cubic meters (141 cubic feet) of water, which could have housed 440 pounds of live fish. Connected to the lead pipe, the hand-operated piston pump would have easily allowed the necessary exchange of the water mass. According to the researchers, the water would have needed to be replaced once every half an hour in order to provide a constant oxygen supply. With a flow of 66 gallons per minute, the piston pump would have filled the tank in 16 minutes.
Someone call Jack Sparrow. The British media report that a ship lost at sea last year is now full of rats and could end up on the British shore.
Nearly a year ago the cruise liner Lyubov Orlova was en route to the scrapyard when it drifted into the North Atlantic during a storm, Adam Withnall reported in the Independent. You’d think a 328-foot cruise ship would be easy to spot, but the abandoned Yugoslavian vessel built in 1976 has eluded detection so far.
Experts think it’s still floating around out there somewhere. Two signals from the boat were picked up last March — likely from its lifeboats falling away — but not all the lifeboat beacons have gone off yet, Withnall explained. Satellite technology is now extremely advanced but it helps to have a starting point for where to look.
In true tabloid style, The Sun recently reported that the ghost ship is packed with hundreds of cannibalistic rats. The paper quoted a Belgian salvage hunter who said, “There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I’ll have to lace everywhere with poison.”
The BBC’s Richard Fisher doubts the rat story, which I also took with a giant grain of sea salt. There might be some rodents aboard but it’s in that hunter’s interest to keep other treasure-seekers away. After all, the law says that whoever finds the abandoned ship and throws a line on it gets to keep it. The scrap was estimated to be worth almost $1 million.
Rats aside, Fisher pointed out that the ghost ship could still pose a threat to European coastlines or oil rigs. When the ship first was lost, maritime software indicated that currents were pushing it toward Ireland or Scandinavia. The search area has only widened since. It can be easy to forget how big the ocean is when our interconnected world feels so small.
Photo: The Lyubov Orlova cruise liner is seen from Aitcho Island in 2008, while it was still in use. Credit: Maggie & David via Flickr.