Tech by VICE

A Ghost Ship Mysteriously Appeared on the Coast of Liberia

Where did Tamaya 1 come from?

by Jordan Pearson
May 6 2016, 8:19pm

Image: Flickr/J

A "Tamaya" is a shrine used to honour one's ancestors in the Japanese Shinto religion.

It's also the namesake of a 64-foot oil tanker named Tamaya 1, which left the port of Dakar in Senegal on April 21 and broadcast her last known location on April 22.

A week later, the tanker mysteriously washed up on the shore of Robertsport in Liberia, according to local reports. Its final resting place is more than 1,000 kilometers away from Dakar, where it was due to return in December. The ship was abandoned.

For two days, according to reports, the Tamaya 1 sat with its empty, rust-red shell exposed to the hot sun before police checked it out.

"It is rare that these devices just stop working unless it's intentional"

This is about as much as we know about Tamaya 1, mostly thanks to MarineTraffic, which provides free and commercial ship tracking services. Already, however, speculation about how the ship got lost and washed up on the Liberian shore without a soul aboard has begun: Was it piracy gone wrong? Or something else?

The details that we do have paint a mysterious picture.

One Liberian news report alleges that three unknown men left the tanker after it washed up and "absconded elsewhere via a canoe." Another reports that evidence of a fire was discovered in the captain's office. While MarineTraffic lists the tanker as flying under the Panamanian flag, reports say it may be Nigerian in origin.

The most troubling bit, however, is the week at sea where Tamaya 1's location was not recorded by MarineTraffic. Tankers are obligated to broadcast their position, direction, speed, and more, to avoid collisions at sea.

Screengrab: MarineTraffic

"It is rare that these devices just stop working unless it's intentional," said Philip Miller, vice president of operations and engineering at marine monitoring company ExactEarth. "It's an electronic device so it would have to be turned off. If they turned it off, they're violating international law, and if it's broken, they're supposed to fix it."

MarineTraffic's free service gives information based on land-based devices receiving tanker information, Miller said, and satellite-based data would be a better way to track Tamaya 1's location. ExactEarth has agreed to give satellite information on Tamaya 1's location to Motherboard, although this was not possible within our publishing timeframe.

"Ghost ships" do appear from time to time, usually with good explanations. The abandoned wreckage of a ship washed up in Oregon in March of this year, but is believed to have sunk after the Japanese tsunami of 2011. A fishing boat thought to have been sunk thanks to the tsunami similarly washed up in California in 2013.