Shipwrecks With Strange and Sordid Pasts | Sport Diver

Shipwrecks With Strange and Sordid Pasts

Wrecks are an interesting visual on the ocean floor, but what really captivates scuba divers are their histories and how they wound up underneath the waves. The unusual lives of these four ships continue to captivate long after the ships have descended into the deep.

Wreck diving U-352 in North Carolina

The U-352 wreck sits off the coast of North Carolina.

Michael Gerken

History of the U-352 Wreck in North Carolina

This Nazi submarine met its fate while stalking ships in the Cape Lookout area. According to Heinz Karl Richter, a surviving crew member who was later interviewed by Discovery Channel, the captain, Kellmut Rathke, was obsessed with receiving a Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross medal for sinking 100,000 tons worth of enemy ships. His obsession led to recklessness, and on May 8, 1942, the U-boat fired upon what it thought was a merchant ship only to discover it was in fact the Coast Guard cutter Icarus. U-352’s single torpedo missed, and Icarus retaliated with depth charges. The sub was quickly disabled, and the crew was forced to surface and abandon ship — 15 crew members were lost in the process. Five minutes later, the submarine returned to the bottom, this time to stay.

History of the Mary Celeste Shipwreck in Haiti

The Mary Celeste became one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time when it was found abandoned 400 miles east of the Azores on December 5, 1872. The ghost ship was at full sail and intact — the only things out of place were a missing life raft, a disassembled pump and 3½ feet of water in the hold. The crew was never heard from again.

The incident became a sensation after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about it in Cornhill Magazine, and everything from mutiny to sea monsters has been suspected as the reason for the crew’s disappearance. The ship returned to service and sailed for 12 more years before being wrecked in Haiti as part of a failed attempt at insurance fraud.

Scuba diving the Hilma Hooker shipwreck in Bonaire

The Hilma Hooker's past is as colorful as its name.


History of the Hilma Hooker Wreck in Bonaire

This ship’s name is as colorful as its shady past. The Hilma Hooker was impounded in Bonaire in 1984 after 25,000 tons of marijuana was found stashed behind a false bulkhead. Local scuba divers were eager to have the drug runner for a new wreck dive, but the government was unable to sink the vessel due to the ongoing criminal investigation. The impounded ship was in disrepair, and the cost of keeping the leaky tub afloat quickly began to add up. The Hooker was moved away from the pier to avoid creating a navigational hazard should it go down, and the new anchorage was chosen with divers in mind. Though not legally intended to sink, the ship quietly passed beneath the surface five days later on September 12. Whether the ship sank under natural circumstances or diver sabotage is still up for debate.

San Pablo wreck Florida

Twisted wreckage marks the part of the San Pablo that was torn apart by explosives in 1944; today, she is part shipwreck, part colorful reef.

David Benz

History of the San Pablo Shipwreck in Florida

The story behind this wreck is similar to its original cargo: bananas. After being sunk by a U-boat, the cargo steamer was resurfaced only to mysteriously explode off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, in August 1944. It was nicknamed the “Russian freighter” due to rumors of foreign spies and espionage. Per the Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail website, recently declassified documents revealed that the ship was destroyed by the U.S. during a top-secret test of an experimental weapon — a radio-controlled boat carrying more than 3,000 pounds of explosives.


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