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Mayday! 17 Mysterious Shipwrecks You Can See on Google Earth

Google spies shipwrecks

This famous concrete tanker was made to fight the Central Powers during World War I, but the war ended before it could enter battle.

(Image credit: Google)

The world's most famous shipwreck may be the RMS Titanic, but the remains of the luxury steamship are visible only to people in deep-sea submersibles and those watching feeds from remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

But countless other shipwrecks are much more accessible, so long as you have Google Earth. This worldwide map has captured images of rotting and rusting hulls wasting away in shallow waters the world over.

Here are 17 mysterious shipwrecks you can see on Google Earth. Make a note in the comment section if you can find any others.

Altair off Brazil

This wrecked ship — known as the Altair — is wasting away on the coast of southern Brazil.

(Image credit: Google)

This wrecked ship — known as the Altair — is wasting away on the coast of southern Brazil, just south of the Rio Grande. A strong storm sank it in the winter of 1976, and it was later abandoned and looted, according to the Municipal Prefecture of Rio Grande.

The ship is now the habitat for many species, and the beach is well known for fishing and nautical sports, including surfing. Tourists visiting the boat can also see sand dunes, waterfalls and wild animals, including black seagulls, tortoises and hawks. 

Capsized in Iraq

This giant vessel met disaster in Basra, Iraq.

(Image credit: Google)

This giant vessel met disaster in Basra, Iraq. It capsized in the Shatt al-Arab, also known as the Arvand Rud, a river that runs through southern Iraq and forms the border between Iran and Iraq near the Persian Gulf. The river formed where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers come together at Qurna, which some people reportedly believe is the site of the biblical Garden of Eden, according to The National, an online news agency in the Middle East.

The river seems to be a graveyard of sorts: According to estimates by the General Company of Ports of Iraq (GCPI), around 36 sunken ships lie in the Shatt al-Arab, according to niqash.org.

USS Utah

Japanese B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers sank the USS Utah during the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

(Image credit: Google)

Japanese B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers sank the USS Utah during the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack killed 64 crewmen, 58 of whom were entombed in the ship when it capsized, according to the Pacific Aviation Museum in Hawaii.

The USS Utah, a dreadnought battleship, was not an active battleship, but rather an auxiliary ship, when the Japanese bombed it. The Japanese knew this, but one pilot thought it was an active battleship and bombed it by mistake, as did one of his wingmen. Their superiors were furious because the bombers had just 40 torpedoes, and it was a large loss to mistakenly use two, according to the museum. 

SS Maheno

During World War I, New Zealand converted this passenger ship — the SS Maheno — into a floating hospital, according to New Zealand History.

(Image credit: Google)

During World War I, New Zealand converted this passenger ship — the SS Maheno — into a floating hospital, according to New Zealand History.

After the war, the SS Maheno became a passenger ship again, and was later sold to an Osaka ship-breaker company for scrap metal in 1935. But the ship never made it there: A cyclone severed the towline connected with the SS Maheno and the Oonah, the ship towing it, according to Atlas Obscura. Three days later, the Maheno and its small crew were found stranded on the beach of Fraser Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

Staten Island boat graveyard

In the 1950s, Arthur Witte Jr. took in boats for his scrap yard on the shores of southern Staten Island.

(Image credit: Google)

"An accidental marine museum," as one nautical magazine calls it, this boat graveyard on the shores of southern Staten Island, New York, was founded in the 1930s by John J. Witte (who died in 1980), the The New York Times reported; Witte reportedly would not dismantle any of the ships unless he had a buyer, according to The New York Times. Thus, they continued to accumulate. But soon, the Witte Marine Equipment Co. had more boats than it could disassemble, according to Forgotten New York. Some dated to before World War I, the New York Times reported in 1990.

Since then, the wrecks have become a habitat for underwater marine life. Environmental laws now mandate that the hundreds of hulls stay untouched at the site, which is now known as the Donjon Recycling.

SS Palo Alto

This famous concrete tanker was made to fight the Central Powers during World War I, but the war ended before it could enter battle.

(Image credit: Google)

This famous concrete tanker was made to fight the Central Powers during World War I, but the war ended before it could enter battle.  

Why was it made out of concrete? During the war, there were concerns about steel shortages. So, the Emergency Fleet Corporation, formed under President Woodrow Wilson, requested 24 new ships be built out of ferroconcrete and reinforced with steel, according to The Washington Post.

After it was made in Oakland, California, the SS Palo Alto was moved south to Aptos, California, by the Cal-Nevada Company in 1929. In 1930, a pier was constructed to reach the boat, and it became a popular tourist destination, as well as an environmental hazard that was finally cleaned up in 2006.

The ship continues to weather damage. In January 2017, a storm off the coast of California ripped the stern off the SS Palo Alto. 

SS Francisco Morazan

The SS Francisco Morazan sits at the Bottom of Lake Michigan after it ran into a wild snowstorm in 1960.

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The SS Francisco Morazan sits at the Bottom of Lake Michigan, after it ran aground during a wild snowstorm in 1960.

The Holland-bound ship left Chicago on Nov. 27, 1960, with 940 tons of cargo, according to the National Park Service. But the next day, 40 mph (64 km/h) winds brought water on board the ship. Blinded by snow and heavy fog, the crew mistakenly ran the ship aground by South Manitou Island.

The crew abandoned the ship, and because the ship's owners never came forward, the ship was left in the lake, where it is now home to birds, including cormorants and gulls.

Half Moon schooner-yacht

The Half Moon Underwater Archaeological Preserve is the watery grave for a German 366-ton steel schooner-yacht with two masts.

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The Half Moon Underwater Archaeological Preserve is the watery grave for a German 366-ton steel schooner-yacht with two masts. The 1908 vessel once sported the name Germania and sped through the water as a racing yacht, according to Florida's Museums in the Sea.

However, Germania was seized by England during World War I, and it was later sold and renamed the Half Moon. Then, it sailed down to Miami, where it was repurposed as a floating cabaret during the Prohibition era.

The schooner-yacht sank in 1930, when a storm ran it aground, according to DiveSpots.com. The Half Moon is now visited by snorkelers and divers visiting the archaeological preserve.

Abandoned in Argentina

The St. Christopher will likely sit the rest of its days in the harbor of Ushuaia in southern Argentina.

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The St. Christopher will likely sit the rest of its days in the harbor of Ushuaia in southern Argentina.

The vessel is an American-built rescue tug that served in the British Royal Navy during World War II, as part of the Lend-Lease Act, according to NavSource Online. The Royal Navy decommissioned the tug after the war, and sold it in 1947 to a man in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He chartered it for salvage operations, but it ran into engine trouble and rudder damage in Beagle Channel by Ushuaia.

The St. Christopher ran ashore and was abandoned in 1957, and photographers have snapped photos of the deteriorating tug ever since. To prevent environmental disaster, its remaining fuel was drained in 2004, according to NavSource Online. 

Skeleton Coast shipwreck

This rusty shipwreck sits on the Skeleton Coast, just north of Ludertiz in Namibia.

(Image credit: Google)

This rusty shipwreck sits on the Skeleton Coast, just north of Luderitz in Namibia.

The 976-mile-long (1,570 kilometers) Skeleton Coast is littered with shipwrecks, according to the HuffPost. That's because when the Atlantic's cold currents mix with the dry, warm air from the Namib Desert, the two create a cold, dense fog that can befuddle even careful ship captains, the HuffPost reported. 

The Khoisan Bushmen, a tribe of hunter-gatherers, apparently call the Skeleton Coast "the land God created in anger," according to Tahir Shah in a BBC article, in which he described the land as being littered with "huge bleached whalebones, the crumbling hulks of shipwrecks, dead plants, and the footprints of infrequent desert creatures, all on a desperate search for sustenance."