The Ghost ship of Batroun

Prestige issue 117, February 2003

The sea jealously guards its secrets, but sometimes it consents to unveil a mystery. These boats buried there are not only wrecks, each carries a story, a drama. Old fishermen are their guards who took out of the sea lessons of life, who have drawn their wisdom there. Of the wreck we explored, we know one thing: a ship carrying cement from the quarries of North Lebanon sank off the coast the summer of 1937…Suffering a storm in this season, or the naw, that familiar treacherous current of the region and that can turn in seconds into a tornado? Mystery. An investigation was required, it led us to the mina of Batroun. An old fisherman took us back in time, between humor and emotion. He told us the story of Cap’tain Michel,  that you can find below.

Cap’taine Michel. The Greek, we knew him well in the city. He was considered coming of a good society, there were a couple of minor flaws: he abused ouzo or arak, depending on the occasion, and then, as he loved to boast as much as to drink. That night, he took a drink with sailors. One of them looked at the sky, and the clouds gathering in menacing gray swirls and the sea rising: “Tonight, we did well to stay in port.” Cap’tain Michel seriously tipsy stood up and announced loudly:”But I have to do. Why postpone until tomorrow what you can do today. Let’s go load the boat. “” You’re crazy, Greek! Alcohol still gone to your head! ” With the back of his hand, the Cap’tain swept all objections and headed to the dock where we finished loading the bags of cement on the boat.”There, it’s done, attention capsize” joyously threw a hauler. “! Capsize” The vexed cap’tain ordered him: “You add still,” and finally got ready to sail with five tons more. On board four young Greek sailors who were paid per trip. At the time, we shuttled by boat to transport the goods. The boat was advancing with difficulty, battered by the waves.

Le vaisseau fantome

© Prestige

Bow of the boat.
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© Prestige

The wreckage trapped the net of a fisherman who had breached its sleep.

What the hell? “Go down to see!” Two young horrified, saw a flood of water submerging the dock. They had inadvertently left open portholes! They tried to recover. The cap’tain regaining his presence of mind and sobriety jumped with two fellow survivors in Chakhtoura, the life boat and grabbed it with all his might. His boat sank in a few moments before his disbelieving eyes. An implacable calm, even the sea was silent, the cap’tain Michel looked up and saw in the distance, a light, one on the black silent coast. One lux, he thought. He shivered, huddled in the boat which was carried away by the current. The day woke him, the boat had drifted to Cape joun, in Tripoli.

It was a fixed idea, he wanted to find his boat. He remembered that light was it that of the Church of Kfar’abida? He sailed and made his calculations and decided to search the ghamiqa, the deep waters off the coast of Batroun. He appealed to the fishermen of the port, and the pioneers of diving (which will be the first to wear a spacesuit in Lebanon), and promised them 50 pounds each. Village youths mocked the old who strained their ears to the tidal water to listen beyond the lapping, the singular sound of the sea and what it has swallowed, the sound of water on the metal or wood is perceived differently. But the cap’tain vainly searched, he never regained his boat. Is remorse for having led two young to death, regret for being so boastful? The Cap’tain  suddenly disappeared and people ignored all his fate as of his boat. One day in1950, a sponge fisherman discovered, ironically, quite by chance, the wreck of a boat. That of Cap’tain Michel…Cap’tain who entered the legend of the sailors of the Coast. And this light he had seen actually came from the church of Mar Estephan in Batroun.

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Over the years, under the weight of the cement, the structure collapsed. Today it is the tomb of two unfortunate sailors, victims of neglect and bragging captain.

A dark body lying 45 meters deep, its modest size,  some 60 meters long. Covered with algae, marine fauna took it as a house. We recognize the fish of the region: black grouper, yellowtail, serghos. We approach, very strange: the position of the boat, nose against the reef, as if it was sailing on the floor of the fund and had hit this problem by a frontal impact. All parts of the boat are still recognizable, but the irony is charging, this additional burden of five tons, probably responsible for the tragedy is still there, inside the trailer, the last load of cement today resting in the bags at the bottom of the sea, this sea, so cruel, when defied by boastful people.

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First beneficiaries of wrecks, fish that prefer this habitat. Among the guests of the premises, we recognize amberjacks and groupers.

Ironically still visible, this five ton load probably responsible for the tragedy.

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© Prestige

The cement bags that were the additional load on the boat, are now part of the seascape.

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