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Ghost ship sparks one of the most famous insurance scams of all time

13 Dec, 2011  |  Written by  |  No Comments  |  Insurance Fraud

The story is a strange and twisted one, and as one author wrote, is the “stuff of a maritime legend.”  It involves a vanishing crew, a greedy captain and one of the oldest insurance scams to take place in the United States.

The Mary Celeste was a ship that sparked a few mysteries in its time. The most famous being the story of the vanishing crew. The Mary Celeste was found out at sea in December of 1872 at full sail, not a thing out of place, but with the crew no where in sight. The sailors that found the ship reported no signs of struggle or disarray. The crew of the Mary Celeste had simply vanished. The story has sparked many theories on the fate of the crew- those of which include alien abductions and mutiny. The mystery was never solved.

However, the mystery of the the Mary Celeste doesn’t stop there. The ship went on to become involved in one of the most notorious maritime insurance scams in history. After the crew vanished, the ship was sold a few times over and used in trade routes from Boston to West Africa to the West Indes. The ship was known to carry a curse as it was always in need of repair, doomed for bad weather and known for losing money on runs.

The ship’s final captain, Capt. Gilman Parker, was navigating the waters off of Haiti when the ship “accidently” crashed into a known hazard- the Rochelois Reef. The ship didn’t sink but was splintered beyond repair. The captain went ashore and sold the contents of the ship to a salvager in Haiti- and then later filed an insurance claim for his unrepairable ship.

However, it was only a few months before Capt. Parker was brought in front of a Boston court to answer the charges of insurance fraud. His crew testified that Parker intentionally ruined the ship in order to collect on the insurance policy. The salvagers testified that the contents of the ship were nothing like they were promised- mostly rotten fish and stale beer.

The jury’s finding were mostly irrelevant, as only 3 weeks after Capt. Parker’s trial he died of unknown causes. As most of the previous owners of the Mary Celeste had already known, the ship was amongst the most unlucky ships ever possessed.

Captain Parker’s insurance scam went down in history, however, as one of the oldest cases of insurance fraud in U.S. courts.