Photographer Scott Haefner fantasized for years about visiting the ‘Ghost Ships‘ of California’s Suisun Bay, a fleet of mothballed merchant ships waiting to be scrapped. But it wasn’t until recently that he and a few close friends built up the nerve to visit these abandoned wonders in person, evading round-the-clock security and ocean currents in the process. The photos he brought back of these magnificent decaying ships are just as amazing as the story of how he was able to take them to begin with.
The story of these amazing Ghost Ships starts with a government program called the Naval Defense Reserve Fleet. These mothballed merchant vessels were set aside by the government to be activated in case of emergency. At its peak in 1950, over 2,000 vessels were scattered around the coasts of the United States, included several hundred in Suisun Bay, about 30 miles north of San Francisco. Today, they sit abandoned, leaking toxic paint and heavy metals into the surrounding waters.
Working with several friends, Scott spent over two years secretly visiting the ships to meticulously photograph their interiors. Using a small inflatable raft, the crew would silently motor out the ships under cover of dark, running a test scouting mission before eventually spending whole weekends wandering and photographing the ships’ eerie rusting interiors. Even though the explorers were under constant threat of discovery (and likely arrest), they never got caught (other than one close call). You can read Scott’s full account of the experience and see more photos over at his website.