Ships and Saucers: UFOs at Sea
The waters of the Western Mediterranean, while not as mystery-prone as the legendary Atlantic, have nonetheless been a source of enigmas. In the 1960s, Spanish ufologist Antonio Ribera posited the existence of a “triangle” (it was, after all, the age of the Bermuda Triangle, the Devil’s Triangle, and other anomalous marine geometry) between Mount Canigó in Spain, the Balearic Islands, and North Africa, with the Sea of Alborán – the body of water between Spain and Morocco – being the main scenario for these events. While disappearances of surface vessels and aircraft were few, it made a name for itself in the UFO chronicles of the time.
It is precisely these deep waters that concern us here.
Thirty-three years ago, in the month of February, 1979, a merchant vessel named the Tamames, carrying a load of butane, left the port city of Alcudia on Majorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands, heading to the city of Cartagena in Southern Spain. The butane hauler belonged to CEPSA, a major player in the Mediterranean bunker fuel business. The ship’s captain, Jose Luis González, was a no-nonsense mariner who was very mindful of the delivery timetables, running a relatively tight ship.
The butane hauler’s humdrum routine would be forever interrupted on Tuesday, February 6 of that year – unlike horror yarns or sea stores, no sudden gales appeared out of nowhere, no rogue waves smashed against the ship. At 21:00 hours, only few leagues distant from the island of Formentera, the duty officer approached the captain to say that an unknown vessel was visible to the south of the ship, on a westward heading. The duty officer, however, was unable to see the proper number of running lights on the vessel. Other bridge personnel soon noticed that the object had two lights, suggesting a normal vessel, possibly another merchantman. Their satisfaction at having unraveled a minor mystery soon gave way to alarm as the number of lights on the horizon began to multiply, becoming four, then six, then ten.
Captain González asked for his binoculars and noticed, to his astonishment, that the sky immediately over the lights had turned orange; the lights now arranged themselves into unusual patterns – side by side at times, vertical at others, and finally a horizontal layout. Of particular note was a light that seemed to be producing the kind of smoke associated with a flare. His officers agreed that it was probably a vessel in distress and the Tamames changed course to render assistance. The radar operator, however, noted that he was unable to pick up any objects on the horizon, even thought the coastlines of Majorca, Formentera and the Spanish mainland were crisply outlined. The radio man observed that the stricken ship – if that’s what it was – did not issue any calls for help.
The Tamames assistance mission found itself brought to an abrupt halt when the lights suddenly vanished from sight, along with the odd orange luminescence. Captain González ordered a new course change back to Cartagena, upset, no doubt, at the delay caused by his earlier decision. But the radar – this time witnessed by all present – began displaying highly unusual signals that remained constant until nearly midnight. Bizarre radar echoes plagued the ship, suggesting they were approaching something. The echoes vanished a few miles away from the vessel and reappeared from all directions.
The thoroughly unusual situation prompted the captain to radio other ships in the area to find out if they were encountering a similar anomaly; a lighthouse station near Cartagena replied that no naval maneuvers had been scheduled for the area. The radar echoes kept appearing and disappearing, leaping around the butane hauler like invisible acrobats. The situation was insensibly changing from annoying to disturbing.
At 0300 hours, Captain González contacted the lighthouse authorities again, requesting confirmation that no military maneuvers were indeed being carried out, and describing the conditions experienced by the Tamames. Astonishingly – and possibly a “first” in maritime history – the watch officer at the lighthouse wondered openly if Captain González might be seeing a UFO. Given the strangeness of the situation he found himself in, the captain suggested that any explanation would do at this point. In all his years at sea, he had never faced a similar predicament. The lighthouse officer explained that only a few days later, a foreign ship had reported the presence of a UFO not far from the Tamames’ present coordinates.
In spite of the unusual and frank exchange, the captain never truly believed that his ship was at the mercy of intergalactic pirates and restricted his entry in the ship’s log to the strange lights and bizarre radar echoes.
Things would become “curiouser and curiouser” in coming days, when an official explanation for the anomaly was put forth: the crew of the Tamames had seen students from a military school conducting nocturnal parachute drops carrying flares in their hands. Captain González was far from convinced by the explanation: these alleged maneuvers had taken place seventy five miles away from his ship’s position, and inland, to boot.
In southern Spain, UFO researcher and author Jose Manuel García Bautista has looked into the possibility that an "extraterrestrial submarine base", for want of a better name, may exist in the water of the Sea of Alborán. Sightings in these water go back at least thirty years: in 1974, passengers aboard the ferry Virgen del Africa were witnesses to a strange artifact that emerged from the water, remained suspended in mid-air for a minute, and then plunged into the sea once more. On August 20, 1976, three irregular-sized lights would to the same thing: emerge from the water, plunge into it again, and then re-emerge. This event was witnessed by a group of vacationers.
"I was able to ascertain," writes García Bautista in an unpublished paper, "the manner in which these waters are been customarily a place for intense UFO sightings. This location meets a series of highly attractive characteristics: the location between two continents; the presence of foreign bases such as Gibraltar, Rota and Morón, where experimental spy-plane prototypes have been tested; a number of electric generating facilities ranging from simple reservoirs to nuclear power stations; significant mining installations near Rio Tinto." Factors which could be taken into account, suggests García, if an aliens were to locate a base or lookout point anywhere in the Mediterranean.
Garcia's theory has been substantiated in recent years: In August 1999, four youngsters rented a pedal boat in the sea town of Chipiona near Cádiz and went quite far from the shore, plunging into the water and keeping the pedal boat nearby. While Diego Moreno, Elena Delgado, Rafael Dominguez and Paula Gomez frolicked in the warm Mediterranean water, they suddenly became aware of a huge, bright light underneath them. Paddling furiously toward the precarious safety of the pedal boat, the now terror-stricken vacationers noticed how "a thing" of considerable size moved around beneath them. According to the witnesses, the light was neither the reflection of the sun nor a diver using an underwater light source. To make matters worse, the object appeared to sport with the frightened onlookers, spinning around their pedal boat and threatening to overturn it. The experience with the unknown came to an end when a lifeguard motor launch sped toward them, advising them to return to the beach line.
A second experiences took place the same month, this time in the town La Jara, not far from Chipiona. Amparo and José Hidalgo, two young beachcombers enjoying the sunset, were startled when a strange luminous sphere descended slowly into the water as it changed colors. Once underwater, the witnesses saw the object follow a trajectory leading it to deeper waters, "to some hidden point under the waters near Cádiz", as García Bautista suggests.
That same month, other unidentified objects were seen along the Cádiz littoral and were reported to both the Spanish Navy and Red Cross.
There are times when the unidentified objects don’t take great pains to conceal themselves, such as the July 1970 case involving a young scuba diver engaged in underwater fishing in the waters off Alcocebre (Castellón de la Plana, Spain) at one o’clock in the afternoon. Some 70 meters from the beach, and at a depth of 8 meters, the diver was surprised to find a stubby cylindrical object, seven meters long by three meters wide. It had no rivets or seams, and shone like brushed steel in the sunlight hitting the seabed. Bravely, the diver pulled out his knife and attempted to score the perfect surface without effect, and the object gave no signs of having magnetic properties, either. Bracing himself against a rock, the diver tried to exert pressure against the object, hoping to make it move. His efforts in vain, the diver returned to his normal pursuits before leaving the water altogether.
At three in the morning, the diver – this time with his girlfriend – was aboard a small rowboat in the same vicinity, watching the stars. The young woman told him that she had seen “something shoot out of the water” skyward, but he himself was unable to see anything. Upon returning to the site where the cylinder had rested on the sea floor, he noticed it was no longer there.
Long-time readers of INEXPLICATA may remember a similar case that took place nineteen years later and thousands of miles away. In July 1989, Inocencio Cataquet, an expert skin-diver from northwestern Puerto Rico, was on a fishing venture in the late afternoon when he saw a huge object moving underwater, estimating its size at two hundred feet in diameter. Fearlessly, the diver reached for his equipment and plunged into the water, managing to touch the object. The object in the waters off Puerto Rico was not metallic, but rather porous and filled with small holes. The driver was driven away by the fact that the water began to heat up around the object; subsequently he would see it moving away at high speed underwater, eventually breaking the surface and heading skyward as a "tiny little point of light."
Under Grim Waters
Ever since Charles Fort began saving newspaper clippings on odd news stories in shoe boxes, the belief that strange objects--some of them luminous, others completely opaque, some amorphous, others having decidedly geometrical shapes--move freely under the waters of the world's oceans. This line of thought has been translated into a number of books and documentaries in many languages, sometimes associated with "unusual" areas of the seas known by their colorful and often incorrect names.
"UFO bases", locations where putative alien spacecraft can constitute one of the pillars of belief in the ETH (extraterrestrial hypothesis); the possibility that many of these bases could be located undersea has been approached by many authors, most notably Ivan T. Sanderson in his book Invisible Residents (NY: Avon, 1970). During World War II, Sanderson saw so many strange objects in the high seas that the Admiralty asked him to please refrain from reporting them.
In this classic work, Sanderson divides USO's into several types--historical USOs, objects which are seen entering and leaving the sea, objects which appear to move exclusively within "hydrospace" (a term coined by author Martin Caidin) and the disappearances of vessels and their crews.
One of the most significant cases reported by Sanderson is the oft-repeated incident involving a U.S. carrier group involved in the "Springboard" military exercises in the waters off Puerto Rico in March 1963. The Cuban Missile Crisis had occurred only a few months earlier and the Cold War between the superpowers was at its peak, so the need to prepare for a future "battle of the Atlantic" was paramount. At least four submarines equipped with the latest electronics of the time formed part of the exercises (including the SSN-585 Skipjack); in the skies overhead, Grumman S-2 antisubmarine aircraft practiced shadowing and detecting the "enemy".
But something unusual occurred: one of the subs broke away from the exercise to pursue what it considered to be "an unknown object." The fleet was unsure if the object was a decoy meant to form part of the exercise or not, but there was clearly something strange about it--the alleged decoy was moving at the unheard-of speed of 150 knots an hour. At the time, the maximum velocity for a submersible stood at 45 knots.
Communications were hindered by the fact that each of the warships was trying to advise the command ship--the carrier Wasp (CVN-18)--of the strange event. Thirteen captains would enter the incident in their ships' logs.
Sanderson notes that the technicians aboard the vessels informed COMLANT that the object not only traveled at the aforementioned speed but that it was also propelled by a single screw. Was this the real-life counterpart of Jules Verne's Nautilus?
The intruder made its presence felt for four long days, plunging to tremendous depths (27,000 feet); despite the Navy's best efforts in ascertaining its identity, the strange object vanished after 96 hours and was never seen again...
A year after the Puerto Rico incident, Flying Saucer Review would make the "UFOs of Golfo Nuevo" known to the world. In February 1960, the Argentinean Navy had spent two frustrating weeks in an effort to sink or surface a pair of "Soviet submarines" which constantly eluded its surface warships thanks to their dizzying speed. The FSR article would declare emphatically that "it is absolutely true that there is a flying saucer base in the depths of Golfo San Matías (separated from Golfo Nuevo by the narrow Valdés Peninsula). These events are a matter of common knowledge throughout a wide region of Patagonia, where it is normal to hear people making reference to Martians."
War of the Submersibles
In the late 1990's, a "disclosure" effort having nothing to do with UFOs came about: the U.S. Navy allowed a number of seamen and scientists who had been in the service to speak publicly of their experiences and participation in some of the most sensitive missions carried out during the Cold War against the USSR. Most prominent among these books are Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, and The Secret War by scientist and naval engineer John P. Craven.
Blind Man's Bluff discloses the fact that many submarines participated in operations worthy of a James Bond script, such as the mission to intercept Soviet Navy communications from Siberia's Sea of Ohthosk by placing an enormous "spy buoy" over an underwater cable. Also revealed were the mysterious "impacts" suffered by these vessels of the deep as they ran into each other or surface vessels--events which had frequently been associated with USO activity.
In 1969, the USS Gato collided against a Soviet sub in the Barents Sea shortly before the superpowers sat down to negotiate a disarmament treaty; in 1970, two submersibles collided in the Mediterranean without the Department of the Navy ever informing the White House about the event. But in late June 1970, the USS Tautog penetrated the Soviet radar network at the Kamchatka Peninsula, traveling under the vessels of the Soviet Pacific Fleet at the shallow depth of seventy feet. The submarine's mission consisted in analyzing any pulses which may represent missile launches and if at all possible, capture them on film.
Another high-priority goal, according to Sontag and Drew's book, consisted in shadowing an "Echo II" Soviet sub, which did not take long to accomplish. But given the fact that submarines are virtually blind under water--seeing the world through their sonar arrays--the Tautog's captain didn't know that upon giving the command to surface, the object of his mission lay directly above him...
Six thousand tons of U.S sub slammed into the "Echo II", whose propellers sliced into the Tautog's skin without breaching the hull: a tribute to the high quality of the Navy's HY-80 alloy, according to the authors.
The paranormal press of the time mentions collisions between unknown objects and ships in the high seas. "The trawler Star of Toronto," writes John Keel in the Fall 1974 issue of Saga UFO Report, "was mangled when it smashed into "a surfacing submarine off the coast of Scotland on Feb. 3, 1965. Another trawler, the Silveroe, ran into an unknown object that could have been a submarine along Sweden's Baltic coast in November 1969 [...] If we simply discard the saucer-type stories and concentrate on the mystery airplanes and mystery submarines we find that there is considerable evidence indicating that someone is operating a clandestine air force and navy on this planet, and that they have been doing so for many decades."
It is nonetheless possible that a considerable number of unidentified submarine objects could be experimental devices belonging to the fleets of the world's Great Powers -- something that does not seem so surprising when we think that the first turbine-powered vessel caused consternation among the 19th century British Navy and was considered "a secret weapon" belonging to another country. Whether the world's government's aware, and if any measures been taken, are matters of speculation. We can only hope that the lyrics to the Led Zeppelin song "Carouselambra" do not amount to prophecy: "And powerless the fabled sat/too smug to lift a hand/Toward the foe that threatened from the deep..."
The Paranormal on Ice
Tempering the rational alternative to the USO phenomenon there is another theory that sets aside the extraterrestrial hypothesis to embrace the paranormal.
In 1984, the late F.W. Holiday mentioned that it was still possible to come across cases of "sirenism"--the sea madness which afflicted sailors in certain latitudes, causing them to react like the crewmen accompanying the legendary Odysseus--in certain parts of the world, specifically in the cold waters of the North Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Holiday refers interested readers to the work of Rev. Donald Omand, who performed an exorcism of Loch Ness in 1978 which banished allegedly malevolent creature from its waters (curiously, a 2003 news story specified that a British warlock was employing sorcery to cause the Loch Ness Monster to reappear).
Holiday believed that sea serpents and related creatures were related to the mythical and malevolent creatures of the Celtic and Scandinavian tradition, which were often placed at the entrances of ancient Scottish and Irish churches and collectively known as "the dragon." The lakes in these two regions are plagued by these astral visions, according to the author, and had been reported to exist in bodies of water as small as ponds.
Reverend Omand, whose reputation as an exorcist in the Church of England stretched as far back as the 1940's, received a curious request from a Norwegian sea captain: would he consider performing an exorcism of a certain point of the Arctic Ocean? Captain Jan Andersen of the vessel Nordlys claimed to have knowledge of a point in the sea at which "men lost their minds." This paranormal black hole or vortex was located in the waters off Spitzbergen, almost facing the great arctic ice barrier.
In his childhood, Omand had heard his grandfather--a stern Calvinist minister--say prayers against "the seduction of the great depths" to protect sailors and those who worked at sea, and took and interest in the case.
"Please exorcise this part of the sea," pleaded the Norwegian mariner in his letter, "but do not ask me to return to it until the exorcism has been performed. When you reach the place, offer spiritual protection to all who are with you and to the ship as well."
Hiring a vessel to reach the Arctic was very nearly impossible, so it would be necessary to join one of the tour ships that visited Spitzbergen every summer so that passengers could enjoy the midnight sun. It was thus that Reverend Omand sailed with Captain Pedersen -- a friend of Captain Andersen -- to the great ice barrier.
After visiting Spitzbergen, the liner made for the coordinates indicated by Captain Andersen and Omand performed the rite of exorcism, praying the old Mozarabic rite and scattering holy water through an open porthole. He subsequently blessed the ship's deck and the forward and aft deckhouses.
But something unexpected occurred: Reverend Omand had forgotten to protect himself during the ritual. "I was overcome by a sensation I had never experienced before and I pray to God I never feel again," wrote Omand in his book The Man Who Exorcised the Bermuda Triangle (Barnes & Co, 1978). "I hadn't thought that there was a person of Nordic origin aboard who had not received protection against the sea-madness. That person was me. All of my life I have loved the sea and things related to it, but at this moment I felt that the depths were calling me. Almost sobbing, I headed for the door leading to the lower deck. I suddenly heard a clear and powerful voice that caused me to stop: It is not the sea who calls you, but the Father of Lies himself. It was the voice of my grandfather, who died when I was twenty years old."
The reverend returned to the table and sprinkled holy water over his face. The trance was broken.
Omand would subsequently return to Norway to exorcise the Fjord of the Trolls, known as the most sinister body of water in Scandinavia (employed by the British during World War II to supply the Norwegian resistance movement). In the prologue to F.W. Holiday's The Goblin Universe, Colin Wilson recounts Omand's entry into the fjord aboard a small motor boat, feeling the sinister atmosphere turning menacing. Suddenly, the waters boiled and two enormous humps were seen to break the surface, suggesting the existence of a sea monster far greater than the one at Loch Ness. The reverend feared that the enormous beast would capsize the boat, but the pilot told him that "those things" never harmed humans, despite being evil. Although, he cautioned, they could ruin men's characters.
In 1972, Omand attended a conference in Sweden where a distinguished psychiatrist read a paper on the Lake Storsjon monster. The scholar's conclusion was that said beings have a negative effect upon human beings --- on both those who hunt them as well as those who see them with regularly, resulting in domestic tragedy and moral degeneration. It was from that moment onward that Reverend Omand conjectured that all of the creatures seen in the ocean and seen described as strange objects or sea monsters were not solid entities, but projections of the prehistoric past to our own era, and possibly related to the Biblical Serpent....
A Embarrassment of Theories
Regardless of the theory that is most palatable to the reader, the fact remains that the cold waters of our world are the lair of objects or entities which can not only elude the best monitoring systems known to our military establishments, but can also damage vessels. Could this be proof, as John Keel believed, that there are private armies and navies in our oceans that nothing to do with the governments we know, much like Captain Nemo's fictional submarine?
The more practical and rational-minded among us will agree with Colonel LeBlanc and his theories of foreign submarines belonging to countries that covet his country's untapped natural wealth, and will believe that the mysterious forms seen under the sea are nothing but American, French, British or Russian warships playing out the "great game" of international politics.
Perhaps others will be more inclined to share the explanation put forth by the late Reverend Omand: "The answer to these extraordinary apparitions, in my view, does not lie within the realm of science but in the world of the supernatural..."