Of all the strange things found on the high seas, this one might be the creepiest…and the saddest. Express reported that two fisherman recently discovered a yacht partially submerged off the coast of Barobo in the Philippines. When they climbed aboard, they came face to face with the grey, mummified remains of its captain amidst strewn food, photo albums and clothes.
He was still sitting at his desk, where he had possibly been using the radio equipment to make a distress call before he died.
Paperwork on board identified the man as Manfred Fritz Bajorat, a German explorer last seen in Mallorca, Spain by a fellow sailor in 2009. Authorities speculate the cause of death may have been a heart attack. A broken mast suggests the yacht may have encountered bad weather.
High temperatures, dry ocean winds, and salty air preserved the corpse as the boat drifted around the globe.
On the condition of the remains, Jeremy Laurance writes for The Independent:
Pictures show a man with silver hair and a beard, his head leaning towards his crooked arm, which is resting on the table, as if he were studying a chart. His body is remarkably intact. Seated in the cabin, it was protected from scavenging sea birds; and the high temperature, low humidity and salty sea-air appear to have combined to produce ideal conditions for preservation of the corpse.
Had he fallen into the water, it would have been a different story. In tropical seas, decomposition and putrefaction begin quickly and progress rapidly. A body may sink to the bottom initially but the bacterial action which causes it to bloat with gas will normally mean that, after three or four days, it will again float to the surface, where it is exposed to sea-birds, sharks and buffeting by the waves.
In cold water, this process may be slowed. The tissues form a soapy, fatty acid known as “grave wax” that protects the corpse and halts bacterial growth. Bodies have been recovered almost completely intact after several weeks in cold seas. However, a natural mummification such as Bajorat’s is rare, as it requires extreme conditions of cold, salinity, acidity or aridity.
UPDATE: The Independent article also reports that, though he has not been seen since 2009, the last message received from Bajorat was a year ago.