Ghost Boat: A Primer

We want to solve a mystery. Here’s how you can join in.

Bobbie Johnson
Ghost Boat
Published in
3 min readOct 7, 2015


Start with episode one

Here’s What We Know…

In the summer of 2014, a boat with at least 243 refugees on board — many of them women and children — was supposed to leave the coast of Libya and take its occupants to Italy. But instead of making its intended journey, it vanished.

It is incredibly unusual for a boat this size to go missing without leaving a trace.

There are hundreds of thousands of people travelling this route looking for peace and safety in Europe, but whatever happens — sinking boats, death, double-crossing smugglers — there is almost always evidence.

But there are clues about the Ghost Boat.

Odd phone calls, messages that can’t be traced, rumors, hints. We want to investigate them, with your help.

Eric Reidy reporting in Sicily.

…And Here’s What We Don’t Know

Everything else, more or less. Over several months, we’re telling the story of the refugees who went missing — and chasing down the different theories to find out what happened to them. We have a team of journalists and investigators working across the region.

But we believe that readers have a critical role to play too.

The more people who can investigate every lead, the more likely we are to find an answer. So as well as investigating the Ghost Boat ourselves, we’re opening a trove of data as we go and giving you the tools to join in.

Start Here

As each element of the story unfolds, we’re publishing new episodes and updates. Follow the Medium publication and you’ll get notified when new material goes live—as well as get regular emails on progress.
• Use the Ghost Boat tag on Medium, or #GhostBoat on other networks
• Follow @FindGhostBoat on Twitter and Facebook.

You can help us try to find out what happened.

Start with episode one. Think about ways you can contribute. Here are some things we’ve been working on:
Satellite mapping of the Libyan coast
Reports of boats washed ashore
Investigating the smugglers
Reading Italian court documents
Looking into witness statements
Mapping ships in the area
Investigating the manifest
Examining community posts

You’ll have to be careful, there’s a lot of incorrect information out there. Fortunately, we’re partnering with First Draft to help share best practices in verification, using social media, satellite imagery, shipping records, and more: They have variety of useful guides to get you started. Dig through the data and write your own post on Medium.

Will it work?

The truth is, nobody knows. If we understood what took place with the people in the Ghost Boat, we wouldn’t need to investigate. But we think that if we work together there’s a better chance of finding out what happened — and finding some closure for the families of the disappeared.

Photography/Video by Gianni Cipriano. Animation by Sam Cannon.



Bobbie Johnson
Ghost Boat

Causing trouble since 1978. Former lives at Medium, Matter, MIT Technology Review, the Guardian.