Mysterious flotsam is repeatedly washed up on the beaches of the Brazilian state of Sergipe.
Coastal residents call the brownish, weathered rectangles, some of which are strewn with crabs, “caixas misteriosas”, in English: “mysterious boxes”. They found more than 350 in one month, according to the state environmental authority Adema. The first box appeared in October 2018.
The 80 kilo “boxes” are not filled with jewels, ducats or old treasure maps. They are not even boxes, but balls of rubber, as the marine biologist Luis Bezerra found out. He himself discovered a “box” while walking on the beach in July 2019.
Bezerra and his research team are now certain: The “caixas misteriosas” come from a German Nazi ship that was sunk off the Brazilian coast in 1944!
The marine biologist has been researching the origin of the mysterious floating debris for years.
▶︎ A first hint: Bezerra noticed that barnacles grew on some balls of rubber, a type of cancer that only thrives in the depths of the ocean. In addition, they must have been out for a long time because the smallpox was already grown up.
“Crates” come from the Nazi freighter “Rio Grande”
Then Bezerra’s team discovered the label “Product of French Indochina” on one of the boxes. “With this inscription, we saw that the bales are old,” says Bezerra. The French colony in what is now Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam existed until 1954.
The marine biologists then came across the story of the Nazi cargo ship “Rio Grande” on the Internet. The ship was on its way back from Japan to Hamburg in 1944 when an American cruiser tracked it down 1,000 kilometers from the Brazilian city of Recife. The crew of the “Rio Grande” sank their own ship and fled towards the mainland in lifeboats.
The British wreck researcher David Mearns found the “Rio Grande” at a depth of 6000 meters. Using his data, the scientists were able to use mathematical modeling of winds and currents to show that when rubber balls are released from the “Rio Grande”, they will arrive precisely on the coast of the northeast.
According to Bezerra, there could be two reasons for the fact that the bales did not wash up until around 80 years after the sinking of the “Rio Grande”: Either the wreck has only now decomposed sufficiently – or someone wanted to get to the other, valuable cargo on the ship. The “Rio Grande” was loaded with cobalt, among other things.
Bales of rubber could endanger turtles
Environmentalists worry that the rubber balls could pose a threat to the sea turtles. “The turtles could eat the rubber and suffocate,” said biologist Fábio Lira on Brazilian television. Corresponding cases have not yet become known.
The environmental authority Adema wants to temporarily store the rubber balls found.