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The Story of the Ghost Ship that Carried the Plague to Norway

PortandTerminal.com, December 29, 2020

OSLO – In October 1347, the plague arrived in Europe when 12 ships from the Black Sea port of Caffa docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. People who greeted the vessels upon their arrival were horrified to discover that the sailors on board were either all dead or gravely ill and covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. The plague had arrived in Europe.

Once in Europe the deadly disease burned across the continent often hitching a ride on merchant ships from port to port.

Over the next five years, the Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe—almost one-third of the continent’s population.

The Plague’s arrival in Norway

Lithograph of Bergen, Norway

In 1349 a merchant ship set sail from England carrying a load of wool destined for Norway. The Plague had reached England in June 1348 and by summer 1349 it had spread across the entire country.

Why would Norway allow a ship to sail from England at that time when it is likely that they knew of the mysterious and deadly disease that was burning through country after country in Europe? Perhaps need forced them to take the risk.


Norway at that time was a poor country which depended on other countries for most of its food supply. It also had no wool and cloth of its own. It relied largely on imports which English merchants were happy to supply.

So sometime in 1349 the merchant ship and its crew left England carrying not only wool but also rats infected with fleas that carried the deadly plague bacteria Yersinia pestis. One by one, during the course of the merchant ship’s voyage to Norway crew members fell ill and died until eventually, no one was left alive to sail the vessel.

After drifting aimlessly for some time the ghost ship eventually ran aground near the harbor of Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. With the crew long dead, the only living creatures on the ship were rats and fleas, which made it onto Norwegian soil and introduced the Scandinavian nation to the Black Death.

In the end, between 60 and 65 percent of the population are estimated to have died during the Black Death, and Norway was not to recover until the 17th-century.

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