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Ship Logs

Shipwrecks at Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Posted by Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, Maritime Archaeology and History Team Leader
Photos by Dr. Hans Van Tilburg
September 28, 2002

Unfortunately, the USS Saginaw at Kure eluded our efforts. We did a number of diver tow searches in the area indicated by historic references, but saw no traces of the wreck. Sedimentation rates on that side of the atoll are high, and it's possible that after 132 years, the material is buried deep under the sands.

On our return to Pearl and Hermes Atoll we began with a shore side survey of Southeast Island. Again, traces of cut giant bamboo, some pieces over 6 meters long, with traces of cross pieces and lashings. Where are these coming from? Are they rafts or other devices? Who still builds bamboo rafts?

Debris from the SS Quartette.Today's dives included two wreck sites. The first, the SS Quartette, wrecked in 1952. The remains of the Korea-bound ship long remained emergent, but are now only four or five small pieces occasionally awash. The real sight is underwater on the shallow reef, where a topography of twisted steel and ruins spread out over at least a football field size area. Many varieties of fish enjoy the numerous habitats and refuges of what used to be, according to Mark Rauzon in Isles of Refuge, a Liberty ship from World War II. Liberty ships were, of course, the supply train "bridge" across the oceans, and many found second careers after 1945.

Power plant.Our second dive spot appeared as a square shaped block on the horizon far to the north on the edge of the reef crest. It is the top of a six-cylinder marine diesel power plant. On the coral spires below lay the propeller shaft, the damaged propeller itself, and twisted debris and machinery. There is no trace of the hull or the rest of the wreck in the vicinity. We have no record of this vessel, but checking with the Coast Guard on our return might clear up this mystery. Tomorrow, back to the most intriguing needles in the haystack…a return to the area where the British whalers Pearl and Hermes wrecked in 1822.

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