Posted By Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, Maritime Archaeology and
History dive team leader
September 16, 2002
San Miguel launched a second time?
we continue searching for the Mission San Miguel,
a 528-foot long navy tanker than ran full speed onto the
reef in 1957. That might seem like a big ship, but given
the true immensity of the ocean, all ships big and small
are mere dots. The crew back then were successfully rescued
as they 'abandoned ship,' and eventually salvage vessels
from the main Hawaiian Islands arrived on seen. Navy divers,
though, were hampered by strong currents, poor visibility
underwater, and oil in the water. Things aren't much easier
we searched around the area of the reported latitude and
longitude for the wreck. NOAA coordinates are in close agreement
with the numbers from the official navy report. However,
an inspection of the bottom at the murky 80-foot depth,
and criss-crossing fathometer (depth sounding) readings
revealed an empty seabed.
1957 salvage attempt of the Mission San Miguel was
called off, due to the deteriorating condition of the ship
and the enormity of hull damage. Most of her length then
was hard aground up on the reef, with some 125 feet of her
stern hanging over deeper water. According to the salvage
report, as the divers worked, the vessel began to settle
at the stern, tilting her bow up out of the water to the
point where the ship might slide off the reef into the deep.
If she hadn't slid off, Maro
Reef would have a giant steel monument today. As it
is, there's only open ocean and shallow reef. After the
navy salvage engineers left, at some point in the past,
the Mission San Miguel may have launched herself
to Davy Jones' locker. Only the seabirds were here to see
her go, and she's now a peaceful home to fish and invertebrates.
The remaining question is, at what point on the seabed did
the ship end her final voyage?
and salvage stories like this, tales of survivors and long
awaited rescue, are parts of maritime history, another side
to the story of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.