Founded by Dr. Clive Cussler, the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) is a non-profit, volunteer foundation dedicated to preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.

Clive Cussler, Founder of NUMA

BVI Hurricane of 1867 Waylays RMS Rhone

“Being in the wrong place at the wrong time” could have been Capt. Robert F. Wooley’s mantra on October 29, 1867, when he lost his ship—the RMS Rhone—his life and the lives of 122 passengers and crew. Twenty-two survivors lived to tell the tale of one of the worst hurricanes to strike the British Virgin Islands.

The RMS Rhone was a trim, two-masted, single funnel brig. (Credit: George Marler)

His vessel wasn’t supposed to be at Great Harbor, Peter Island, BVI, taking on fuel, cargo and stores for the return trip to Southampton, UK. Ordinarily, the mail, passenger and general cargo vessel would have been at Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, 20 miles away. In 1841, the Royal Mail Packet Steam Company established a coal refueling station there for its ships. From this point, passengers and cargo could transfer to smaller schooners with routes to other Caribbean islands, Central America and Cuba. But with a scourge of yellow fever having swept through St. Thomas earlier, the company used Road Harbor, Tortola, and Great Harbor, Peter Island, to prepare for the trans-Atlantic voyage. more »

Empress of Ireland Was ‘Canada’s Titanic’

The Empress of Ireland & Empress of Britain were the Canadian Pacific Railway’s first Trans-Atlantic liners. Credit: Nat’l Historic Sites, Quebec, Canada

Chances are most people know something about the RMS Titanic tragedy. They may not remember details, but they recall that a vast number of lives were lost. On the other hand, if you run the RMS Empress of Ireland by them, you might get a blank stare.

Titanic records list 1,517 lives lost while the Empress of Ireland’s total isn’t too far behind at 1,012. The latter, Canada’s worst maritime loss–other than warships–is often overlooked in marine chronicles. This could be contributed to its Canadian connection or that it sank in a river. Nevertheless, both liners have much in common other than their sad demise.

The Titanic struck an iceberg while the Empress was struck by another vessel. Other contributing factors from the collision were debated and remain in the records to this day. The Titanic story revealed failed communications and flaws in the watertight compartments. For the Empress, it’s a debate over the Rules of the Road, navigational guidelines for avoiding collisions on waterways, and again a question about watertight compartments. more »

SS President Coolidge Suffers Naval Blunder in WWII

SS President Coolidge

SS President Coolidge

Like the old Chinese proverb, “A bee stinging a weeping face,” the troopship SS President Coolidge experienced one mishap after another before it became a victim of friendly fire in WWII. When it struck the first mine, Capt. Henry Nelson figured he might save his 654-foot vessel, but the second hit convinced him it was pointless and he had to save the 5,340 U.S. Army and naval personnel aboard.

On October 26, 1942, the Coolidge entered the main channel of Luganville Harbor on the island of Espiritu Santo, the largest of a chain of islands known at that time as New Hebrides. The chain became Vanuatu after gaining independence in 1980. The troops were sent there for harbor defense, airfield protection and support for forces stationed at Guadalcanal and other Pacific garrisons. The Pacific Theater of Operations was a hotbed of action in battles against the Japanese and all the island harbors were heavily protected. Unfortunately, Capt. Nelson’s sailing orders accidentally omitted the presence of mines anchored throughout the harbor of the large Luganville military base. Contributing to the oversight, base support failed to send a patrol boat to escort the ship through the channel, assuming the captain had received entry instructions from Navy headquarters. The captain was warned of enemy submarines around the islands, but nothing was said about mines. more »

Winfield Scott is No Match for Foggy Foe

The Winfield Scott

The Winfield Scott

When the paddle wheel steamer SS Winfield Scott sank in 1853, its namesake wooden figurehead was on the prow, a symbol of one man’s spirit and courage. The ship’s captain and crew were inspired, but they were no match in a battle against thick fog, heavy surf and jagged rocks off Anacapa Island, near Ventura, California.

They knew the history of General Winfield Scott who won his share of battles in 53 years of faithful army service. A famous Indian fighter in the Black Hawk War, the “grand old man of the army” was a commander in the War of 1812 and a senior officer in the Civil War. He won his share of battles, but none quite like this one against a silent enemy. more »

Nanking Cargo: Riches From the Orient

Photo of Michael Hatcher & Max De Rham

Photo of Michael Hatcher & Max De Rham

It’s the kingdom of power and awe where the winds wail, the gulls cry and the sea surges. Only the bold will brave it. Gales may blast it, rains may flood it and tides may churn it, but it is and always will be…the South China Sea.

Ask Michael Hatcher and he’ll tell you about raging storms, dark waters and pirates that he faced in an unforgiving environment unwilling to give up its treasure even to the bravest of souls. Hatcher never considered himself brave. Lucky perhaps, but not the daring swashbuckler portrayed in Hollywood productions. His demeanor, quiet, cordial and determined, was a perfect match for his line of work: Professional Treasure Hunter. more »

 

photo of Clive Cussler © Los Angeles Photographer Rob Greer