Shipwreck from 1888 found at bottom of San Francisco Bay

SAN FRANCISCO — For more than 125 years, the City of Chester passenger ship has been at the bottom of San Francisco Bay.

Scientists rediscovered its burial site recently after using sidescan sonar to confirm data first gathered last year.

Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were looking in May 2013 for another ship that sank near the Golden Gate Bridge in 1952 when they found what they thought was the City of Chester.

They conducted what is called a multibeam sonar survey and over the next nine months sorted through the data. A follow-up look with sidescan sonar found the ship 216 feet beneath the surface, sitting upright in the mud. There was a fatal gash in the ship’s port side.

NOAA said in a news release that the discovery is an important one for the Chinese-American community in the San Francisco area.

The City of Chester was carrying 90 people on a trip to Eureka, California, on August 22, 1888, when it was hit in the fog by the Oceanic, a ship arriving from Asia. The Chester sank within six minutes and 16 people were killed.

The Chinese crew of the Oceanic initially was criticized but later praised as heroes.

“Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events, in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea,” said James Delgado, the director of maritime heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

The wreck was found in 1888 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, the predecessor of NOAA.

NOAA will set up an exhibit about the City of Chester at a nearby marine sanctuary, but there are no plans to raise the ship.



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