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This eight-person crew is trying to find a century-old shipwreck in Southeast Alaska. Here’s how.



someone looks with a magnifying glass at a black and white image
Researcher Shawn Dilles examines a photograph of a web site the place the Star of Bengal could have wrecked. (Sage Smiley/KSTK)

Thirty years in the past, off the jagged cliff shores of Coronation Island in southern Southeast Alaska, Gig Decker and a few mates — working with their nonprofit the Southeast Preservation Divers — discovered an anchor chain about 70 toes underwater.

“When we first ran across the chain, it was obvious on the sounder that we had found it. I mean, it was very, very distinctive,” Decker stated.

And it wasn’t simply any anchor chain.

“I felt 89% sure that it was the chain from the Bengal,” he stated.

The Star of Bengal was an iron-hulled, 270-foot cannery vessel that went down in a storm in 1908, killing greater than 100 individuals. Most of them had been cannery staff from China, Japan and the Philippines.

“I went down and had a chance to go to the anchor and then follow the chain to the wreck. I was really happy to be able to be the first one — I thought — in 100 years that had seen it,” Decker stated. “It was a huge thrill. I mean, I can only think of a couple of things in my life that really did it for me. And that was definitely one of them.”

Decker and the Southeast Preservation Divers had been looking for the wreck within the hopes of revisiting its historical past and registering it as a historic web site. Now Decker is a part of an eight-person crew of scientists, artists and divers out within the waters once more, looking for the wreck of the Star of Bengal. They left in early May.

Decker stated he turned excited by shipwreck diving over the course of his 38 years as a industrial harvest diver.

“I had a chance to cover many, many miles of coastline,” Decker stated. “And ran into a variety of wrecks, from ancient wrecks to gillnetters and trollers and sport boats. The whole business of shipwrecks has always really fascinated me, you know, kind of a mysterious thing … shipwrecks kind of embody a tangible aspect of history, particularly if they are gravesites, which a lot of them are.”

a black and white image of a ship
The Star of Bengal. ( The Wrangell Museum)

Decker has spent many years researching the Star of Bengal wreck. And whereas he says he’s nearly positive what he noticed on the seabed a few years in the past was the Bengal, there’s fairly a bit left to do earlier than he will be sure.

“The next step I’ve always known is to get out there with a bottom mapping system to where we can do a 3D model of the wreck itself, the cove and the entry to it. And then most importantly, having a state-certified underwater archaeologist out there to claim that it was, in fact, the Bengal,” Decker stated. “After that, we can go on for a larger investigation of the wreck.”

That course of began May 6, as Decker and the crew set out from Wrangell aboard the Alaska Endeavour and headed for the positioning of the wreck. The crew additionally consists of marine archaeologist Jenya Anichenko, author and visible artist Tessa Hulls, artist and musician Ray Troll, researcher Shawn Dilles, distant sensing specialist Sean Adams, and Endeavour house owners Patsy Clark Urschel and Bill Urschel.

Part of their investigation goals to pinpoint exactly the place the wreck is situated. Decker dove what he believed to be the positioning greater than 30 years in the past, and didn’t have GPS mapping.

This time, they’re taking a extra high-tech strategy. Sean Adams is accountable for the expedition’s arsenal of sonar gear, aerial drones and a tool generally known as a magnetometer, which senses iron — helpful when searching for an iron ship.

“It’s the perfect target for the magnetometer,” Adams instructed the expedition crew on May 5.

The magnetometer is mild sufficient to be mounted on a drone and flown in a grid to try to sense the placement of a wreck just like the Bengal. Adams says it’s usually used for detecting unexploded bombs or artillery shells buried beneath the bottom. In this case, he’s hoping it may level the crew within the common course of the wreck.

“You’re not going to get as detailed or a high definition targets and the smaller targets are not going to show up as well,” Adams stated. “But it seems to be a very good magnetometer. This is kind of a new use for it — an experimental test.”

But the crew isn’t simply counting on high-tech devices to find the misplaced ship. They’re additionally turning to the historic report. Researcher Shawn Dilles says he’s seemed everywhere in the nation for photographs of the Star of Bengal and the positioning of its wreck like those within the assortment of the Wrangell Museum, housed within the Nolan Center. The photographs appear to have been taken by the occasion despatched to bury our bodies after the Bengal went down in 1908.

“I think the Nolan Center played a critical role in this,” Dilles stated. “I’ve looked in archives all over the country and seen some of these photos, but not those two critical photos. We still don’t know exactly who took them and what day, but it’s a very reasonable guess, I think, to think it was a week after or so — within a week of the wreck and taken by the burial party.”

three black and white images of a mountain and water
Three pictures seemingly present completely different websites, all stated to be the positioning of the wreck of the Star of Bengal. (The Wrangell Museum)

The assortment of tiny, sq. black and white photographs with white cursive writing appears to point considered one of two coves alongside the southern coast of Coronation Island may very well be the positioning of the wreck.

“That’s what makes this a mystery is that we have two lines of evidence, and neither can be eliminated,” Dilles stated whereas analyzing the photographs within the Nolan Center workplace.

“It’s not about right and wrong,” he stated.

For Decker the search is not only about discovering a sunken ship. It’s about correcting the historic report.

“Those people, we can’t bring them back, but we can get the story straight that they didn’t die in the hold because they were hiding,” Decker stated. “They were very courageous people to put themselves in the position they did. And they were murdered by cowardice.”

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