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Three shipwrecks around the coast of the USA

Bojan Ivanov

Remains of ships and large boats that have been wrecked can be found beached on land or sunken to the bed of a sea, lake or a river. Shipwrecking may be accidental or deliberate.

The reasons for shipwrecking are many: poor design of the ship, human errors, sabotage, warfare or bad storms. According UNESCO, there are more than 3 million shipwrecks around the world. Some of them are thousands of years old.

Here are the wrecks of three concrete ships that can be seen around the coast of United States of America. They were all built during and after World War I, when steel was in short supply, as part of a project approved by president Woodrow Wilson.

1. SS Sapona

The shipwreck of SS Sapona is located near Bimini island in the Bahamas. The concrete-hulled cargo steamer was wrecked during a tropical storm in 1926.

Panoramic photo of the SS Sapona shipwreck/ Author: Compsciscubadive – CC BY-SA 3.o

Panoramic photo of the SS Sapona shipwreck/ Author: Compsciscubadive – CC BY-SA 3.o

After the war, the ship was modified and sold to Carl Fisher, one of the builders of Miami Beach. The ship was used as a casino and later for oil storage. Carl Fisher sold it to Bruce Bethel, who moved the ship in Bimini and she was used as a storehouse for alcohol during the Prohibition.

The starboard side/ Author: Forrest Voight – CC BY-SA 3.o 

The starboard side/ Author: Forrest Voight – CC BY-SA 3.o 

He planned to make the ship a night club, but in 1926 SS Sapona sank in the shallow waters. During World War II, the US Army used the wreck for target practice. Throughout the years the ship has slowly decayed and today she is like ship-skeleton above the sea. The remains of SS Sapona are popular destination for scuba divers.

2. SS Atlantus

SS Atlantus was probably the most famous of the twelve concrete ships constructed before the project was scrapped in 1918. The ship was used to carry American soldiers back home from Europe, and later it was used to transport coal in New England. After two years of post-war service, SS Atlantus was retired to a depot in Virginia.

SS Atlantus the day she ran aground, 8 June 1926

SS Atlantus the day she ran aground, 8 June 1926

In 1926 there was plan to be construct a ferry dock out of SS Atlantus and two of her sister ships, and so she was towed to Cape May. But, on June 8 1926, a bad storm hit the area and the ship broke free of the anchorage and sank in shallow water approximately 150 feet off the coast of Sunset Beach. There were several attempts to bring the ship back, but all of them failed.

SS Atlantus in 2015/ Author: Luigi Novi – CC BY-SA 3.o 

SS Atlantus in 2015/ Author: Luigi Novi – CC BY-SA 3.o 

Now the wreckage is split into three pieces. The stern is the most visible part, the middle is completely under water, and the bow can only be seen at low tide.

3. SS Monte Carlo

The project included plans to build 24 concrete ships, but in 1918 when the project was stopped only 12 ships were built. However, one more war ship named SS McKittrick was built in 1921 and later, in 1923, she was re-purposed as a commercial oil tanker.

SS Monte Carlo wreck visible at low tide near Coronado/ Author: Jamie Lantzy – CC BY-SA 3.o

SS Monte Carlo wreck visible at low tide near Coronado/ Author: Jamie Lantzy – CC BY-SA 3.o

In 1932 the ship was sold to Ed Turner and Martin Schouwiler and renamed the vessel SS Monte Carlo and adapted her to be used as a prostitution and gambling ship. She was moved to international waters in 1936, mainly because the owners wanted to avoid state and federal laws.

SS Monte Carlo wreck in 2010/ Author: Jamie Lantzy – CC BY-SA 3.o

SS Monte Carlo wreck in 2010/ Author: Jamie Lantzy – CC BY-SA 3.o

The ship was anchored 3 miles off Coronado Beach in San Diego. During a strong storm in 1937 the anchorage lines broke and the ship ran aground on the beach. Today the remains are usually buried in the sand, but sometimes they are exposed during low tide after storms. It is believed that there may be $150,000 worth of silver dollar coins remaining in the ship wreckage, left by the mafia.