The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s rediscovery of the sunken passenger ship SS City of Chester after 126 years–deemed the second worst maritime disaster inside the Bay Area in terms of fatalities, next to the SS City of Rio de Janeiro (1901)–has revealed a new, heroic angle on the until-now slandered RMS Oceanic immigrant steamer that was carrying a Chinese crew, according to the Associated Press.
For years, the deaths of 13 passengers–including two children and three crew members–aboard the Chester were blamed on the Oceanic. But according to the AP it was the Chester‘s skipper who was at fault. Until now, little was known about the Chinese immigrants traveling on the Oceanic‘s of their courageous efforts to save those on board. The NOAA researchers, however, uncovered previously overlooked witness testimonies and other evidence in the course of their efforts to understand the shipwreck and its historical context.
On August 22, 1888, heavy fog and a strong incoming tide created a rip current off Fort Point that inhibited the Chester‘s ability to move quickly. By the time the two ships spotted each other–nearly a half-mile apart–it was too late. The AP says the Oceanic‘s bow went 10 feet into the hull of the Chester, and the Oceanic‘s captain kept some momentum in the ship to keep the hole plugged in an effort to give people a chance to escape. But within five or six minutes, the Chester was gone.
James Delgado, director of the NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program, told local public radio station KQED that while the California coast is littered with shipwrecks, their rediscovery “allows us to revisit the stories.”
There are no plans to resurface the Chester. However a display featuring the images and history of the shipwreck is planned at San Francisco’s Chrissy Field, which looks out over the spot where the Chester sank.