Historic ship discovered off of Pascagoula coast
PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - Researchers have discovered the remains of a 207-year-old whaling ship off the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana.
The vessel is 64 feet long and was found resting on the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It was the Industry. It was the only whaling ship that was lost in the Gulf,” Jeremy Weirich told WLOX.
Weirich is the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Ocean Exploration & Research.
He and his team, along with SEARCH, Inc. and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, put brand new telepresence equipment to use for the finding.
It enabled underwater camera robots to live stream what they saw in real-time.
“It’s a new way of doing ocean research and certainly a new way of doing ocean exploration,” Weirich said.
Both physically and virtually, the crew boarded NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer, the only federal ship dedicated to ocean exploration, on Feb. 25.
First, they needed a location to test the new equipment.
“I got a call from my colleagues at NOAA who said, ‘We’re about to test systems, about ready to pull out of Pascagoula. Do you have any targets we should drop on and take a look at?’ and I said, ‘Well, yes. There’s a good one,’” said Dr. James Delgado, Senior Vice President of SEARCH, Inc.
Delgado has worked on several major shipwrecks, from Pearl Harbor to the Titanic and now the Industry.
“I’ve been able to walk through these dark, deep bottom-of-the-sea halls, a vast museum, that as you find and as you work, the light comes on and there you are being exposed to a story that perhaps you didn’t even know had been written,” he said.
The Industry brig from Westport, Massachusetts was built in 1815. It was used to hunt whales across the seas for two decades before wrecking on May 26, 1836.
“Dismasted by a storm and sinking, Industry was abandoned by its crew and within a few days was boarded by another vessel, which took off as much as they could, leaving it to sink off the coast of Mississippi,” Delgado said.
Research shows the ship was typically manned by an African and Native American crew during the years leading up to the Civil War.
According to a newspaper clipping from June 17, 1836, the crewmen were picked up at sea by another Westport whaling ship, Elizabeth, and returned to the city safely.
“For a black American to wind up on shore, they could be in a very tough jurisdiction and find themselves in jail and if they couldn’t pay for their time in jail or get out, they could be enslaved,” Weirich said.
“The wrecks that have power and meaning to them are those that speak to aspects of history that we need to learn more about,” Delgado said. “So, a wreck like Industry speaks to working people.”
The ship is located about 100 miles from the Pascagoula Coast and 6,000 feet below sea level.
Not many entities in the world can access the site, so in efforts to preserve it, researchers say they will not bring any of the remains to the surface.
However, they are working to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Whether they represent history that we’re proud of or that we’re not proud of, if it’s significant, it should be in the National Register,” Delgado said.
Team members are currently writing a detailed assessment of what they found and submitting it to the National Register. It will then go through a review process.
“I can’t think of a better way for all these stories to come together than in the history of the Industry,” Philip Hoffman said.
Hoffman is a research and development coordinator for NOAA in Gulfport.
“Our crew and our scientists were able to take the ship out, put our remotely operated vehicle over the side, survey this wreck with 21st-century technology, which we’re growing in spades here in Mississippi, and add the story of the Industry back to the story of the Gulf Coast,” he said. “I can’t think of anything that is more exciting than those two things put together.”
This discovery was made during a “shakedown” cruise, which is at-sea equipment testing ahead of the new field season.
The Okeanos Explorer is currently mapping off the coast of Puerto Rico and will be in Rhode Island by the end of the month.
Researchers say they are thrilled to be starting the season off with this discovery.
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