Wreck is lost 19thcentury steamer

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Photo: The Robert J Walker’s unique paddlewheel flanges helped to identify the wreck Photo: NOAA

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has identified the wreck of a steamer 153 years after it was lost in a violent collision at sea.

Robert J Walker was a steamer that served in the US Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA. It served a vital role in charting the Gulf Coast, including the Florida Keys, in the decade before the Civil War.

Observations by NOAA’s Maritime Heritage programme’s dive team confirmed the identity of the wreck, which lies 85 feet down off the coast of New Jersey, by various criteria, including the ship’s unique paddlewheel flanges.

Other key clues were the size and layout of the wreck, its unique engines, regular portholes and the location of the ship – which was found still pointing towards the Abescon lighthouse, which the crew were desperately trying to reach as the vessel was sinking,

The team, on board the NOAA vessel Thomas Jefferson identified the wreck after deploying its multibeam and sidescan sonar systems while in the area to conduct hydrographic surveys following Hurricane Sandy.

The project was part of a private-public collaborative that included research between between New Jersey divers, East Carolina University and NOAA.

The wreck was originally identified in the 1970s by commercial fishermen but has remained an anonymous symbol on navigational charts until now.

NOAA says that it doesn’t intend to limit diving off the wreck but to work with New Jersey divers to better understand the wreck.