Three-dimensional sonar images and maps of a shipwreck near the Golden Gate Bridge that many consider the worst maritime disaster in San Francisco history were released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro struck jagged rocks close to the present site of the bridge on the densely foggy morning of Feb. 22, 1901, according to NOAA. The steamship sank almost immediately, killing 128 of the 210 mostly Chinese and Japanese immigrants and crew aboard. Among those who lost their lives was the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong and his family.
Salvagers found the wreckage in the 1980s, but the coordinates they reported did not match with any wreck NOAA charted through sonar work. Last month, Hibbard Inshore and Bay Marine Services donated a research vessel and crew, along with a high-powered remotely operated vehicle, to assist NOAA in locating and mapping the wreck site using three-dimensional Echoscope sonar.
The expedition pinpointed the S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro largely buried in mud 287 feet below the surface of water at Fort Point and captured the first detailed sonar images.
Launched in 1878 and part of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. fleet, the S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro carried passengers and freight to and from San Francisco; Honolulu; Yokohama, Japan; and Hong Kong. Many immigrants into the U.S. from the Far East in the 19th and early 20th centuries arrived on such ships.
The S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro was rumored to carry Chinese silver that ended up just being bars of tin, said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
“Today the wreck is broken and filled with mud, and it is a sealed grave in fast, dangerous waters in the main shipping lanes,” he said in a statement.
The expedition also completed the first detailed map of S.S. City of Chester, which was rediscovered late last year near S.S. City of Rio de Janeiro.
NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Heritage Program is taking on a two-year study to find and document shipwrecks in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. So far, it has pinpointed nine of the nearly 200 ships, including four newly discovered vessels.