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Mission Log: July 10, 2006
Mystery Wreck Site at Pearl and Hermes Atoll

Kelly Gleason
Maritime Archaeologist

The maritime archaeology team decided to conduct all operations inside of the lagoon at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The first spot the team investigated was an exposed engine block, a six cylinder Atlas Imperial engine, which lay on the reef inside of the lagoon. This engine is attached to a shaft and a propeller. Each of the propeller blades are folded over which indicates that the propeller was still spinning at the time of wrecking. This engine is a common frame of reference for scientists and coxswains at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. However, this engine may also hold clues to understanding wreckage discovered later in the day of dive operations.

Propeller attached to exposed engine block at Pearl and 
Hermes Atoll, apparently run aground at speed.
Propeller attached to exposed engine block at Pearl and Hermes Atoll, apparently run aground at speed. (Photo: Brenda Altmeier)
During the same 2004 mission in which the National Marine Fisheries Service Coral Reef Ecosystem Division’s  (NMFS CRED) marine debris removal team located the Pearl and Hermes wrecksites at this atoll, the team led by Jake Asher also reported wreckage inside of the lagoon. Until today, maritime archaeologists have been unable to visit these target locations.  The second dive of the day took place at one of these locations. The maritime archaeologists decided to conduct a towed survey for the wreckage reported. After just a short time, the team located the wreckage reported.

Kanji inscription on marine battery at an unknown wreck site 
at Pearl and Hermes Atoll
Kanji inscription on marine battery at an unknown wreck site at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. (Photo: Robert Schwemmer)
The archaeologists promptly suited up for a preliminary survey dive at the site. What they discovered below were artifacts associated with the bow section and galley of a ship, along with an engine skylight and stack. The artifacts seem to indicate a fishing vessel, perhaps of early 20th century origin. Some artifacts discovered at the site possess markings such as porcelain insulators with an “HK” imprinted on the side. Perhaps a manufacturers mark indicating an origin in Hong Kong? Also, a marine battery with Kanji characters may imply a Japanese origin. Maritime archaeologists took extensive measurements of artifacts at the site, and collected data to understand the distribution of wreckage. What wreck site could this be, and is there any additional scatter to this wrecksite?

Maritime archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg 
investigates a windlass at an unknown wrecksite at Pearl and Hermes Atoll.
Maritime archaeologist Hans Van Tilburg investigates a windlass at an unknown wrecksite at Pearl and Hermes Atoll. (Photo: Robert Schwemmer)
Both anchors are secure inside of the hawse pipes, which is a strange thing to see on a shipwreck. During a wrecking event, most ships will drop anchors to prevent running further aground. Could this wreck have been running at full speed when it wrecked? Perhaps it was simply adrift, and a derelict vessel? This would most likely contradict any association with the engine block discovered earlier in the day since the propeller indicates a ship in full operation. This vessel is truly a mystery site, and the team spent the evening pouring over information collected during the dives in order to piece together clues as to the site's identity.

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