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'Ghost Ship' Discovered off Hawaii

Dec 08, 2014 07:20 PM EST

Just before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, researchers announced the discovery of a "ghost ship" off Hawaii, fully intact.

Though the vessel was not brought down in that infamous incident during World War II, Pearl Harbor was the last place it was seen before it reached its final resting place.

First launched in early 1923 for the Commercial Pacific Cable Company, the former cable ship called Dickenson was a vital part of a global network of submarine cable that carried telecommunications around the world. Later dubbed the USS Kailua, the ship was sunk as a target by submarine torpedo fire on February 7, 1946. However, its exact location was not recorded and until now the whereabouts of Dickenson remained a mystery.

"Seeing the ship come into view, we were all amazed at its level of preservation - and by the fact that everything was more or less in place," Dr. James Delgado, of the maritime heritage program in NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said in a statement.

Delgado and his colleagues, along with a team from the University of Hawai'i (UH) at Manoa, used a submersible to find Dickenson 2,000 feet below the surface nearly 20 miles off the coast of Oahu. Sitting upright, its solitary mast still standing and the ship's wheel still in place, Dickenson was found virtually intact even after nearly 70 years undersea.

"One of our first views of the USS Kailua was the classic helms wheel on the fantail. The ship was surprisingly intact for a vessel that was sunk with a torpedo. The upper deck structures from the bow to the stern were well-preserved and showed no sign of torpedo damage," explained Terry Kerby, with the UH Hawai'i Undersea Research Laboratory's (HURL).

The USS Kailua wreck is considered a historic site and is pending nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. There are no plans to remove the wreckage from its final resting place.

"From her interisland service to her role in Pacific communications and then World War II," researcher Hans Van Tilbur said, "Dickenson today is like a museum exhibit resting in the darkness, reminding us of these specific elements of Pacific history."

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