Beyond Oak Island: A look at the San José galleon shipwreck
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The US Revenue Cutter Bear has been identified nearly 60 years after it vanished into the cold waters of the North Atlantic somewhere off the coast of North America. Built in Scotland in 1874, the steam-powered vessel had a long and lustrous career in the US Revenue Cutter Service and later US Coast Guard, before seeing action in both world wars. Most famously, the ship patrolled the waters off the coast of Greenland where it helped apprehend the German spy ship Buskoe at the height of World War 2.
And between 1886 and 1896, the ship was captained by “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy, who was the first officer of African American descent to command a US government vessel.
After 89 years of service, the ship was decommissioned in 1963 and was set to become a floating restaurant in Philadelphia.
However, the ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean somewhere between Canada’s Nova Scotia and Philadelphia while being towed and was seemingly lost for all eternity.
That is until 2019, when a research expedition stumbled upon the remains of an unidentified ship off the coast of Canada.
The US Coast Guard together with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have now identified the historic ship, putting an end to nearly 20 years of intense search efforts.
Brad Barr, Expedition Coordinator, said: “The Bear has had such an incredible history, and it’s so important in many ways in American and global maritime heritage because of its travels.”
The ship’s remains were discovered about 90 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia.
NOAA said in a statement: “Purchased by the US government in 1884, the Bear is considered one of the most historically significant ships in U.S. and Coast Guard history.
“The ship was put into service by the US Navy as part of the rescue fleet for the Greely Expedition to the Arctic in 1884, and first came to worldwide acclaim as the vessel that rescued the few survivors of that expedition.
“The Bear was transferred from the Treasury Department for service in the Arctic in 1885 as a Revenue Cutter, and for 41 years, patrolled the Arctic, saving lives and dispensing justice in the remote and often challenging region.”
After its service in the US Coast Guard, the Bear was sold to a business owner who planned to turn the ship into a floating museum and restaurant but was lost in the Atlantic.
Nearly 60 years later, the ship was discovered by NOAA’s Ocean Exploration team and the NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries’ Maritime Heritage Program.
The researchers mapped some 62 square miles of the seabed and ide two potential targets of interest.
NOAA and the US Coast Guard returned to these sites earlier this year and used the ocean-going buoy tender Sycamore to get an up-close look at the wrecks.
NOAA said: “Though the operational conditions encountered at the site were challenging, the team was able to collect enough video and still images sufficient to provide the documentation needed to identify the wreck.”
According to Mr Barr, various expeditions have been on the hunt for the historic vessel since the Seventies.
They were finally able to identify the Bear by analysing its various features and dimensions, which matched the historical records.
These included its unique bow construction, forefoot and propeller post.
Mr Barr said: “Finding the final resting place of a ship, by any measure, that is such an important part of the maritime history and heritage of the United States, and particularly the long and illustrious heritage of the US Coast Guard, was the goal of this collaborative effort, and has been achieved.
“Through this, the final chapter of the history of Bear can be written.
“Its loss, in 1963, in this place so far from the locations of its many compelling exploits, achievements, and meritorious service in the polar regions is somewhat out of context, but provides the opportunity to raise awareness of and highlight its important history and significance as part of the rich maritime heritage of the United States.
“The stories of Bear and the men who served on it during its 89 years of service, often involving bravery, fortitude, commitment, and sacrifice inspire us… stories worth remembering and ensuring this compelling history is honoured and not forgotten.”
Canadian authorities will now consider whether a marine protected area should be designated around the shipwreck to help preserve its remains.
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