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1888 shipwreck in San Francisco Bay hailed as big historical find

National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationArts and Culture

The rediscovery near the Golden Gate Bridge of a 202-foot-long passenger steamship that sank in 1888 is being hailed as restoring an important historical link to San Francisco’s early Chinese American community.

The City of Chester was headed up the California coast to Eureka with 90 passengers on Aug. 22, 1888, when it was struck by the steamer Oceanic about 10 a.m.

Impaled on Oceanic, which was arriving from Asia, the City of Chester remained afloat for six minutes before sinking. Sixteen people died in the accident. Initial reports had criticized Oceanic's Chinese crew, but that turned to praise when the crew's bravery in rescuing many of the City of Chester’s passengers came to light.

“Discoveries like this remind us that the waters off our shores are museums that speak to powerful events, in this case not only that tragic wreck, but to a time when racism and anger were set aside by the heroism of a crew who acted in the best traditions of the sea,” said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

On Wednesday, NOAA announced that the wreckage had been found again after its location was lost in 1890.

NOAA officials said they will share the story of the City of Chester through a planned waterfront exhibit at the San Francisco headquarters of the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Delgado in May 2013 directed a crew surveying another nearby shipwreck to extend their survey to try to find the City of Chester.

After working with historic data provided by NOAA historians, the team located what appeared to be the wreck during a multibeam sonar survey. A follow-up side-scan sonar survey nine months later confirmed  the target was indeed the City of Chester, "sitting upright, shrouded in mud, 216 feet deep at the edge of a small undersea shoal," NOAA officials said.

There are no plans to raise the wreck.

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