scuba new england

Buoy marks the spot of newfound shipwreck

The identity of the sunken ship, found off Prudence Island, remains unknown.

01:00 AM EDT on Friday, May 14, 2004.

Journal Environment Writer.

 The Coast Guard this week marked a recently discovered wreck southeast of Prudence Island with a lighted buoy, and the Army Corps of Engineers began looking into whether the wreck is a hazard to navigation that should be moved..

The Rude, a survey vessel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, discovered the wreck 2 1/2 weeks ago just off the T-wharf at the south end of Prudence Island..

The wreck was a big surprise because its bow rises to within 36 feet of the surface and it is at the edge of a shipping lane with a charted depth of 95 feet.

One pilot said it was fortunate that a ship hadn't struck the wreck and caused a disaster..

Edward G. LeBlanc, a retired Coast Guard commander who is a waterways management specialist for the Coast Guard's Providence Marine Safety Office, said the Coast Guard marked the wreck this week with a lighted buoy that bears the marking "WR 21.".

Larry Rosenberg of the Army Corps of Engineers said the buoy is thought to be in the federal shipping lane, but the lane is wide in that area..

William Kavanaugh, a project manager for the Army Corps, said the Army Corps may hire contractors to dive on the vessel and assess the risks..

"We're waiting for some information from the Rude and then we'll do an assessment of what needs to be done," Kavanaugh said. "It may be just outside of the traveled route, and maybe it would be enough to just chart it and mark it with the buoy. There are a lot of criteria we have to assess..

Typically, the Army Corps would make the owner responsible for dealing with the wreck, Kavanaugh said. But so far, the identity of the wreck remains unknown..

Matthew Robinson, an East Providence police officer, said he dove on the wreck Tuesday with five friends and found some clues as to its identity. The NOAA surveyors said the hull was 118 feet long and 23 feet wide..

Robinson said his group found that the ship's hold was lined with wood. That made them think it was used to ferry ammunition from nearby Navy installations to Navy warships during World War II..

In talking with other marine experts, Robinson said, they developed a theory that the ship was a privately owned ferry that had been stripped of equipment, anchored for use in torpedo practice, and then sunk by a hurricane in 1944..

Robinson added that it appears some other vessel struck the wreck after it sunk..

"The bow area is smashed in," he said..

He said the water is murky and access to a cabin is very tight..

"This is definitely not a beginner's dive," Robinson said. "There are a lot of things down there to get caught on.".

Underwater wrecks in state waters are state property, according to state officials. Objects should not be removed..

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