The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are a chain of almost entirely uninhabited islands, atolls, and shoals that stretch across some 1,250 miles of the Pacific. Amid that large expanse has slumbered what's considered the largest shipwreck to have occurred in the islands: the Mission San Miguel, a naval tanker used in World War II and the Korean War. Now, a three-person dive team has finally found its resting place some 80 feet below the surface. "I turn around and [see] this giant, looming structure, so eerie," a maritime archaeologist tells Hawaii News Now of the Aug. 3 discovery. "This is a ship that wasn't a glamorous part of World War II history, but was an important part," adds the maritime heritage coordinator for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
The tanker was responsible for transporting fuel to machines used in the wars and had been recognized a number of times for its service. It was traveling to Seattle from Guam in 1957 when it hit a reef. The crew was unharmed, but the ship was lost. The marine archaeologists had been mapping the area's coral reefs, though the group's main focus was the search for the San Miguel, which they expected to have broken into pieces. "Instead you have a largely intact structure with the steering wheel and helm still standing," the field leader of the dive team tells KITV. "We think that 20 feet of the ship is still under the sand." Though the vessel will undergo further study, it'll remain in the national monument's protected waters. (Read more World War II stories.)