Still Sunk: The Last Great Mystery Wrecks Of The Ocean Floor

Still Sunk: The Last Great Mystery Wrecks Of The Ocean Floor

The Titanic sat undiscovered on the ocean floor for 73 years before Robert Ballard found it. The ocean keeps its secrets hidden tight. Here are four other great wrecks that await discovery on the ocean floor.

USS Indianapolis

The Indianapolis played a pivotal role in winning World War II before it dropped below the waters of the Pacific, somewhere between Guam and the Philippines. The Portland class cruiser carried Little Boy, the nuclear bomb that the United States would later drop on Hiroshima, from San Francisco to Tinian in the Pacific theatre. And yet it is probably best known for its horrific sinking, which was immortalised (somewhat inaccurately) in the movie Jaws.

The Indianapolis was struck by Japanese torpedoes on July 30, 1945. Of her crew of 1196, 300 went down with the ship, while another 579 died in the water in the days that passed between her sinking and the Navy’s discovery of it. Due to a series of blunders, including a drunk commander of a Navy signal station who didn’t register the distress signal and the failure to note she had not arrived in port as due, it took the Navy four days to discover she had been sunk. Only 317 men were rescued. Many of those who died were eaten by sharks.

The Navy hung the blame for this on the ship’s captain, Charles McVay. He was court marshalled, and although his sentence was remitted (and many years later he would be fully exonerated) he never escaped the tragedy. He shot himself in the head in 1968.

The wreck, despite multiple serious attempts, has never been found.


IJN Musashi

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s Musashi was, along with her sister ship the Yamato, one of the two largest and most heavily armed battle ships ever made. At 262.7m long and 36.9m wide, she weighed 72,800 tonnes and was postiively bristling with weaponry. The Musashi had nine 460mm guns, six 155mm guns, 12 127mm guns, 35 3x25mm and 25 1x25mm anti-aircraft guns, and four 13mm guns. She carried seven floatplanes. The launch platform alone took two years to build.

For a brief period, from December 1942 until October 1944, the Musashi reigned as the flagship of the Japanese fleet — despite seeing limited combat. But on October 24 1944 in the waters off of the Philippines, the Musashi ran into a wall of American airpower, while having no air support of her own. According to the World War II database “after the final attack ended at 1530, she suffered hits by 20 torpedoes, seventeen bombs, and eighteen near misses.” 18 American aircraft, and 1023 Japanese sailors were lost in the fight, including her captain Toshihira Inoguchi, who retired to his cabin to go down with the ship.

Her sister ship the Yamato was sunk the next year, in August 1945, but was discovered until 1982. The Musashi’s location, however, remains a mystery.


Las Cinque Chagas

In 1594, a Portuguese ship named for the five wounds of Christ sailed for Lisbon from Goa with a cargo of 3,500,000 Portuguese Cruzados, plus 22 treasure chests of diamonds, rubies and pearls estimated to be worth well over $US1 billion in today’s dollars — hundreds of years of rumours and legends claim it to be the richest ship to ever sail from Asia.

Las Cinque Chagas was a 1200-tonne Portuguese carrack that was 45.7m long and 13.7m wide — an utter monster for that era. In addition to treasure it carried more than 1000 people, of whom 400 were reported to be slaves. (Imagine that, in such a small space.) But between the islands of Pico and Faial, she was attacked by British privateers — the Mayflower, the Royal Exchange and the Sampson — who attacked for two full days before she caught fire and went down off the coast of the Azores on July 13, 1594. It’s suspected that the wreck could lie in water as deep as 762m.

And so The Five Wounds remains the stuff of legend. It’s found in virtually every dive book of sunken treasure, both those for serious salvage operators and armchair dreamers.


The San Jose

The San Jose was a Spanish galleon that reportedly carried two tons of platinum along with emeralds and other gems valued at estimates ranging from $US2 billion to $US17 billion. It is the richest wreck of the Western hemisphere. In 1708, she ran into the British Navy off of the coast of Colombia during the War of Spanish Succession — and while trying to outrun them, sank in more than 800 feet of water.

Fast forward nearly 300 years. A private company named Sea Search Armada — whose founders included the late actor Michael Landon — claims to have located the wreck. And it probably has. But political intrigue keeps this wreck and its treasure concealed by the waters still.

Everything about the Sea Search Armada deal is controversial and confusing (the best explanation is found on this international law site, Letters Blogatory) but the basic facts are that 30 years ago the Colombian government made a deal with a company called Glocca Mora to recover the ship, which in turn contracted with Sea Search Armada, granting it rights to 35 per cent of the treasure. But subsequently, the Colombian government changed the terms of the deal, and a long legal battle ensued. The Colombian courts ruled that Sea Search Armada had rights to 50 per cent of any treasure that wasn’t national patrimony. In turn Sea Search Armada sued the Colombian government in the US courts, but its case was dismissed late last year, ruling that is was outside the statute of limitations.

Sea Search Armada claims to have found the wreck, and has even brought up some artifacts to prove it. But without a deal in place to recover it, that matters little. And for all practical purposes, the San Jose, possibly the richest find of any ship ever, remains lost to the deep.