StateLibQld 1 171287 Star of Bengal (ship).jpg, public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Just recently, in May 2022, Alaska Endeavour assembled a team of eight in an expedition to find the wreck of the Star of Bengal. Their goal is to document the forensic evidence, to collect historical documents, to register it as ahistorical site and to work towards building a memorial that would honor these who perished in the disaster.

The event was reported by Alaska Endeavour: “The Star of Bengal was a 264-foot schooner that sank off Coronation Island, Alaska, on September 20, 1908. The ship was heading back to San Francisco, full of canned salmon and laborers from the cannery at Wrangell. In the middle of the night, the weather picked up and the ship broke on the rocks and sank.  Of the 27 white crewmen, 15 died. Of the 110 laborers – most of them Chinese – all died except one.” 

The story went back thirty years ago with Gig Decker, a commercial fisherman and diver. Off the jagged cliff shores of Coronation Island in southern Southeast Alaska, Decker and a couple of friends (working with their nonprofit the Southeast Preservation Divers) found an anchor chain about 70 feet underwater. Decker was confident that the chain was from Bengal, however,  it remains an educated guess till proven scientifically. 

“That process started May 6, as an eight-person research crew set out from Wrangell aboard the Alaska Endeavour and headed for the site of the wreck. That includes Decker, marine archaeologist Jenya Anichenko, writer and visual artist Tessa Hulls, artist and musician Ray Troll, researcher Shawn Dilles, remote sensing specialist Sean Adams, and Endeavour owners Patsy Clark Urschel and Bill Urschel.”

Part of their investigation aims to pinpoint where precisely the wreck is located. They took a more high-tech approach with sonar equipment, aerial drones, and a device known as a magnetometer, which senses iron — useful when looking for an iron ship. They intent to use the data collected to construct a 3d model of the debris field and the wreck site.

“But the crew isn’t just relying on high-tech gadgets to locate the lost ship. They’re also turning to the historical record. Researcher Shawn Dilles says he’s looked all over the country for photos of the Star of Bengal and the site of its wreck like the ones in the collection of the Wrangell Museum, housed in the Nolan Center.” They found two critical photos. They were taken shortly after the wreck by the burial party who were sent in to take care the aftermath. They helped the team to pin down the exact location of the wreckage. The expedition was a success.

What remains a mystery was the fact that only one out of the 110 Asian laborers survived. It was rumored that the Asian workers were locked in the hold below the deck, and were prevented from escaping. The ship became their graveyard. The situation of these final and desperate moments are still unknown, and awaits future research and investigation. In any case, a memorial is proposed to honor all these who perished in one of the worst sea disasters in the history of the Alaska salmon canning industry.

For additional information please check out the following webinar:

2022 Star of Bengal | Alaska Research Vessel | Alaska Endeavour

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