Santa Maria - North County

Historic shipwreck discovered off Point Conception

Coast Guard Cutter McCulloch sunk on June 13, 1917

Historic Coast Guard Cutter McCulloch...

POINT CONCEPTION, Calif. - Exactly 100 years ago today, the Coast Guard Cutter McCulloch, a ship that served with Commodore George Dewey in the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, sank off Point Conception. That historic shipwreck has now been discovered.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Coast Guard announced the discovery of the vessel's shipwreck remains on Tuesday.

On June 13, 1917, the McCulloch collided with the passenger steamship SS Governor. Dense fog in the area was to blame for the crash that killed the McCulloch's acting water tender official. The ship's crew was rescued and taken aboard the SS Governor after the collision.

“The identification of McCulloch is a result of our excellent collaboration with the Coast Guard, Bathymetric Research and other partners,” said Robert Schwemmer, the West Coast Regional Maritime Heritage Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and chief archeologist for the mission.

“This discovery highlights an important chapter in U.S. Coast Guard and Navy history and gives us an opportunity to honor McCulloch’s chief engineer Frank Randall, the only American fatality at the Battle of Manila Bay, and acting water tender John Johansson who died from injuries sustained in the collision with the SS Governor,” said Schwemmer.

Officials have not determined plans for the next phase of the shipwreck exploration. The McCulloch is U.S. government and as such, is protected under the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004 that states no portion of any government wreck may be disturbed or removed.

The ship was commissioned in 1897 as a cruising cutter for the United States Treasury's Revenue Cutter Service and was part of the U.S. Asiatic Squadron that destroyed the Spanish Pacific fleet in the first major battle of the Spanish-American War.

McCulloch was the largest cutter built of its time costing nearly $200,000. The ship was equipped with a steam engine and three masts rigged with sails giving it a cruising speed of 17 knots. The ship's armament included four 6-pound 3-inch rapid firing guns and one 15-inch torpedo tube.

Following the Spanish-American War, the McCulloch patrolled out of its homeport of Santa Francisco. It often cruised the Pacific Ocean from the Mexican border to Cape Blanco, Oregon. The ship would also be used to enforce fur seal regulations in the Pribilof Islands off the state of Alaska and served as a floating courthouse for far-flung Alaskan towns.

In October 2016, a NOAA and Coast Guard training mission confirmed the location of McCulloch's remains. Cameras mounted on a remotely operated vehicle discovered the ship lying on its port side. Wood-boring organisms had consumed the ship's wooden hull planking and decks leaving behind the steel skeletal remains of its frames.

Marine growth, primarily Metridium anemones, draped the bow's exterior while various species of marine life, including lingcod and vermillion and copper rockfish, have made the site their home, according to the Coast Guard.

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