Bay Area’s ‘Titanic’ discovered beyond Golden Gate Bridge

rio de janeiro

More than a century after the SS City of Rio de Janeiro slipped beneath the chilly waters off the coast of San Francisco, taking 128 individuals with her, researchers have located the final resting place of the ill-fated vessel.

The steamer, carrying 210 people, struck jagged rocks while traveling through heavy fog near Fort Point, at the southern end of the Golden Gate Strait, near today’s Golden Gate Bridge, and sank within 10 minutes.

The disaster, called the Bay Area’s Titanic, is considered the worst shipwreck in San Francisco history.

New sonar maps show the mud-covered grave of the City of Rio 287 feet below the surface, according to Live Science.

Most of the passengers and nearly all of the crew were Chinese, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 345-foot ship’s last voyage began in China, with stops in Yokohama, Japan; and Honolulu, Hawaii, before heading for San Francisco Bay. The Chronicle described the ship’s final hours:

Fog obscured the Golden Gate on the night of Feb. 21, 1901, so Capt. William Ward anchored the ship just off the Cliff House, in sight of San Francisco.

But before dawn, the fog seemed to lift, and after consulting with Capt. Frederick Jordan, the bar pilot, Ward weighed anchor and headed for the Golden Gate. The fog closed in again, however, and about 5:30 a.m. Feb. 22, the Rio ran onto the rocks.

There was tremendous confusion, according to accounts at the time. The officers and crew spoke different languages, and the lifeboats were never launched. The ship’s lights went out, and the ship drifted off the rocks and sank.

“Fishermen in the area, hearing the ship’s distress calls, helped rescue 82 survivors, many plucked from makeshift rafts and floating wreckage,” according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which helped located the City of Rio. “The dead included Chinese and Japanese immigrants as well as the US Consul General in Hong Kong, who was returning to the US with his wife and two children. The entire family died in the tragedy.”

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Blast from the past has repercussions to present

La Provence

Ship disasters inevitably garner great attention, but not all disasters are created equal, it would seem.

Ask most Americans which peacetime shipwreck claimed the most lives, for example, and a significant number will assert the loss of the RMS Titanic in 1912. However, that catastrophe, which took 1,517 souls, doesn’t even make the top five.

Atop the list is the Doña Paz, a Philippine passenger ferry which collided with an oil tanker in December 1987 in the Tablas Strait. The resulting fire and sinking claimed nearly 4,400 individuals, nearly three times the loss of the fabled Titanic.

Likewise, ask a group of Americans to name the greatest wartime ship disaster and many will likely venture the RMS Lusitania, the British ship torpedoed by a German U-boat in the Irish Sea in 1915, taking 1,198 civilians and crew with it.

The Lusitania is among the best-known wartime ship disasters, but it’s not even close to being the worst in terms of fatalities.

In World War II alone, there were 15 separate sinkings which took the lives of 3,000 or more individuals, including the German transport vessel Wilhelm Gustloff, sunk by a Soviet submarine in 1945 with an estimated 9,400 deaths.

The Lusitania doesn’t even take top honors for World War I. There were three ships sunk in 1916 alone that resulted in more lives lost than the Lusitania: The SS Principe Umberto, a steamship sunk by an Austro-Hungarian submarine (1,926 deaths); the French troop transport SS Gallia, sunk by a German U-boat (1,338 deaths); and the British battle cruiser HMS Queen Mary, which exploded and sank during the 1916 Battle of Jutland (1,245 lives).

But as this year marks the 100thanniversary of the beginning of Great War, over the next four years it’s likely the Lusitania will garner the lion’s share of attention. That’s unfortunate because hundreds of ships were lost during the conflict, and each sinking created a ripple effect which touched thousands, if not tens of thousands of lives.

That’s not to say those who went down on the Lusitania don’t deserve to be recognized. The sinking served a propaganda coup for Allied forces working to convince the American public to side with their cause. But there were many other craft lost during the war that also deserve to be remembered.

One such vessel is SS La Provence, a former French ocean liner that had been converted to an auxiliary cruiser and was used to transport troops.

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Biblio-scofflaw offers up overdue Mea Culpa

calvin and hobbes library book

Every so often, usually during a particularly slow news cycle, one comes across a story of a literary desperado finally returning an overdue library book checked out years, perhaps even decades, earlier.

One such incident occurred last summer, when an anonymous library patron returned “The Real Book About Snakes” to the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio, along with a note of apology and $299.30 in cash to cover the fine.

“Sorry I’ve kept this book so long but I’m a really slow reader!” the culprit wrote in a message to the library. “I’ve enclosed my fine of $299.30 (41 years – 2 cents a day). Once again, my apologies!!”

What makes this example unusual is that the outlaw took it upon himself (anonymous or not, I’m betting the ranch that any book on snakes was checked out by a male patron) to bite the bullet and pay the fine.

Most always, libraries receiving a volume decades past due end up waiving late fees, realizing that fine exceeds the actual cost of the book in question, and also understanding that the return of a work 30, 40 or 50 years past due is more likely to generate good publicity if the library graciously renounces penalties.

That was the case in another example last summer, when the University of Wisconsin’s library received a hardcover copy of “Selected Papers on Philosophy” by William James by mail.

Included with the book was a note indicating that the work had been checked out by one of the writer’s two parents, both of whom had attended the school, although it was unclear which one had borrowed the book on Jan. 13, 1938, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The book’s return slip indicated that patrons would be levied a fine of two cents a day for each day overdue, but the family didn’t have to pony up any cold hard cash as the library no longer collected fees on overdue books. Were the old policy still in effect, the fine would have totaled more than $550.

All of which leads me to a confession of my own: I, too, am a biblio-scofflaw.

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Titanic’s loss highlighted regulatory flaws

Titanic southampton

There are two oft-cited shibboleths regarding the White Star Line’s decision to construct just 20 lifeboats for the RMS Titanic: cost and aesthetics.

There must have been some short-sighted reason to equip a ship that could carry more than 2,200 people with lifeboats that couldn’t even handle 1,200, right?

Not necessarily. We forget that the regulatory and safety environment is, in some ways, very different than it was 101 years ago today, when the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank, taking more than 1,500 souls with her.

Yet, as Chris Berg of the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia, wrote last year, the Titanic was fully compliant with all marine laws.

The British Board of Trade required all vessels above 10,000 metric tonnes, or just over 11,000 US tons, to carry 16 lifeboats; the White Star Line went above and beyond the minimum by ensuring that the Titanic exceeded that requirements by four boats.

However, the Titanic weighed more than 51 tons, or far more than upper threshold that the Board of Trade used to base its lifeboat requirement upon.

The problem lay not with greed or a lack of foresight on the part of the Titanic’s builders or owners, but in the fact that regulations had not been updated in nearly 20 years and were designed for a different era.

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Titanic symbolized apex of Protestant Ireland

Lost amid the hubbub surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is the remarkable achievement the ship’s building represented.

A product of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, the Titanic’s creation represented a remarkable transformation for a country just a couple of generations removed from the Great Potato Famine that claimed more than 1 million lives and induced another 1 million-plus to emigrate.

But, as the Irish Times explains, Protestant Belfast was much different from the Ireland of the southern, Catholic portion of the island realm.

“It had grown at a phenomenal rate, surging past Dublin in 1891 to become Ireland’s largest city, and then growing by another 35 per cent in the last decade of the 19th century alone,” according to the publication.

Belfast had the world’s “largest rope works, tobacco factory, linen spinning mill, tea machinery works, dry dock and aerated water factory.”

There was no chance that southern Ireland, lacking the above globally significant industry, could have produced the Titanic.

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Fate of Titanic’s icy foe examined

We all know what happened to the Titanic 100 years ago this week, but what became of its legendary foe – the mysterious block of ice that proved the “unsinkable” ship all too sinkable?

Actually, there may be a couple of photos in existence that show the deadly iceberg, shortly after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic with more than 1,500 souls aboard.

According to the website io9.com, it’s quite possible sailors aboard two ships in the area of where the Titanic sank snapped pictures of the iceberg collided with the ill-fated ship on April 15, 1912.

“… both photographs feature the telltale sign of a collision with a ship, and likely a recent one at that: a streak of red paint,” writes 109.com. 

One of the photos was taken by the chief steward of the German ocean liner SS Prinz Adalbert, which was sailing through the North Atlantic on April 15, just miles away from where the Titanic had sunk the night before. 

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Belfast seeks second bite from Titanic apple

The Titanic was a boon to the city of Belfast when it was constructed in the early years of the 20th century, as thousands of workers were employed in the construction on the White Star liner at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff’s Shipyard.

Today, 100 years after the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, Belfast is hoping a new visitor attraction about the iconic ship will put the city that built it back on the tourist map.

The Northern Irish capital hopes the Titanic Belfast complex will entice holidaymakers to spend time – and, crucially, money – in the British province, according to Agence France-Presse.

Decades of sectarian violence lasting up through the late 1990s made Northern Ireland a no-go area for foreign visitors and hindered foreign investment. The city is hoping the attraction will give a much-needed boost to its tourism economy.

The 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking will occur later this week.

With its economy still in the doldrums, thanks in no small part to the Protestant-Catholic violence which rent the region for decades, Northern Ireland is once again looking to Titanic – just as it did a century ago.

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