Marine surveyors mapping the sea floor in a shipping lane near Dutch Harbor in Unalaska, Alaska, have discovered the uncharted wreck of a South Korean freighter that sank in 1983.
Surveyors aboard the Kittiwake found the 551-foot Pan Nova in about 300 feet of water in Unimak Pass on June 22, said Tom Newman, president of TerraSond Ltd., a Palmer, Alaska-based company. Sonar images showing depth in a range of colors indicate the ship is lying on its side and nearly broken in two near the bow, he said.
The discovery was a surprise and thrilled the three-man crew working the night shift, said Garrett Yager, 29. He was watching sonar images of a fairly featureless sea floor about 2 a.m. when the freighter’s profile started creeping onto the screen.
“It was a hydrographer’s dream,” he said Saturday from a ship phone in the pass.
The Kittiwake is taking soundings of coastlines and sea floor in the pass northeast of Dutch Harbor for the first time since 1938, updating sea charts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Newman said.
The Pan Nova, transporting wheat to its homeport in Pusan, South Korea, collided with another Korean freighter early on Sept. 10, 1983. It sank that night after the Coast Guard rescued its 26-member crew, according to contemporary news accounts.
The Swibon, bound for Anchorage with 131 towers for the 170-mile Anchorage-Fairbanks electrical transmission intertie, was damaged in the collision but made it to port. Its delivery was delayed a day.
The TerraSond crew members started sleuthing after they realized they were likely looking at a sunken freighter, Yager said. They measured it. They studied shadowing effects. And they got on the ship’s Internet to check the Minerals Management Service Web site.
Sure enough, the Pan Nova went down there, about 5 miles north of Akun Island on the northwest side of the pass.
“We find neat geographic features, but when you find something of that magnitude, that hasn’t been seen since 1983 and no one knew where it was, it’s kind of your own little discovery,” said Yager, who plans to frame the sonar image to decorate his wall at home.
The sunken freighter is no hazard to vessels but will become a landmark on updated sea charts, said Newman, who was in Palmer during the discovery.
“A lot of times we don’t find much, so it’s pretty fun when you do find something,” he said.
By ALEX DEMARBAN
Anchorage Daily News