By Neil Vincent
Seventy years ago, 26 October 1942, the converted luxury ocean liner SS President Coolidge, fearing Japanese attack and without the correct sailing instructions, entered the most obvious entrance to Segong channel on the Pacific island of Espiritu Santo.
This decision was catastrophic for the ship and the more than 5000 crew and troops who were on board. Striking two ‘friendly’ mines, one exploding into the engine room and another striking near the stern, resulted in the loss of two lives and the ship.
As catastrophic as this was, the event created one of the most famous and most accessible wreck dives sites in the world.
Launched in 1931 the SS President Coolidge and her sister ship the SS President Hoover were the largest ships built in America.
Her cruises were to the warm tropical Pacific and exotic Asian ports for the 700 guests on board.
Between 1940 and 1941 as war time activities increased in South East Asia and the Pacific the President Coolidge was used by the US War Department to evacuate American citizens from a number of Asian cities as Japanese aggression increased. In 1941 she became a full time troop transport ship moving troops to reinforce bases around the Pacific.
As a troop ship carrying 5000 troops and crew, the first class standard of travel was not maintained. Examples of both the first class travel and of the modifications to accommodate the troops are obvious on the wreck today.
Due to the wreck’s size and depth, the President Coolidge is best dived in stages, progressively delving deeper and further into the ship, as knowledge of the ship’s layout is learned. Leaving the shore, divers follow a fixed line from a coral bommie to the ship’s bow in about 16 metres.
The dive begins here…. Read the full story in the hard copy of the magazine or
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