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Scientists returning to site of 1898 shipwreck off Mass. waters that killed more than 190 people

Steamship Portland, which sunk in late 1800's off Cape Ann. Library Tag 10072008 City & Region
Steamship Portland, which sunk in late 1800's off Cape Ann. Library Tag 10072008 City & RegionPeabody Essex Museum

Scientists on Tuesday will once again explore wreckage from the steamship Portland, which sank in 1898 in waters off Massachusetts, killing more than 190 people in what became known as the “Titanic of New England.”

Via Twitter, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution provided details on the planned expedition.

“In 1898, a storm swept across New England and sank the 291-foot steamship #SSPortland, killing everyone on board,” Woods Hole tweeted Monday. “Tomorrow, scientists explore that #shipwreck, #live with” officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and researchers from the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center.

A similar expedition last year was led by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Marine Imaging Technologies. By visiting the final resting place of the Portland, researchers will document changes that have occurred at the site of the wreck and gain more insight into the fate of the doomed steamer, officials said at the time.

On Nov. 27, 1898 the paddle wheel steamship Portland was on its way from Boston to Maine when it got caught in a storm and sank off the coast of Massachusetts. Everyone on board — all 130 passengers and more than 60 crew members — perished.

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It was New England’s greatest steamship disaster at the time, and later became known as the “Titanic of New England.”

For decades, the whereabouts of the wreck remained a mystery. Soon after the Portland sank, The Boston Globe organized its own search for the lost steamship, and sent two tugboats out to Provincetown to drag around the area of Peaked Hill bars. After those search efforts didn’t turn up anything, on Dec. 15, 1898 The Globe reported that the steamship must have wrecked elsewhere. That assumption would later prove to be correct.

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It wasn’t until 1989 that the Portland was located, and the NOAA officially confirmed the steamship’s identity in 2002.

On Tuesday, researchers will be looking into multiple shipwrecks including the Portland, according to the Inner Space Center.

“The ISC is excited to support this 2020 expedition! Tune in LIVE this week via @WHOI & @sanctuaries FB, & the Sanctuaries LIVE website, as WHOI & @NOAASBNMS #scientists & maritime history experts use @MarineImaging tech to #explore the #shipwrecks & marine life of Stellwagen Bank,” the Inner Space Center tweeted Monday.

The NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located between Cape Ann and Cape Cod, also tweeted about Tuesday’s scheduled expedition. The sanctuary said state-of-the-art equipment will help bring footage to the public in real time online.

“With the help of Pixel, a cinema-class remotely operated vehicle (ROV), @NOAASBNMS, @WHOI, and @MarineImaging will come to you LIVE from the seafloor in Stellwagen Bank!” the sanctuary tweeted.

More information about the expedition is available here.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.