New answers about sunken ships

Sunken whaling vessels in Conception Harbour identified by shipwreck society

Josh Pennell
Published on October 21, 2013
The SS Charcot wreck above the water in Conception Harbour. The ship was always thought to be the SS Sposa until identified as the Charcot by the Shipwreck Preservation Society. — Submitted photos courtesy of Neil Burgess

It’s a situation where taking the mystery out something actually makes it more intriguing. Three sunken ships along the shore in Conception Harbour have now been identified after decades of uncertainty thanks to the Shipwreck Preservation Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The SS Southern Foam, SS Sukha and SS Charcot were part of a fleet of five whaling ships owned by the Hawke Harbour Whaling Co. The ships remained at the dock for many years and were intended for scrap but simply wasted away and sank just offshore.

The town of Conception Harbour has been developing the site of the shipwrecks as a tourist attraction, especially for divers who can access the wrecks relatively easily. Craig Williams, mayor of the town, says they asked the Shipwreck Society to map out the sunken vessels for them, and had no idea they were going to identify the ships.

Having that information adds far more credibility to what the town is trying to do with its harbour, says Williams. It will allow it to further develop its website and storyboards. Also, ships of known name and history can be read about by potential diving tourists.

Neil Burgess with the society says the group knew there were five whaling ships built in the 1920s, and that they had been in Conception Harbour through the 1960s.

“The thing that made it a little more difficult with these shipwrecks is that a lot of the gear was taken off them before they sank,” he says.

So the team did a lot of diving, took a lot of measurements and took a lot of pictures. It then compared its measurements with the specs that came from the shipyards where the vessels were built. In this way, the team could identify which sunken ship was which.

As it turned out, one of the ships — the Charcot, which partially sticks out of the water — was long thought to be the S.S Sposa. The Sposa was also in the whaling fleet along with the S.S Soika, but those two sank somewhere further out in Conception Harbour as they were being towed to the scrapyard.  

“Nobody knows where they are,” says Burgess.

He also says the society is hoping to be able to use sonar to locate the Sposa and Soika and see if it’s possible to dive to them, as well. Such a find would further the efforts of the town to develop a tourist attraction for divers.

It’s an idea that not everybody has bought into, especially when it comes to the Charcot which sticks out of the water.

“A lot of people look at the wreck — the one that’s out of the water — as an eyesore, and don’t understand the potential,” says Williams.

There were suggestions to tow it out further and sink it completely.

The wreck is one of the most photographed wrecks in the province and now, with the new information uncovered by the Shipwreck Preservation Society, it and the other wrecks again have names and traceable histories.