SS Iberia

French cargo steamer lost on November 11, 1888 following a collision with the Cunard Liner RMS Umbria.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1881

Year Sank

1888

Depth

60 ft (18.3 m)

Difficulty Level

Intermediate


SS Iberia

Wreck Location

The Iberia lies three miles southwest of Long Beach, New York near New York City in 60 feet of water. The area where she lies is known as "Wreck Valley" by local divers due to the high concentration of shipwrecks. Iberia is a popular dive site for local divers. It is also a popular site for souvenier hunting and lobster fishing. The sterncastle and rudder of the Iberia lie on another portion of the sea floor. This section, being far away from the main section of Iberia is considered its own shipwreck and was discovered by the New Jersey based Aqua Explorers Inc. in 2011. The visibility and water temperature aboard the Iberia varies, making her an intermediate to advanced site for divers.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   40° 32' 15.7308" N      Longitude:   -73° 41' 9.0384" W

Description

Iberia was built in 1881 by S & H Morton Company in Leith, Scotland for the French based Fabre Line as a cargo steamship. She was 255 feet long. Iberia was powered by a single coal boiler fed compound condensing steam engine connected to a single steel propeller. She also included twin masts and a lone funnel. Interestingly and coincidentally (as will be revealed later), the Fabre Line used an "ia" ending suffix in many of its ship names and also named a number of its ships after ancient Roman provinces parallelling, the British Cunard Line naming tradition.


(Iberia being sliced in two by the Umbria.)

In October 1888, the Iberia had arrived off Long Island, New York with a full cargo of assorted items from the Persian Gulf under command of Captain Sagolis. Approaching New York harbor, the ship's engine had a critical malfunction and became too damaged to use. Iberia sat outside New York at anchor for around 3 weeks awaiting repairs and having said temporary repairs be undertaken. On the morning of November 10, 1888, the Iberia was finally able to start moving again, but only at slow steam. The same morning, the Cunard Line transatlantic liner RMS Umbria departed New York City bound for Liverpool under command of Captain William McMickan. Thick fog surrounded New York City and surrounding areas. While exiting Upper Bay into Lower Bay, Umbria nearly collided with the French Line steamer Normandie. After passing a lightship, Captain McMickan ordered the Umbria to slow her speed and had a lookout posted to detect any nearby vessels. Unaware of the impending danger, Iberia continued slowly limping towards New York City.

Only a few minutes after ordering reduced speed, Umbria came upon the limping Iberia, which lay straight in front of the Cunarder at full port broadside. Captain McMickan ordered full reverse speed but it was no use. Umbria's sharp iron prow sliced the upper stern and rudder off the Iberia. The propeller and stern bulkhead of the Iberia remained in place. The stern of the Iberia drifted off to the Umbria's starboard side with the French ensign still flying from it. Passengers watched in horror as the stern quickly sank to the bottom, where it still lies to this day on its starboard side. The Iberia continued to drift at her location and the two ships separated for several minutes. Umbria was damaged, but was in no danger at all. Iberia's situation looked really bad, but Captain Sagolis, noticing the stern bulkhead was still intact didn't believe she was in any danger of sinking.

Having completed an inspection of his own vessel, Captain McMickan began looking for the Iberia. Umbria at last came up alongside the severely damaged and crippled freighter. Captain McMickan got into discussions with Captain Sagolis. Captain Sagolis was reluctant to abandon the Iberia, wanting her instead to be towed into New York, her rear bulkhead keeping the Iberia watertight. Umbria and Iberia remained at anchor where they lay throughout the night, the crew of the Umbria too concerned for the Iberia's safety to leave her behind. Now the morning of November 11, Captain Sagolis and his crew finally relented and abandoned the Iberia, boarding the Umbria which was headed back to New York to not only disembark her passengers and Iberia's crew, but also to head in for repairs.

Iberia, left abandoned, was now under the jurisdiction of the crew of the pilot boat Cadwell H Colt. Three members of the Colt's crew boarded the Iberia to prepare her for a tow into New York. Cadwell H Colt and her remaining crew returned to New York. There, two tugboats were hired and Captain Sagolis brought aboard the Cadwell H Colt. The three small boats arrived to the Iberia's last known position but rather than a damaged freighter, only found a small longboat with the three members of the Iberia salvage crew. Apparently, the Iberia's stern bulkhead had finally given out and the freighter sank in minutes nearly taking the three men down with her. Thankfully, no one was killed or seriously injured, but the Iberia and her cargo were gone.

The wreck was discovered in late November or early December 1888 by the Meritt Wrecking Company and according to a December 8, 1888 issue Harper's Weekly, was lying on her side partially buried into the sea floor. The wreck of Iberia, commonly referred to as the Iberia's "main section" now lies on an even keel under 60 feet of water. Her iron hull has given in to almost 130 years of neglect, salvage, sovenier hunting and natural current flow. Her single engine and twin boilers remain intact. The engine is the tallest feature of the wreck. Also still in position are her propeller shaft and steel propeller. The keel is broken and the bow lies at an angle to starboard facing away from the direction of the engines and boiler. One of the masts lies to the starboard side of the Iberia on the seafloor. Iberia is a popular diving site. Her stern was finally located away from the main wreck in 2011 and is lying on its starboard side in reasonably good shape. The telemotor of the stern helm was found still attached to the Iberia's deck.

Footnotes

As Iberia is a popular diving site in New York's Wreck Valley. Further diving and historical information can be found at the websites below:

Aqua Explorers Inc.

New Jersey Scuba Diving




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