SS Cape Fear

World War I era concrete ship sunk in a devastating collision on October 29, 1920, killing 19 men.
by Matthew Anderson

Year Built


Year Sank



180 ft (54.9 m)

Difficulty Level


SS Cape Fear

Wreck Location

The Cape Fear lies in 180 feet of water at the mouth of Narragansett Bay near Newport, Rhode Island in waters of strong currents and busy sea lanes. She lies deeper and more inaccessable than any other concrete ship from World War I.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   41° 28' 30" N      Longitude:   -71° 20' 60" W


Cape Fear was a Design 1070 concrete cargo ship built in 1919 at the Liberty Shipbuilding Company yard in Wilmington, North Carolina. Originally ordered and meant for service in World War I, she was completed and sold to civilian operators after the war had already ended. Cape Fear entered commercial service hauling cargo. Unfortunately, the Sapona would never see commercial service or operation like her sister did.

On the evening October 29, 1920, Cape Fear left Newport, Rhode Island with a load of cargo bound for Norfolk, Virginia. Heading into Providence, Rhode Island, finishing a trip from Savannah Georgia, the steamship City of Atlanta encountered the Cape Fear at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. In a misunderstanding of signals, the Cape Fear cut across the bow of the City of Altanta resulting in a violent collision. The hull of the Cape Fear broke and shattered in a similar fashion to a fragile china plate. The Cape Fear immediately flooded and sank by the bow in less than three minutes. Nineteen crewmembers went down with her. Cape Fear was the only concrete ship of the 13 EFC ships built to truly be lost at sea in a disaster and not run aground close to shore.

The remains of the Cape Fear, sans a great majority of the superstructure including the smokestack, lie upright slightly bent in the middle on the bottom of Narragansett Bay. The wreck of the Cape Fear lies in very dark water with strong currents and in a busy shipping lane, meaning she is a difficult dive only the truly adventurous and expert in diving should attempt. Unlike the other World War I era concrete ship losses, Cape Fear's remains are a graveyard for 19 sailors. It also proved concrete ships are prone to sinking faster than normal vessels when the wateright integrities of their hulls are compromised.


Photographs and Further Information on Cape Fear

Cape Fear was part of a series of ships built of concrete for the U.S. Military in the late 1910s early 1920s. Her sister ship was the Sapona and her half sister was the McKittrick. During World War I, steel was a highly sought after material needed for warships and other high priority military equipment. Reinforced concrete was an easy to construct, strong and cheap alternative to steel. President Wilson approved the construction of an "Emergency Fleet" of 24 ships in 1918. Only 12 were finished, all after the war, and sold to commercial operators. Many ended up as fishing piers, breakwaters and shipwrecks. Only one is still afloat as a Powell River breakwater in British Columbia; the Peralta. The San Pasqual is also intact off the Cuban coastline, but is abandoned and likely not afloat.


1 Comment & Rating

anonymous by Martha Rogers on 9/16/2018

I am looking for information on a 1886 schooner which burned

USS Cape Fear or SS Cape Fear

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