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Researchers Explore Steamship That Sank Off Massachusetts Coast In 1898

BOSTON (CBS) - In 1898, one of the ways that well-heeled people traveled between Boston and Portland was by steamship. The SS Portland was perhaps the most luxurious of them all.

But that year, as she was headed to Portland, a severe gale blew up, sinking the SS Portland and taking an estimated 200 lives.

Now, scientists are sending a remotely-operated submersible to the ocean depths to study the wreckage.

"It's just an interesting scientific question of understanding how does the environment change over time, regardless of human intervention," said Dr. Kristen Meyer-Kaiser of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The Portland is below 400 feet of water east of Cape Ann. It's in a vast underwater plateau known as Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary.

SS Portland wreckage
Wreckage of SS Portland (WBZ-TV)

Ben Haskell of the Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary said documenting historic and cultural resources is "an important part of our mission."

The video feed from the remote operated vehicle was sent to several schools around the country and is already providing insights for the scientists.

"One thing studying shipwrecks teaches us is that humans have made mistakes for a long time and how do we improve on each of those," said maritime archaeologist Calvin Mires. "When technology fails, when things don't go the right way."

Researchers from the sanctuary and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute hope to learn how the Portland sunk and also to study the marine environment there.

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