SS PRESIDENT COOLIDGE 70 YEAR COMMEMORATION
Posted: Wednesday 19 June, 2013
On 26 October 2012, divers and visitors joined together to mark 70 years since the loss of SS President Coolidge.
The loss of the Coolidge was a time in wartime history that would forever change
the isolated and remote island of Espiritu Santo, part of the chain of islands
that comprise Vanuatu. With the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941,
America found herself engaged in WWII and entwined with fighting in the Pacific
region. America desperately needed to establish a safe stronghold for the push
into the Solomon Islands and further north and it was decided Santo would be
suitable for a major weapons and manpower base.
Governed jointly by the French and the British, the island
had become a centre for copra production and little else. Most parts of the
island had never seen white occupation and the rugged, mountainous interior was
little explored. There were a few trading outposts and Government offices with
villages throughout the island having a virtually unbroken custom life that had
predominated for hundreds of years.
On that fateful day, 26 October 1942, the SS President
Coolidge made her way carefully to the designated rendezvous point. On board
were over 5000 Army personnel, huge quantities of medical supplies, field
weapons and motor vehicles. Dawn broke clear across the turquoise waters of
Segond Channel and there must have been a collective sense of relief among the
troop having reached their destination. At the very moment the President
Coolidge entered the mouth of the channel, she struck a friendly mine which had
been laid earlier in the year to thwart entry by midget submarines. Her fate
was sealed and within 90 minutes of being run aground she was laying on the sea
bed with all but two of her crew having safely abandoned ship.
It was not until the 1970s after the salvors had moved on,
was the ship regarded as accessible for recreational divers. Allan Power had
stayed on after the salvage work and saw possibilities for divers to safely
explore the ship and tourism on Santo was born.
Since that time, thousands have explored the ship, with many
divers returning time and time again to further explore and push their diving
skills to the next level. With three main dive operators today, divers are well
catered for as well as several excellent dive focussed resorts to suit any