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Resting in the Darkness’: Sunken ‘Ghost’ Ship Rediscovered Near Hawaii

A "ghost ship" that has been lost beneath the waves for more than 60 years has been discovered nearly a half-mile below the ocean surface off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

A small submersible vehicle came upon the shipwreck last year, researchers at the University of Hawaii announced Friday (Dec. 5). Despite being torpedoed after World War II, many parts of the ship, including the ship's wheel, are still in their original locations.

"The upper deck structures from the bow to the stern were well-preserved and showed no sign of torpedo damage," Terry Kerby, a submersible pilot with the university's Hawai'i Undersea Research Laboratory, said in a statement. [Shipwrecks Gallery: Secrets of the Deep]

The ship, then called the Dickenson, first set sail in early 1923 as part of a fleet of ships that maintained the growing submarine telecommunications network at the time. The ship set out from Chester, Pennsylvania, as part of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company fleet, and arrived in Hawaii in July of that year.

The Dickenson ferried supplies and patched up cables at the remote Midway and Fanning Islands from 1923 to 1941. Then, soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Dickenson evacuated British employees of the telecommunications company Cable and Wireless Ltd., from Midway Island, ferrying them back to Oahu. Some of the evacuees even spotted a submarine tailing their ship, before American ships chased it away.

During the war, the Midway Island telecommunications hub stopped functioning, and the Dickenson was renamed the USS Kailua and was sent to maintain cables in other locales in the South Pacific.

Image: USS Kailua, 1943
Archive image of the USS Kailua, 1943. Naval History and Heritage Command

After the war, the ship returned to Pearl Harbor, but neither the Navy nor its original owners wanted it. On Feb. 7, 1946, the ship was torpedoed and sunk into the deep waters off Oahu, but no one recorded its final resting place.

"From her interisland service to her role in Pacific communications and then World War II, Dickenson today is like a museum exhibit resting in the darkness, reminding us of these specific elements of Pacific history," said Hans Van Tilburg, a researcher with the maritime heritage program in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Marine Sanctuaries.

— Tia Ghose, Live Science

This is an abbreviated version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

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