As part of the Alaska Packers fleet of cannery ships, the Star of Bengal had carried workers, fuel and supplies north to Southeast Alaska from her winter quarters near San Francisco. At the end of the season, the ship was loaded with 52,000 cases of canned Alaska salmon, hundreds of empty steel oil drums, and more than 100 passengers for the return voyage south. As a sailing vessel, the Star of Bengal had to be towed to open water in the Gulf of Alaska before her canvas could be raised. Assigned to the task were two small steam-powered vessels, the Kayak and the Hattie Gage.
The flotilla encountered heavy weather at the south end of Sumner Strait, and conditions worsened into a full-blown gale. After one of the tow vessels ran into trouble, the much larger Bengal began dragging the two smaller ships backwards toward the breakers crashing over the rocky shore of Coronation Island. The tow-boat captains made the life-or-death decision to cut loose their towing hawsers, and the Bengal was carried helplessly into shallow water and broke apart in the crashing surf. At least 111 men were killed, most of them Chinese cannery workers who were huddled in terror below decks when the ship broke into three sections.
The Star of Bengal's captain, Nicholas Wagner, accused the tow-boat captains of criminal cowardice but a marine inquiry held the Bengal's master to blame. Although he was exonerated on appeal, Captain Wagner's reputation had been destroyed and the ghosts of the men who died that day haunted his thoughts for the rest of his life.
Wreckage lies scattered in shallow water on an exposed coastline. Diving is possible only during extended periods of settled weather.
Due to the extensive loss of life in this accident--at least 111 people--divers exploring the site have reported a distinct feeling of ill-ease that some characterize as an impression that the site is haunted.
A detailed account of the Star of Bengal shipwreck written by Steve Lloyd was published in the Sea Chest, the journal of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. Click the page on the right to open a PDF of Steve's article in a new window.