Scientists stumble upon sunken Maine
Site found as crew studies off Cuba
BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
When Paulina Zelitsky and her crew on the Cuban research vessel
the strange, boxy mass off the island's coast, they called it the ''square.''
It couldn't have been the Maine, they reasoned, because the scuttled
believed to lie west of their position.
But on the morning of Oct. 18, the ship that sparked a war materialized
control-room video screens of the vessel's tethered robot vehicle.
Zelitsky's Toronto-based company, Advanced Digital Communications,
working with Cuban scientists and oceanographers from the University of South
Florida College of Marine Science on underwater exploration technology.
Zelitsky and her colleagues weren't looking for the Maine, but
over it at 3,700 feet while testing their Exploramar scanning system.
''Of course, I read about the USS Maine, and I recognized it immediately
absence of a bow, which was cut away mechanically and not naturally broken
away,'' said Zelitsky, 55, in a recent e-mail from the Ulises.
A Soviet-born marine engineer who immigrated to Canada in 1971,
she runs the
company with her husband and one of two sons. Aboard the Ulises, she heads a
26-member crew and a 12-member hired scientific team of Cubans ''trained by
For USF oceanographers, the ship's discovery is of incidental
been working with ADC on temperature-mapping the ocean and measuring marine
plant life for NASA -- or, as Dr. Frank Muller-Karger, USF associate professor of
marine science explains it, ''ground-truthing several thousand satellite images of
They're working toward an arrangement whereby USF scientists can
several $25,000 storm-warning stations on the island: ''real-time measuring
sensors off Havana and the western tip of Cuba which would be . . . solar-powered
and would broadcast data to a satellite which would broadcast to the Internet.''
But the work has brought them to one of history's richest graveyards,
said. For three centuries, all Spanish fleets had to stop in Havana before returning
to Europe, so Cuban deep territorial waters ''contain some of the greatest
historical wrecks kept intact by high salinity and cold temperatures,'' preserving
artifacts that ADC plans to salvage.
Last month, Zelitsky presented underwater video of the wreck at USF.
Muller-Karger said it showed ''very dark water with a bluish tint,
with the gray hulk
of metal and various superstructure features used to identify the ship: doors and
hatches . . . the anchor chain, the shape of the propellers and the holes where
the bow was cut off. There was a boiler lying next to the wreck, and what
appeared to be coal strewn about.''
Stumbling upon the Maine thrilled Zelitsky, who said, ''its hull
was not oxidized,
and we could see all of its structural parts. We were quite amazed. It was like
piercing through deeply hidden secrets.''
The Maine's most deeply hidden secret lingers: What caused the
killed 260 American sailors on Feb. 15, 1898? Three weeks earlier, the ship,
carrying 355 men assigned to safeguard U.S. interests during an insurgency in
Spanish-controlled Cuba, had arrived in Havana Harbor.
The event proved the catalyst for the Spanish-American War, though
still debate the source of the ship's destruction. Did the Maine hit a Spanish
mine? Did Cuban fanatics blow it up? Or did coal fuel ignite nearby ammunition
that erupted in a deadly blast?
Whatever the truth, jingoistic Americans rallied behind the cry,
Maine!'' and William Randolph Hearst's screaming newspaper headlines.
President William McKinley sent U.S. ships to blockade Cuban ports,
April 23, Spain declared war on the United States. Soldiers massed in Tampa and
Miami, itching to join the fray, which ended when Spain surrendered on July 16.
In March 1912, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the area
wreck, pumped out the surrounding water, recovered 66 bodies, cut away the bow
and investigated. The Corps found a metal bow plate bent inward, and concluded
that the 319-foot ship had been attacked.
Then the Corps refloated the hulk, towed it four miles out toward
sea and sank it
amid ceremony and floating garlands. Both the United States and Cuba regard it
as an American memorial.
''The exact location of the burial place . . . was not known to
said. ''We were . . . expecting to find it in the northwest, but it makes sense that
it was carried to the east by the currents, given it took 25 minutes to position the
boats for the ceremony and 20 minutes for the Maine to sink once the valves were
''In that 45 minutes, the Maine should have drifted east to about
right where we
found it: about three miles northeast from Havana Harbor. Of course the
[eastward] coastal current is strong . . . so it is logical that the USS Maine, while
sinking through 1,150 meters of water, was dragged by currents to the east.''
In 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover reexamined the damage through
and records and declared the disaster an accident. Later works, including a
Smithsonian Institution book, support the initial finding of an external attack.
In Cuba, the assumption persists that the United States sabotaged
its own ship
as an excuse to join the conflict. The plaque on a Cuban memorial calls the
Maine's sailors martyrs to ''imperialist greed.''
Zelitsky's crew and the USF scientists are working closely with
counterparts, who Muller-Karger said were ''hardworking and extremely well
prepared in a theoretical and academic sense, but they have no access to
It took ADC three years to negotiate a five-year renewable contract
Cuban government that licenses the firm to survey deep Cuban territorial waters,
Zelitsky said. The government also appointed a Cuban marine archaeological firm
''to provide us with paid limited services . . . and represent us to the Cuban
Zelitsky said Cuban scientific organizations are participating
studies under the United Nations Global Climate programs, despite lacking ships,
equipment, fuel or skills ''to be able to realize their contributions to these studies.''
Their USF counterparts had all that, she said, but Cuba won't
let American ships
explore the sea floor in its territorial waters. A Canadian survey operation brought
the two sides together in what appears to be a model of post-Cold War scientific
exchange -- which USF had launched in 1999.
Zelitsky will provide videos and photos to U.S. and Cuban cultural institutions.