Diving the Palawan Wreck
Palawan, formerly a Liberty Ship, is an artificial reef off Huntington Beach, California.
What is a Liberty Ship?
Liberty Ships were WWII-era cargo carriers designed to be built cheaply and quickly, and were mass-produced by the thousands in the later years of the war. These steel-hulled ships were 441 feet long and 56 feet wide, and could sustain speeds of 11 knots with their 2,500 -horsepower three-cylinder steam engines. They were designed to carry 10,000 tons of cargo, including jeeps, tanks, ammunition, aircraft, or locomotives.
The ships initially had a poor public image due to their appearance. In a speech announcing the emergency shipbuilding program, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had referred to the ship as "a dreadful looking object", and Time magazine called it an "Ugly Duckling". To try to assuage public opinion, 27 September 1941 was dubbed Liberty Fleet Day, as the first 14 "Emergency" vessels were launched that day. The first of these was SS Patrick Henry, launched by President Roosevelt. In remarks at the launch ceremony, FDR cited Patrick Henry's 1775 speech that finished "Give me liberty or give me death". Roosevelt said that this new class of ships would bring liberty to Europe, which gave rise to the name Liberty ship.
The Life and Service of USS Palawan
Following her 1944 launch at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard in Baltimore, MD, USS Palawan was converted from a Liberty cargo ship into a Luzon-Class Internal Combustion Engine Repair Ship, tasked with the maintenance and repair of engines on ships of all types. She was subsequently sent to the Philippines (Palawan and her Luzon-class sister ships are all named for Philippine islands) where she repaired small craft (primarily minesweepers) in the Pacific theater for the remainder of the war. After providing postwar support in Japan and China, she returned to San Diego in 1947, where she was decommissioned and laid up in the Pacific Reserve and Naval Defense Reserve fleets.
Diving the Palawan wreck
Palawan was acquired for artificial reefing in 1976, and sank off Redondo Beach in 1977. She landed upright in about 125 feet of water; because of the depth, the Palawan wreck is considered an advanced dive. The sheer size of the wreck is humbling: her superstructure and engines were dismantled prior to sinking, leaving little behind other than a massive empty hull. Her holds, essentially large, wide-open rooms, are penetrable by trained and qualified divers. The engine room is identifiable by the large valves attached to the wall.
Large crabs and lingcod inhabit crevices inside the Palawan wreck.