Wreck Of Hanna M. Bell Identified
By James Donahue
There is a literal boneyard of sunken ships lying in the area of Elbow Reef, just off Key Largo, Florida.
Among them lies the Hannah M. Bell, a 315-foot steel steamship that grounded and sank there on April 4, 1911.
The Bell was laden with coal and steaming from Newport News for Vera Cruz, Mexico when it struck the
shallow reef located about six miles off the Florida coast. The ship’s engine room and holds flooded. Salvage attempts
were unsuccessful. Within weeks heavy weather was already tearing the ship apart. Fortunately the crew escaped.
That was the known story of that century-old shipwreck. Before it was properly charted, the reef was
a trap for numerous other ships that met a similar fate. The remains of the USS Arkansas and City of Washington lie nearby
the Bell. And the wrecked steamer Quoque, which tore out its bottom when colliding with the sunken Bell, now is said to lie
directly on top of the Bell.
Naturally the reef has been a haven for sports divers and marine archaeologists, who spend their time
mapping and identifying the many wrecks littering the ocean floor. Possibly because the Quoque was resting directly on top
of it, and after a century of being torn apart by the hurricanes and other storms that have swept the area, the wreck of the
Bell was known, but the identity of the wreck was not known until recently.
Members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, working with NOAA’s Office of National
Marine Sanctuaries, spent hours diving the wreck looking for clues as to its identity. Unfortunately, not all wrecks have
their names clearly etched in the steel parts for divers to read and this was obviously the case with the Bell which had been
known among divers as "Mike’s Wreck."
Marine archaeologist Matthew Lawrence said of the research: "Similar to the way detectives use forensic
information to solve a crime, we compared the dimensions and construction characteristics of the shipwreck known locally as
‘Mike’s Wreck’ with historic shipping records in order to solve this mystery."
Lawrence said the measurements of the wreck were identical to the recorded size of the Bell, and the
site of its reported sinking helped in the identification.
The Bell, launched in England in 1893, was a regular transatlantic traveler, carrying bulk cargo between
European and North and South American ports until the time of its loss.