CAPE HATTERAS, N.C., July 16 -- The 30-ton steam engine that propelled the USS Monitor, the iron clad Civil War vessel that almost 140 years ago helped open a new era of naval warfare, was pulled from its watery grave Monday.
"Today we successfully raised the Monitor steam engine and everything went well," John Broadwater, manager of the Monitor national marine sanctuary, told United Press International via cell phone from a ship 20 miles off the Atlantic coast. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversees the sanctuary.
The Monitor was lost in a storm off the North Carolina coast some nine months after its famous 1862 battle against its counterpart, the CSS Virginia, which was the Union ship the USS Merrimack until the Confederates turned it into an iron clad.
Broadwater said 108 people, mostly from the Navy, took part in the operation. At four minutes before noon, Eastern Time, a 400-ton barge-mounted crane pulled the engine up from 240 feet below the surface. It placed it on another barge en route to The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va. Once there, workers will place the engine in a 93,000 gallon steel tank. Justin Lyons, a museum spokesman, told UPI that workers would "receive, conserve, interpret and exhibit the artifact.
"We'll spend the next decade documenting and conserving it as good as new," Lyons said.
He said the ship has been the focus of several expeditions, of which Monday's engine extraction was by far the most aggressive.
"We've pulled several things up, including an anchor, a propeller, a hull plating and a propeller shaft, but this was by far the most intricate extraction," he said.
"For a while during the Civil War, wooden frigates were still being used," said Lyons. "But when the Monitor and the CSS Virginia came on the scene, cannonballs were bouncing off of them. Iron had become king." The ship, which has lain upside down on the sandy ocean floor for years, has been an underwater tourist attraction. But fears the artifact was deteriorating led Navy officials to provide $4.9 million for a resurrection effort.
Because the vessel was dilapidated it could not be extracted in its entirety. More than 100 artifacts have been recovered in a piecemeal fashion over the past year, according to NOAA, including part of what is thought to be a forced-air ventilation system, several chimneys, a bell and an engine room thermometer.
This particular mission involved more than 300 hours of preparation. Divers worked for nearly a month to remove the lower hull plating and secure straps to the engine. They then waited for a break from Mother Nature, which came Monday morning.
(Reported by UPI Correspondent Kelly Hearn.)