Finding the Robert J. Walker [What's New]

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More than 153 years after it was lost in a violent collision at sea, NOAA and partners have identified the wreck of the ship Robert J. Walker, a steamer that served in the U.S. Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of NOAA. The Walker served a vital role as a survey ship, charting the Gulf Coast in the decade before the Civil War.


The Walker wreck site initially was discovered in the 1970s by a commercial fisherman. Resting 85 feet underwater, the vessel’s identity was confirmed in June 2013, as part of a private-public collaboration that included research provided by New Jersey wreck divers; Joyce Steinmetz, a maritime archaeology student at East Carolina University; and retired NOAA Corps Capt. Albert Theberge.



While in the area to conduct hydrographic surveys after Hurricane Sandy for navigation safety, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson sailed to the wreck site and deployed its multibeam and sidescan sonar systems to search for the Walker. Using the data from these hydrographic surveys, a NOAA Maritime Heritage dive team, on a separate Hurricane Sandy-related mission in the area, was able to positively identify the Walker. Key clues were the size and layout of the iron-hulled wreck, and its unique engines, rectangular portholes, and the location of the ship, which was found still pointing toward the Absecon lighthouse, the final destination of a desperate crew on a sinking vessel.


Now with the remains of the Walker positively identified, NOAA’s intent is not to make this wreck a sanctuary or to limit diving, but to work with New Jersey’s wreck diving community to better understand it and the stories it can tell..



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