China Cove, Coronation Island

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China Cove is a small embayment, about 1.7 miles (2.7 km) wide, on the south coast of Coronation Island, Alaska. The island is about 10 miles (16 km) long, located between Chatham and Sumner Straits. The island was named by Captain George Vancouver, of the Royal Navy, on September 22, 1793, in honor of the anniversary of the coronation of George III. China Cove was named by the commander of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey steamer Hodgson in 1960 to commemorate the 111 lives lost, mostly Chinese cannery labourers, in 1908 when the Star of Bengal sank here.

The Star of Bengal was part of the Alaska Packers “Star” cannery fleet that carried workers, fuel, and supplies north to Southeast Alaska from San Francisco, and at the end of the fishing season returned south. On September 20, 1908, the ship was loaded with 52,000 cases of canned Alaska salmon, hundreds of empty steel oil drums, and more than 100 passengers for the return voyage south. The Star of Bengal had no auxiliary engine and had to be towed to open water in the Gulf of Alaska before her sails could be raised. Assigned to the task were two small steam-powered vessels, the Kayak and the Hattie Gage.

The flotilla immediately encountered heavy weather at the south end of Sumner Strait, and conditions worsened into a full-blown gale. After one of the tow vessels ran into trouble, the much larger Star of Bengal began dragging both towboats backwards toward breakers crashing over the rocky shore of Coronation Island. The towboat captains made the life or death decision to cut loose their towing hawsers, and the Star of Bengal was carried helplessly into shallow water and broke apart in the crashing surf. At least 111 men were killed, most of them Chinese cannery workers who were huddled in terror below decks when the ship broke into three sections. Read more here and here. Click here to download the CoastView app and explore China Cove and Coronation Island.

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