|Owner:||Union Oil Company|
|Builder:||Southwestern Shipbuilding Company|
|Laid down:||20 April 1920|
|Length:||440 ft (130 m)|
|Beam:||58.2 ft (17.7 m)|
|Draft:||32.8 ft (10.0 m)|
SS Montebello was an oil tanker sunk by the Japanese submarine, I-21, off the coast of California on December 23, 1941.
SS Montebello was a shelter-deck oil tanker built by the Southwestern Shipbuilding Company in San Pedro, California for the Union Oil Company. She was launched in 1921. Steel hulled, she had a length of 440 feet (130 m), beam of 58.2 feet (17.7 m), and draft of 32.8 feet (10.0 m). The ship had ten divided liquid storage tanks which ran the width of the ship and was a single-hull design. She had an expected life of 25 years and was 20 years old when torpedoed. When she went down, Montebello held 73,571 barrels (11,696.9 m3) of crude oil along with 104,034 US gallons (393,810 L) of fuel oil for her engines.
The officers and crew were aware there had been several attacks on American shipping off the West Coast. The risk was so high that Montebello's skipper had refused to take the ship to sea and he quit. After replacing the captain with the chief mate, Olaf Eckstrom, they set off at midnight. At approximately 5:45 am, off the coast of the small town of Cambria, California, just north of Morro Bay, two torpedoes hit the ship. Though one was a dud, the torpedo responsible for the sinking struck forward in the pump room and dry storage cargo hold.
The crew was unarmed, and as the men jumped into lifeboats, the submarine surfaced and fired at them with its deck gun. By 6:30 am, the ship had stood on her bow and slid under, according to a report published the next day. No one was killed.
Exploration of the wreck
In an expedition conducted on November 7, 1996, the submersible Delta descended with two men on board to the wreck at a depth of 880 feet (270 m) and found Montebello sitting upright on the bottom. Based on their observations it was concluded that a single torpedo hit Montebello just forward of the pump room. While the bow was broken from the impact with the sea floor, the overall condition of the wreck was thought to be quite good, giving rise to the concern that she could still hold her liquid cargo.
In August 2010 the wreck was examined by a robot submarine from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to determine whether the oil cargo was still on board and whether it posed a possible environmental threat. The expedition created three-dimension images of the ship using sonar, to be analyzed onshore. Jack Hunter, an archaeologist for Caltrans who examined the wreck in 1996 and compared the images from the 2010 expedition expressed concern that the wreck has deteriorated over the past 14 years and could represent a risk if the cargo leaks.
Further explorations of the wreck were scheduled for 2011 at an expected cost of $2.3 million, to be paid from a fund which oil companies pay into for such situations. After two weeks of extensive testing in October 2011, researchers determined that no crude oil remained in the tanker and such oil most likely was released from the vessel shortly after sinking and dissipated throughout the region.
The shipwreck was listed on the US National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
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