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The President Coolidge

Date of Submission: 01/10/2004
Criteria: (i)(iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Vanuatu National Museum, PO Box 184, Port Vila and Vanuatu Environment Unit
Coordinates: S15 31 16 E167 13 32
Ref.: 1972

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Launched on 21st February 1931 the SS President Coolidge was the largest passenger ship to be constructed in America (with her twin sister, the SS President Hoover) at that time. Built by Newport News Shipbuilding Drydock Company in Newport News, the Coolidge was 200m by 25m and had a gross displacement of 21,936 tons.

This ship first started out as a passenger carrier but by the beginning of the Second World War its role shifted to that of SS President Coolidge. On the 15th of July 1941 the President Coolidge began its first voyage, on a full-time basis, for the army, taking it from Honolulu to Manila. Up until the time it sank, the Coolidge ferried troops to the war front prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbour. On 6 October 1942 it sailed out from San Francisco headed for New Caledonia and Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. This was the ship's very last voyage. On the 26th of October 1942, after striking an American mine, it sank in 20 fathoms of water at the east entrance of the Segond Channel of Espiritu Santo. Nearly all of the 5,000 officers and men on board were saved.

The President Coolidge is currently known as the largest most accessible wreck dive in the world. President Coolidge is particularly interesting because of the diverse range of features which can still be seen. It has all of the fine furnishings and décor of a luxury passenger liner as well as military hardware and equipment. As the wreck is so large, many dives are needed to see the wreck in detail.

Almost completely intact it is possible to swim through the many holds and decks viewing the many reminders of war, including the famous "Lady", an Elizabethan statue that sits above the fireplace. The Coolidge is divided into many different ‘dive sites’. All dives are accompanied by experienced professional dive guides. The Coolidge is also home to a rich array of corals and fish. Schools of barracuda, trevally, sharks and reef fish are permanent residents, including Boris, a 200kg (440 pounds) grouper that lives on the wreck and can be hand fed.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The authenticity of the President Coolidge has been recognised by the Vanuatu Government and is protected by the Laws of the Republic of Vanuatu as a subsidiary legislation of the Fisheries Act Cap. 158, Gazette No.40 of 21 November 1983 which states that: The area of waters defined below and the seabed underlying such waters is hereby declared to be a marine reserve.

Area of waters

The area off the south coast of Espiritu Santo Island to seaward of the high water mark of spring tides and bounded by a line from the "white rock" in position latitude 15° 31' 16"S, longitude 167° 13' 32"E (on British Admiralty chart 179) extending 180° true for 0.3 nautical miles, then 090° true for 1 nautical mile and thence 000° true, to the shore.

This area includes the wreck of the President Coolidge and the area known as Million Dollar Point.

Comparison with other similar properties

Although there are numerous ship wrecks throughout the world the wreck of the President Coolidge is unlike any other.  It is considered to be the largest accessible shipwreck in the world and contains a unique combination of features belonging to its dual function as a luxury passenger liner and a military vessel.