Diving team to document 90-year-old wreckage

A team is set to begin documenting the wreckage of a notorious British warship in southern Labrador, almost 90 years ago to the day after it ran aground.
HMS Raleigh became infamous when it ran aground on a reef off the coast of southern Labrador in 1922.

Divers and archaeologists begin their work Monday documenting the wreckage of a historical British ship that ran aground in a corner of southern Labrador nine decades ago.

The remains of HMS Raleigh will be mapped, photographed and recorded during the mission.

Wednesday marks 90 years since the battle cruiser ran into a reef off the coast of southern Labrador, on the Strait of Belle Isle that separates the mainland from Newfoundland. 

The episode is considered one of the biggest blunders in British naval history.

At the time, HMS Raleigh was the pride of the Britain's North Atlantic squadron. It was 180 metres in length, heavily armed and had a crew of 700. The ship was a symbol of British sea power.

"The Raleigh is an amazing historical wreck, and it's in an obscure place and hardly anybody knows it exists," said Chris Harvey-Clark, who is leading the volunteer dive team.

The ship's three-year reign at sea ended during a fishing side-trip on Aug. 8,1922, when the boat blundered onto a reef close to the Labrador coast. Most of the men were saved, but the ship was a total loss.

"It really was a terribly embarrassing thing for the British, said Harvey-Clark. "It sat there, less than a kilometre from the biggest lighthouse on the coast."

Risky diving

After the incident, local fisherman salvaged what they could from the wreckage, including rum, pianos, furniture and other valuables. Some of the items are still used in the local community.

He said the British sent a ship to blow up the remains in 1926, but the entire ship was not destroyed. The group also left behind ammunition.

Seven years ago, the Department of National Defence cleared what was visible, but according to diver Roy Mulder, ammunition still poses a risk to divers.

"We want to make sure that we've got our buoyancy under control to the point where we're not going to be running into anything or disturb the bottom in any way," he said.