Cities Service Empire

Description

The Cities Service Empire was a 465-foot long tanker, owned by the Cities Service Oil Company. Built in 1918 at Sparrows Point, Maryland, the ship was originally named the Ampetco. February 1942 found the Empire steaming from Port Arthur, Texas, to Philadelphia with a full load of petroleum products. Off Cape Canaveral, the Empire was spotted by the U-128, which, just two days earlier, had sent the Pan Massachusetts to the bottom; the Pan Massachusetts was the first merchant vessel sunk off Florida during World War II. The U-128 placed two torpedoes into her starboard quarter from long-range, instantly igniting the tanker. Shortly thereafter, the Cities Service Empire slipped beneath the surface. The remains of the Cities Service Empire lay upright at a depth of nearly 240 feet, about 33 miles east of the Port Canaveral entrance. The wreck settled deep enough that it was not wire-dragged as a hazard and is therefore very much intact. The Empire is a dramatic dive. Being this remote, it is seldom seen by divers.

The wreck of the Cities Service Empire runs SW – NE and sits bolt upright on a sandy bottom in approximately 240 feet of water. The stern deck gun still points astern, adorned by a large thicket of Oculina coral that has enveloped the breach of the gun. All decks above the main deck have been flattened; only the scattered vertical bulkhead supports remain, presenting a ghostly scene. Due to her current disposition, it is a safe bet that the wreck was depth charged several times after her sinking, as every fixture and vertical structure appears to have been vibrated loose. Portholes and other brass goodies lie loose amongst the stern area. Approximately 80 feet forward of the stern, one can witness the impact area from one of the torpedoes. It appears as if someone took a bite out of the starboard side of the wreck as an entire tank has been removed and flattened down to the sand. The shear drop-off extends around the perimeter of the tank and into the centerline of the ship. The force of the explosion blew out the hull on the opposite (port) side, with one hull plate peeled outward and upward like tinfoil. One can proceed forward, following the remains of the catwalk that ran along the center of the ship. Debris with large brass valves can be seen everywhere.

The entire forward superstructure and bridge had been lowered to the main deck level in a large debris area that extends the full width of the ship, further supporting evidence that the wreck was depth charged. On my first visit, I quickly spotted one of the ship’s telegraphs amongst the debris, as well as the ship’s helm, the binnacle with the compass bowl and cover lying next to it, and the portside telegraph. Portholes can be seen throughout the wreck. Due to the wreck sitting SW – NE, a diver can view a good portion of the wreck while being swept along by the northward-moving Florida Current. Once off to the side of the wreck a bit, a diver can see the extent of the damage resulting from the torpedo attack. The portside hull from the torpedo hole forward is slowly peeling off and falling down into the sand like a large banana peel. Adjacent to the hole, the hull plate is already flat on the sand while forward of this it slowly rolls and reconnects with the hull. The skeletal framework of the ship is greatly exposed due to these missing hull plates.

Position

Lat: 28 23.804 N

Long: 80 02.800 W

Depth of wreck

240 feet

Size of wreck

Length: 465 feet

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