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Too bad you can't light birthday candles underwater

The Benwood - NOAA photograph

It was 73-years ago Thursday that the Merchant Marine freighter Benwood collided with another freighter, the Robert C. Tuttle and sank off the shores of Key Largo, Florida. 
Stephen Weir photographing the wreck of the Benwood
It was an accident caused in no small part by World War 2 -- rumours of German U-boats in the area that night required both ships to travel completely blacked out, even though they were just 3-miles off-shore in the reef filled waters of Key Largo’s Atlantic coast.
 The 360 ft. long Benwood was filled to the gunnels with phosphate rock and was armed with a deck gun, depth charges and bombs. When her bow was crushed in the collision, she took on water and 30-minutes laters the captain and crew abandoned ship as the Benwood sank. She now lies close to shore between French Reef and Dixie Shoals on a bottom of low profile reef and sand in depths ranging from 25 to 45 feet.
According to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) time has not been kind to the Benwood. “Salvage began soon after the sinking and continued into the 1950s. It is believed that she was dynamited as a navigational hazard and was used by the U.S. Army for aerial target practice after World War II.”
The Benwood sits in the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary close to Key Largo and the John Pennekamp underwater park. Both the State of Florida and NOAA have control of this huge underwater sanctuary … including the wreck of the freighter.
 Over time the wreck has become part of the ocean floor, an artificial reef. She is the only high profile reef in the vicinity and as a result provides protection for fish and other sea creatures.
Fish alongside the hull of the wreck of the Benwood

She is also one of the most popular wreck dive sites in the world. For over fifty years dozens of dive boats, snorkel charter ships and glass bottom boats have visited the remains of her ship two and three times a day, 365 days a year. Lying in the shallow protected warm waters the Benwood is considered a safe dive -- perfect for novice divers. Because of the abundance of fish and the coral encrusted hull plates that cover the ocean floor, the site is also a favourite spot for underwater photographers.
 No one perished in the mash-up of the Tuttle and the Benwood back in 1942. However since then, despite the relative benign nature of the wreck, divers and swimmers die on the Benwood at the rate of 1or 2 a year.
 This is an edited version of an article written by Stephen Weir for Huffington Post


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