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Search Team Finds More of USS Maine Off Havana Coast

By Pat Leisner, Associated Press
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (November 22, 2000 10:10 a.m. EST

In 1898, as the USS Maine rested in Havana Harbor, it blew up and sank, claiming the lives of 266 sailors. Whether the explosion was sabotage or accident was never determined. At the time, U.S. officials and the media blamed Spain, and used that as a reason to help Cuban revolutionaries overthrow Spanish rule - the Spanish-American War.

On Tuesday, a research team announced it had found the Maine wreckage three miles off the Havana coast, two-thirds of a mile down. The team unveiled videotape of the battleship, its port side furrowed into the sand where it was scuttled in 1912, after being raised from near the entrance to Havana Harbor.

The Maine is well-preserved because of the water's depth and high salinity, though just what sunk the vessel will forever remain a mystery, expedition leader Paulina Zelitsky said.

The wreck was located in October when a team of scientists and scholars from the United States, Cuba and Canada was testing a robot vehicle off Havana, said Zelitsky's son Ernie Tapanes.

"We needed targets for test purposes, and we knew there were a few very identifiable wrecks in the area," he said at a news conference at the University of South Florida. The group said the deep-water study was the first done off the Cuban coast, where water drops to a depth of 1,000 feet or more just a half-mile from Havana Harbor.

The Maine, 318 feet long, was sent to Cuba in January 1898 to protect U.S. interests during a time of insurrection and civil disturbances. It blew up three weeks later, on Feb. 15.

Pictures of the vessel's superstructure, propellers, stern, hatch and tow chain matched old photographs of the ship. The videotape also showed the hulk lacked a bow.

Years after the explosion, Navy salvors cut off the damaged bow of the ship and built a wood bulkhead to replace it. The vessel was sealed, refloated and towed three miles off shore. Valves were opened to sink the wreck, and as the 170-foot hull descended, the wooden makeshift bow crumbled.

Zelitsky said she and her company, Advanced Digital Communications, want to become the deep-water experts off Cuba.

The Maine is a historic war memorial and remains the property of the U.S. government. But any booty found in other area wrecks would be shared by the company and the Cuban government, Zelitsky said.

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