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Propeller of Civil War gunship rises again

The propeller from the USS Monitor is lifted from the water  
June 9, 1998
Web posted at: 9:47 p.m. EDT (0147 GMT)

(CNN) -- Seventeen miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the propeller of the Civil War vessel USS Monitor is among the latest remnants of history to surface from the deep.

Navy divers have been working 230 feet down to bring up pieces of the badly deteriorated ship, which sank in a storm in 1862. The Monitor was the first ironclad turreted warship. Its crew fought the Confederate iron vessel the Merrimac to a draw on March 9, 1862.

The propeller and part of the shaft were recovered in recent days, along with a 10-foot propeller well cover and rusted iron deck plate. The artifacts have been quickly encased in plastic and bathed with sea water to prevent further deterioration.

Experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which supervises the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, are anxious to recover as much of the historic ship as quickly as possible.

Wreckage of the Monitor  

NOAA historian Jeff Johnstone told CNN that time and sea water have done tremendous damage to the vessel. The recovered deck plate is severely rusted and rotted.

"We try to tell people the Monitor is deteriorating at such an accelerated rate. People don't really have a concept of a fragile iron ship," said Johnstone.

Navy and NOAA divers have spent more than 500 hours on the bottom, breathing a mixed gas that allows them to stay down for about 40 minutes at a time. This phase of the Monitor recovery is coming to a close.

The biggest prize so far, the nine-foot-long, three-ton section of propeller and shaft, will be taken to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, so history and Navy buffs can see for themselves another piece of U.S. history.

Correspondent Carl Rochelle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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