(Reuters) - U.S. government researchers working with divers and sonar equipment have located the wrecks of what they dubbed "forgotten ghost ships" in waters just outside San Francisco's Golden Gate strait.
The discoveries by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists follow a two-year project to find, identify and better understand some of the estimated 300 wrecks in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and adjacent Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
NOAA confirmed on Tuesday the discovery of the 1910 shipwreck SS Selja, as well as an unidentified sunken early steam tugboat that it described only as the "mystery wreck."
It said researchers had also located the 1863 wreck of the clipper ship, Noonday, lost in 1863 and part of the fleet of fast-sailing vessels that brought men and supplies to California during and after the Gold Rush.
James Delgado, director of Maritime Heritage for the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, described the waters in the area as one of the United States' great undersea museums.
"These wrecks tell the powerful story of the people who helped build California and opened America to the Pacific for nearly two centuries. Finding the remains of these ships links the past to the present," Delgado said in a statement.
NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the U.S. National Park Service published the first detailed inventory and history of the region's wrecks in 1990.
Since then, the administration said, project co-leader and NOAA maritime archaeologist Robert Schwemmer has done research in archives around the world, as well as interviewed fishermen and wreck divers such the Lanham brothers of San Francisco.
The Lanhams, who have discovered a number of historic Bay-area wrecks, led the NOAA team to the wreck site of the Selja.
The steamer sank in a fatal collision 104 years ago that featured in a legal case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court over a key aspect of maritime law, the "rule of the road."
In addition to the newly identified ships, NOAA said that Vitad Pradith, one of its researchers, completed the first sonar survey of the submerged portions of the well-known wrecks of the tankers Frank H. Buck and Lyman Stewart.
The engines of both vessels are visible at low tide off San Francisco's Lands End, inside the waters of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Sandra Maler