California Department of Fish and Wildlife

S.S. Montebello Timeline

  • January 21, 1921: Built by the Southwestern Shipbuilding Company in San Pedro California for the Union Oil Company, the S.S. Montebello was launched from East San Pedro, California. It would spend the next 20 years carrying petroleum products to the Hawaiian Islands, Siberia, British Columbia and other ports in the Pacific.
  • December 22, 1941: The Montebello loaded a cargo of 73,571 barrels (3,089,982 gallons) of Santa Marina crude oil at the Union Oil Company’s facility in Port San Luis, California.
  • December 23, 1941: Around 12:00 midnight, amid multiple reports of Japanese submarine sightings, Montebello Captain Mogens Andreasen resigned his post, leaving command of the ship to First Mate Olof Ekstrom.
  • December 23, 1941: At 1:30 am, the Montebello cleared Port San Luis breakwater proceeding on a northbound course.
  • December 23, 1941: At 3:30 am, the crew was called to station and ordered to put on life jackets, the ship was notified that the tanker Larry Doheny had been fired upon north of their location.
  • December 23, 1941: At 5:30 am, Ordinary seamen Richard Quincy and William Srez spotted an object on the water running in the tanker’s wake and realized it was an I-21 Japanese submarine low in the water. The I-21 then repositioned itself to the starboard quarter between the tanker and the mainland and fired a single torpedo into the Montebello.
  • December 23, 1941: At 5:55 am, Captain Olof Ekstrom gave the order to abandon ship, all thirty-eight crewmen left the tanker in four lifeboats as the I-21 opened fire on the life boats with its deck gun. The I-21 soon submerged to avoid being detected by air reconnaissance.
  • December 23, 1941: At 6:45 am, the crew watched the Montebello finally submerge below the surface.
  • December 23, 1941: At 9:30 am, the first lifeboat reached the rocky shore of Cambria, California, where they were helped on to shore by local Cambria residents.
  • December 23, 1941: At 12:00 noon, the last lifeboat reached shore. All crew members survived.
  • December 24, 1941: UPI reports of the Montebello incident ran in Port Arthur (Texas), Sheboygan (Michigan) and in San Francisco. Copies in San Francisco were rounded up by federal agents to avoid a mass hysteria. San Luis Obispo was sufficiently isolated, so no effort was made to confiscate the papers.
  • November 7, 1996: A small submarine, launched off of the research vessel Cavalier, confirmed a large shipwreck had been located at a depth of nearly 900 feet. The shipwreck was covered in fishing nets, and the pipe configuration on main deck confirmed the vessel was the S.S. Montebello. This dive was the first direct observation of the tanker since being torpedoed by the Japanese Imperial Navy.
  • September 23, 2003: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in collaboration with archaeologists from California State Parks & Cal Trans surveyed the wreck. Eight dives were completed as part of the survey. No reported oil discharge was observed. However, according to an observer on the dive, "there was a very large rust spot in the middle of each tank. She was finally starting to show her age."
  • September 28, 2004: Cambria Resident Gary Talley writes a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger warning him of the potential disaster. Talley states that he never recieved a reply from the Governor.
  • September 30, 2007: The San Luis Obispo Tribune publishes, Sensitive Attacks Silenced in History. The story of why submarine attacks along the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo coasts - including the Montebello - were silenced during World War II, and many years after.
  • July 16, 2008: The San Luis Obispo New Times publishes, Taking Watch on the Montebello. A re-telling of the sinking of the Montebello.
  • Late July, 2008: California State Assembyman Sam Blakeslee's office begins investigating the Montebello.
  • September 18, 2008: The San Luis Obispo New Times publishes a follow up article to, Taking Watch on the Montebello. titled, The Montebello revisited.
  • January, 2009: California State Assembyman Sam Blakeslee, requests the California Department of Fish and Game, Oil Spill Prevention Response division to conduct an assessment to determine whether or not an imminent threat to the safety and health of the central coast exists.
  • February 3, 2010: The San Luis Obispo New Times publishes, Return to the Montebello.
  • May 5, 2010: NBC affiliate KSBW in Salinas, runs a story on it's nightly newscast on the current condition of the Montebello using footage and data from the 2003 dive expedition. The story is in reaction to BP Gulf Spill. KSBW also posted the newscast and the printed story on their website titled, Sunken Tanker Could Leak In Monterey Bay.

Contact Information

Alexia Retallack
Email: Alexia.Retallack@wildlife.ca.gov
Phone: 916-322-1683

Web: Contact Web Editor

Page Last Updated: July 18, 2013