S. S. Selma – Galveston, Texas - Atlas Obscura
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Galveston, Texas

S. S. Selma

A decaying concrete oil tanker served as a disposal location for bootleg hootch. 

A mile off of Galveston Island, this hulking concrete wreck is the only permanent shipwreck site in the Houston Ship Channel.

A remnant of the experimental concrete ships approved by Woodrow Wilson during the WWI steel shortage, the SS Selma was built in 1919 by F.F. Ley and Company of Mobile, Alabama. The 7,500-ton ship was one of 24 slotted for construction, of which only 12 were ever finished. Intended to be a warship, the concrete giant was launched the day Germany effectively ended the war by signing the Treaty of Versailles, thus leaving the Selma to serve as a civilian oil tanker in the Gulf of Mexico.

Within less than a year of service, the ill-fated tanker was damaged when it hit a jetty in Tampico, Mexico, tearing a 60-ft hole in her hull. When repairs proved difficult and decidedly not very cost effective, a 1,500-ft. long, 25-ft. deep channel was dug, and the SS Selma was intentionally put to rest in an early grave.  There it lay, a decaying eyesore seemingly wasting space, until enterprising U.S. Customs Inspectors found a way for her to once more serve her country during the Prohibition.At that time Galveston was plagued by two groups of bootleggers who were suspected to be key members of a smuggling ring that held the market on the forbidden booze throughout the western Gulf Coast. When Federal agents managed to seize their liquor cargoes, they used the steamer of the retired ship to destroy the contraband. In just one bust, over 11,000 bottles of liquor with a street value of $91,000 were taken to the wreck and smashed in the hold of the vessel. In all, nearly $1,000,000 worth of booze was shattered in those concrete walls.

Know Before You Go

The wreck can only be reached by boat, but the exterior can be seen from the Galveston/Bolivar ferry.