Wreckage of World War I U-boat among big finds by Irish submarine team

4 Feb 2019

Image: © Guillaume/Stock.adobe.com

Among thousands of potential shipwrecks located off Irish waters, a University of Limerick team has uncovered a World War I-era submarine.

The Irish National Monuments Service recently released its free-to-use Wreck Viewer, allowing anyone to see where as many as 4,000 shipwrecks are located in Irish waters out of an estimated 18,000 dotted around the island.

While trying to locate these wrecks is an arduous task, engineers from the University of Limerick (UL) and the Science Foundation Ireland research centre Marine and Renewable Energy Ireland (MaREI) have been bolstered by a new underwater vehicle control system.

The autonomous submarine uses artificial intelligence to allow the robot to evaluate situations independent of human help, something very necessary in difficult conditions on the Irish west coast.

As part of its latest survey, the submarine was able to successfully locate and dive down towards two large vessels – more than 100 metres in length – which are believed to be the wrecks of an ocean liner and large cargo vessel, as well as a smaller World War I-era U-boat.

The craft’s high-definition camera survey of one of the wrecks revealed that intact parts of the submarine were colonised by various colourful epifauna including anemones, solitary corals, oysters and brachiopods.

‘Every wreck has its own story’

The ocean liner is believed to be the SS Canadian – a ship that was sunk on a voyage from Boston to Liverpool in 1917 – based on multibeam mapping obtained by the UL team. This latest imaging technology showed a large debris field that was not visible on the original map of the wreck, suggesting a violent impact with the seabed.

Speaking of the finds, Dr Gerard Dooly, chief scientist for the survey and deep-wreck diver, said: “The blended control and automation of the ROV provided by our UL-developed OceanRINGS software and other UL systems allows us to safely complete these missions. Near the wreck, we saw pots and pans and unexploded ordnance (shells and primers) scattered on the seafloor, reminding us of the human misfortune that occurred at the time of sinking.

“Every wreck has its own story, so it’s always interesting to locate long-forgotten shipwrecks and then try to determine the identity of the wreck and understand something of the circumstances of the tragedy.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic