Lusitania sinking marked on centenary with new sonar imagery

6 May 2015

A 3D image of the wreck of the Lusitania with the bow of the vessel towards the NE. The wreck lies on a flat seafloor in a general depth of 93m. Image via INFOMAR/Geological Survey of Ireland/Marine Institute

Almost 100 years to the day after it was sunk by a German U-boat, the Lusitania has been captured in incredible detail thanks to new advanced sonar imaging.

The operation to map the sunken vessel was undertaken by members of the INFOMAR (Integrated Mapping For the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Marine Resourcea) team from the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and the National Monuments Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which had recently produced and assessed this brand new sonar imagery of the wreck of the RMS Lusitania.

Despite the ship being a passenger cruise liner, the Lusitania found itself in the line of fire of a German U-boat periscope, which sunk the ship on 7 May 1915, during World War I, off the Old Head of Kinsale, Cork, because the Germans allegedly assumed that the craft was secretly carrying weapons from the US to Britain.

While there remains reasonable claims that the passenger ship was indeed carrying weapons, its sinking outraged many in the US, which was neutral at that point in the war, and is considered to be one of the reasons why the US joined the conflict in 1917.

Lusitania sonar imagery

A plan view of the wreck of the Lusitania at 25cm resolution. The wreck is orientated NE-SW with its bow to the NE. Image via INFOMAR/Geological Survey of Ireland/Marine Institute

Important for its conservation

While imagery of the Lusitania has emerged in the preceding 100 years, this marks the best imagery captured to date of the 240m-long vessel resting on the ocean floor, lying on its starboard side and standing more than 14m high above the seabed.

This new survey data is considered extremely important from the perspective of site protection as it is expected to add to conservationists’ knowledge and understanding of the wreck site on the seabed, its current condition, and how the site has changed or degraded over the years.

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, said of the new images: “It is fitting that these images are being seen in the centenary year of the sinking of the Lusitania. The imagery will provide important information on how the shipwreck has changed over the last 100 years.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic