The secrets of the cruel mistress
Underwater robotics technology has been shedding new light on two shipwrecks off the Donegal coast. “The Northern approaches off the Donegal coast represented a bottleneck for convoys in a major shipping route in the second World War across the North Atlantic,” says Dr Daniel Toal from the Marine Robotics Research Centre at the University of Limerick. “Significant tonnage in shipping was attacked and sunk in this wartime gauntlet and there are a large numbers of wrecks.”He and his team built the smart robotic system used in the survey, ROV Latis, and technical diver Dr Ger Dooly helped to plan the expedition.
In September, the ROV checked out the wrecks of the S S Empire Heritage, sunk in 1944, which lies 70 metres under the surface and 15 miles north-west of Malin Head, and the passenger liner S S Empress of Britain, sunk in 1940 and now lying at a depth of 160 metres, 40 miles northwest of Bloody Foreland.
Despite the challenging weather conditions and wave heights of up to four metres, the Marine Institute-supported survey gathered camera and sonar images of the SS Empire Heritage site. They showed the cargo of Sherman tanks, which were originally destined to fight in the second Word War but are now scattered across the seafloor, according to Dr Toal. The survey also showed that the SS Empress of Britain lies on her side and is broken along her keel.
The UL team is now focusing on developing underwater robotics technology to support the renewable ocean energy sector.