The hunt for the world’s most elusive shipwrecks continues today as divers work by touch in an international effort to uncover the wrecks of a number of historical ships in the Indian Ocean
“This isn’t a normal search in anything but a shipwreck environment,” said James Ewald, chief of the U.S. Navy’s Undersea Warfare Center who is leading the mission as a technical adviser for the Underwater Archaeology and Conservation Alliance (UCAN).
During nine days of diving in the Indian Ocean in August and September, divers from Britain, Australia and Japan have been using the UCAN multiuse autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and the Navy’s Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) from Japan to help them find the ships.
During dives in the area that includes the wrecks of two ancient Spanish galleons, Ewald said, “I’m amazed at how well we are doing with the autonomous underwater vehicle. We are finding the wrecks, we are finding the wrecks. It’s wonderful.”
The UCAN is a modified ROV that carries sensors and a camera for the purpose of searching for underwater artifacts but can also be used to map the ocean floor. It was developed at the Navy and used in a number of previous missions.
The AUV “takes on the capabilities of a manned submarine and provides better environmental data on the ocean floor,” said Peter Young, UCAN’s CEO. The AUV “captures the best picture, the best video, is very fast, it’s very low cost and it’s very much like a manned submarine,” he said.
But it’s not that simple, according to the UCAN.
“The AUV is very much like a manned submarine [because] there is a lot of effort put into getting the UCAV up to speed,” Young said. “The AUV needs to be trained and qualified over a period of time because we have to have the UCAV do the work of getting it up to speed. We have to do a lot of testing and calibration.”