As a group of third year Ocean Mapping students from the Fisheries and Marine Institute loaded their gear aboard the MV Inquisitor in Holyrood last May, they had no idea what lay ahead on the ocean floor.

“When we’re mapping, we often come across rocks, boulders or other interesting things that we try to identify on the seafloor,” said Paul Brett, Head of the School of Ocean Technology at the Marine Institute. “But every now and then there is something that stands out, something that is out of place. It’s not a rock or boulder and you begin to think that perhaps it’s manmade.”

Chance Discovery

As part of their technical session, Ocean Mapping students spend time at sea using a side scan sonar – a technology that is towed behind a vessel and allows the students to collect imagery of the ocean floor and water column.

On this particular day, Ocean Mapping instructor Chris Keats was walking by the computer on deck and saw something out of the ordinary – something he thought might be a shipwreck.

“It doesn’t look like much to people who see it from our side scan images, but Chris noticed the right angles on the image,” continued Mr. Brett. “That’s when we decided to go back to the site with ROV technology to confirm what we were seeing.”

The Wreck

Two weeks later, with the assistance of MI’s ROV instructors and students, the team headed back to the discovery site. What they found was not a full wreck, but a boat that appeared to have burned to the water line and sunk to the ocean floor.

“What’s left of the vessel is the keel sitting on the seafloor, the bow section is almost all burnt away,” said Mr. Brett. “From the little information that we have gathered, the boat is a 35ft-40ft pleasure craft.”

The wreck was found off of Seal Cove in Conception Bay South at a depth of about 23 metres (60ft).

Though the current posed a challenge for the ROV, underwater video captured by the technology highlight the propeller, rudder turned hard over, small davits which are in the down position indicating a dinghy may have been launched as well as red bio-fouling paint.

Future Mapping

“It was exciting for the students to make this discovery,” said Mr. Brett. “Finding a shipwreck could possibly have historical significance and while it didn’t in this particular case, it really helps them understand the importance of their work and what they may encounter throughout their careers as ocean mappers.”

While the details surrounding this particular sunken vessel are still unknown, the discovery now has the team on a new mission.

“We know of a few other ships that have been lost in modern times and never found due to under tow and other factors,” said Mr. Brett. “Over the winter 2018, we are going to determine how we go in search of those.”

Ocean mappers delve deep into the ocean to examine the ocean surface, the water column and the wonders of the seabed. It’s exciting work involving marine surveying equipment, optical and acoustic remote sensing technologies, oceanographic instrumentation and geographic information systems

“What the team did was normal operations in the real world,” said Mr. Brett. “This was an expected find in the unexpected ocean.”