Had the Titanic’s captain heeded an iceberg warning from the Mesaba, a merchant steamship in the vicinity, the luxury liner might have safely completed her maiden voyage of 1912. As it was, the radio message was acknowledged but failed to reach Titanic’s bridge, leading two hours later to the tragedy that cost 1,500 lives.
Mesaba was torpedoed six years later in the Irish Sea towards the end of WW1, but only now has the 96m-deep wreck been positively identified and its position confirmed. It is one of 129 new Irish Sea sites featured in shipwreck expert Dr Innes McCartney’s Echoes from the Deep, a new book that is also available to read free online.
The 146m Mesaba had previously been confused on charts with another wreck from the same convoy, the City of Glasgow. Mesaba was torpedoed by the U-boat UB118 on 1 September and sank in nine minutes with the loss of 20 lives, to be recorded as the Irish Sea’s second-largest wreck.
Dr McCartney, a research fellow at Bangor University, collaborated with the team conducting multibeam echo-sounding surveys from the university’s vessel Prince Madog to map a 7,500sq mile area of the Irish Sea. In the process they recorded 273 shipwrecks.
Their aim was to establish how many wrecks in a given geographic region could be identified by producing high-quality 3D models to compare with shipping-loss records. The wrecks were cross-referenced against the UK Hydrographic Office’s database and other sources, studying dimensions, geographic position and archival descriptions of each sinking.
It had been thought that 101 of the 273 wrecks were unidentified, but the number of newly identified wrecks turned out to be far higher than that because many, including Mesaba, had been wrongly identified in the past.
‘Game-changer for marine archaeology’
In all 87% of the ships in the study are now reported to have been positively identified, ranging from trawlers, cargo vessels and submarines to ocean liners and tankers. Rare ship designs, losses of national importance and naval graves are included in the discoveries recorded in the book, with the presence of several of the wrecks said to raise potential environmental concerns.
“The expertise and unique resources we have at Bangor University, such as the Prince Madog, enable us to deliver high-quality scientific research in an extremely cost-effective manner,” said Dr Michael Roberts from the School of Ocean Sciences, who led the sonar surveys.
“Identifying shipwrecks such as those documented in the publication for historical research and environmental impact studies is just one example of this.
“We have also been examining these wreck-sites to better understand how objects on the seabed interact with physical and biological processes, which in turn can help scientists support the development and growth of the marine-energy sector.”
“The results of the work described in the book have validated the multi-disciplinary technique employed and it is a ‘game-changer’ for marine archaeology,” said Dr McCartney. “Previously we would be able to dive to a few sites a year to visually identify wrecks.
“The Prince Madog’s unique sonar capabilities have enabled us to develop a relatively low-cost means of examining the wrecks. We can connect this back to the historical information without costly physical interaction with each site.
“It should be of key interest to marine scientists, environmental agencies, hydrographers, heritage managers, maritime archaeologists and historians.” Not to mention scuba divers.
As a technical diver, Innes McCartney has a long record of finding and identifying shipwrecks, particularly submarines. His work on Echoes of the Deep began under a Leverhulme Fellowship while working at Bournemouth University, and news stories from the project have emerged in recent years.
In May 2020 it was announced that the 90m-deep wreck of the landing craft LCT 326 had been found off Bardsey Island as part of the Bangor University surveys, more than 100 nautical miles from its supposed loss position, as reported at the time on Divernet.
And in September 2021 as part of the same project the minesweeper HMS Mercury, sunk in 1940, was also found.
The 258pp hardback version of Echoes Of The Deep costs 175 euros, the paperback 60 euros and the eBook 15 euros.
Also on Divernet: New Take For the Centenary, The Black Panther Lives On, Last British Jutland Casualty Located