NOAA to visit two sunk WWII ships off North Carolina

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners are set to visit remains of two World War II ships sunk off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  

On July 15, 1942. German U-boat U-576 sank the Nicaraguan-flagged freighter SS Bluefields. Victory came at a steep price for the German submarine as U.S. Navy air cover bombed the sub while the merchant ship Unicoi, part of the Bluefield’s merchant ship convoy, attacked it with its deck gun.

NOAA discovered the two vessels in 2014, 35 miles offshore and approximately 700 feet underwater just 240 yards apart. Archaeologists aboard NOAA research vessel SRVX Sand Tiger located the ships during an autonomous underwater vehicle survey using a sophisticated high resolution sonar. Last year, both ships were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Using manned submersibles, the researchers will collect data to visualize and virtually recreate an underwater battlefield that has remained undisturbed for 74 years. Project Baseline, a global conservation non-profit, is supplying the GlobalSubDive assets including the research vessel Baseline Explorer, and two manned submersibles.

Underwater robots and advanced remote sensing technology, provided by 2G Robotics and SRI International, will generate bathymetric data and detailed acoustical models of the wrecks and surrounding seafloor. University of North Carolina’s Coastal Studies Instituteoffsite link will provide three-dimensional modeling of the wrecks.

“This discovery is the only known location in U.S. waters that contains archaeologically preserved remains of a convoy battle where both sides are so close together,” said Joe Hoyt, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary archaeologist and chief scientist for the expedition. “By studying this site for the first time, we hope to learn more about the battle, as well as the natural habitats surrounding the shipwrecks.”

The expedition, which runs through September 6, builds on previous work by NOAA and its partners to document nationally significant shipwrecks in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” off North Carolina’s Outer Banks. During the expedition, NOAA will also visit several other World War I, World War II and Civil War vessels including the USS Monitor.