It happened July 25, 1956. In the thick fog off the coast of Nantucket, the Swedish cruise liner M.S. Stockholm struck the Italian liner Andrea Doria, sending the ship into the depths. For decades, the wreckage has been fodder for divers who dubbed it, “The Everest of Shipwrecks.” But now scientists are joining the crowd, Kristin Romey reports for National Geographic.
Last week, the company OceanGate sent a manned submersible down to map the wreck, using sonar to asses the condition of the rusting remains. The team wants to create a 3-D model of the 697-foot ship to help them understand how wrecks decay over time.
“Steel ships with aluminum superstructures, like the Andrea Doria and so many wrecks from World War II, are very common and potentially polluting,” OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush tells Romey. “There’s a lot about their decay processes that [is] not well understood.”
Since scientists captured the last images of the wreck two years ago, there have been drastic changes, Stockton tells Philip Marcelo at the Associated Press. A large section of the bow has crumbled and the entire superstructure collapsed.
“When [the Andrea Doria] first went down, it was pristine and you went straight into the hull and through the windows,” Stockton tells Trisha Thadani at The Boston Globe. “Now, it is harder to get inside and far more dangerous. Imagine it as a collapsing cave. Once the cave loses its basic structure, it deteriorates very quickly.”
The Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria met it's end on a 9-day voyage between Genoa and New York. The impact killed 46 of the 1,706 aboard the ship, which stayed afloat for 11 more hours after the crash—long enough for the coast guard to rescue the remaining passengers.
Since then, the ship has become popular with experienced wreck divers, but deterioration of the hull has made is more dangerous. Sixteen divers have perished visiting the Andrea Doria, most recently 64-year-old neuroscience professor Tom Pritchard.
Visiting the ship, which rests 250 feet below the surface, requires years of training. And divers use a special gas mixture that buys them a mere 20 minutes of exploration time, Nestor Ramos reports for The Boston Globe. So OceanGate turned to the relative safety of submersibles for the project. Their advanced five-person craft Cyclops I allows researchers to explore for hours. Still, the company abandoned its week-long mission after only two days when inclement weather struck.
The Andrea Doria and similar missions could help future space exploration, writes Romey. In fact, the co-pilot of Cyclops I was Scott Parazynski, veteran of five space missions and an Everest climber. Advances in submersible technology will eventually allow astronauts to explore watery worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa.