The Ship That Tried to Warn the Titanic Has Been Found

Scientists discovered the S.S. Mesaba in the Irish Sea—with the help of multibeam sonar

The Mesaba
The S.S. Mesaba Courtesy of State Library of Queensland / Bangor University

On April 15, 1912, the crew aboard the S.S. Mesaba tried to warn the R.M.S. Titanic about dangerous icebergs floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic received the precautionary message, but it never reached the bridge. The rest is history: Later that night, the supposedly unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, becoming one of the most well-known shipwrecks of all time.

The Mesaba, meanwhile, continued its service as a British merchant steamship for the next six years, until a German submarine blasted it with a torpedo in 1918, killing 20 people on board.

While scientists have had hunches, they didn’t know exactly where the Mesaba sank—until now. Researchers at Bournemouth University and Bangor University in the United Kingdom say they’ve finally discovered the wreck of the Mesaba at the bottom of the Irish Sea, they announced in a statement this week. One of the scientists involved, Innes McCartney, is also the author of Echoes From the Deep, a new book about the process of finding the Mesaba and other wrecks.

Scan of Mesaba
The multibeam sonar scan of the S.S. Mesaba Courtesy of Bangor University

To locate the vessel’s remnants, scientists turned to multibeam sonar, an innovative technology that can map the seafloor using sound waves. While aboard the Prince Madog, a research vessel built in 2001, the scientists used multibeam sonar to identify and scan 273 shipwrecks—including cargo ships, submarines, ocean liners, tanks, trawlers and other vessels—spread across 7,500 square miles of the Irish Sea. Then, they cross-referenced their finds with information from the U.K. Hydrographic Office’s database of wrecks and other sources.

The researchers say multibeam sonar is an efficient, low-cost tool for imaging shipwrecks and should be of “key interest to marine scientists, environmental agencies, hydrographers, heritage managers, maritime archaeologists and historians,” per the statement.

“A lot of these wrecks are in deep water,” Michael Roberts, a maritime geoscientist at Bangor University, tells CNN’s Amarachi Orie and Christian Edwards. “There’s no light down there, so you cannot see much at all.”

Multibeam sonar, on the other hand, is “a way of really effectively visualizing, using sound, to see something you cannot see with the naked eye—like an ultrasound during pregnancy,” he adds.

The Titanic
The Titanic on her maiden voyage Photo by Bettmann / Getty Images

Built in Belfast beginning in 1909, the Titanic was the most luxurious ship of its time. When it began its maiden voyage from England to New York City in April 1912, the ship was transporting passengers from a range of backgrounds, from poor immigrants to wealthy elites.

The vessel collided with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland and sank in less than three hours. All told, some 1,500 passengers and crew members died. 

The Titanic’s short life and tragic end quickly captured the imagination of the public and became the subject of many poems, books, documentaries and movies. In 1985, a crew of oceanographers found the remains of the Titanic and captured the first underwater images of the ocean liner, further reigniting interest in the then-73-year-old wreck. Since then, more photos and videos have emerged, including 8K-resolution footage released earlier this year.

“[T]he Titanic is the first great disaster of the electronic age,” wrote Rick Archbold for the New York Times in 1999. “And still the greatest.”

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