Ulster University (UU) has unveiled top quality images of shipwrecks including a vessel which sank in 1917 at the mouth of Belfast Lough after striking a German U-boat mine.
The SS Chirripo was an Armed Cargo Liner Wreck built by Workman Clark of Belfast and acquired by Elders & Fyffes in 1906, to be used in the banana trade between Jamaica and Avonmouth.
“While outward-bound from Belfast, she struck a mine left by UC-75 [a German U-boat] half a mile south east of Black Head lighthouse, and sank,” the website www.irishwrecksonline.net says. “All on board were rescued.”
It adds that it is suitable for experienced divers and sits at a charted depth of 28m.
A team of UU scientists led by Dr Ruth Plets from the School of Environmental Sciences used the Marine Institute’s Celtic Voyager to capture the highest resolution acoustic data possible of the Chirripo and other WWI wrecks of ships that were lost in the Irish Sea.
Some of the wrecks are too deep to be dived on and have not been seen in 100 years. Other shipwrecks surveyed included the SS Polwell, which was torpedoed in 1918 northeast of Lambay Island and the RMS Leinster, which sank in 1918 after being torpedoed off Howth Head when over 500 people lost their lives – the greatest single loss in the Irish Sea.
Explaining how the survey was carried out Dr Plets said: “We moved away from traditional survey strategies by slowing the vessel right down to allow us to get many more data points over the wreck, with millions of sounding per wreck.”
“The detail is amazing as we can see things such as handrails, masts, the hawse pipe (where the anchor was stored) and hatches. Some of the vessels have split into sections, and we can even see details of the internal structure. With the visibility conditions in the Irish Sea, no diver or underwater camera could ever get such a great overview of these wrecks.”
The project is carried out to coincide with WWI centenary commemorations, she said.
“We often forget the battles that were fought in our seas; more emphasis is put on the battles that went on in the trenches.
“However, at least 2,000 Irishmen lost their lives at sea, but unlike on land, there is no tangible monument or place to commemorate because of the location on the bottom of the sea,” she said.