Deepest ROV dives Capture 3 Midway Carrier Wrecks
Although the Battle of Midway in the North Pacific altered the trajectory of World War Two, it also resulted in the sinking of five aircraft carriers—four Japanese and one American—to enormous depths. Three of those vessels have already been photographed in their last resting sites by a US team.
A month-long NOAA-funded mission dubbed Ala ‘Aumoana Kai Uli to the remote north-western region of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM) area included several days of ROV dives to the wrecks at depths over 5 km.
This is the largest protected area in the USA and one of the largest in the world, located roughly 1,400 miles north-west of Hawaii. Under the leadership of renowned US wreck-researcher Robert Ballard, the expedition made use of the 68-meter exploration ship Nautilus, which is owned by the Ocean Exploration Trust (OCT).
The Imperial Japanese Navy carriers IJN Akagi and IJN Kaga, both of which participated in the 1941 assault on Pearl Harbor that propelled the United States into World War II, as well as the American carrier USS Yorktown, were thoroughly explored by the OCT and NOAA Ocean Exploration.
As reported, the ROV Atalanta dove first to the Akagi, which had been discovered during a mapping mission four years before.
The US Vulcan team’s ROV was severely damaged in 2019 when exploring the Kaga at a depth of 5.4 km, preventing them from taking pictures of Akagi when they later discovered it at a same depth.
The OCT/NOAA team conducted three “non-invasive” ROV visual inspections over the course of 14 hours between September 8 and September 12 on Akagi, a converted battle-cruiser aboard which 267 men had perished by the time the seriously damaged ship was destroyed.
They also conducted the first thorough examinations of the Kaga, a carrier that had been converted from a battleship and had 811 deaths at Midway, the most of any carrier. The structural damage caused by warfare and seabed impact was the survey’s main focus.
The USS Yorktown was discovered in 1998 during an expedition conducted by Ballard that was a collaboration between the US Navy and National Geographic. The carrier’s CV-5 identification was discernible to the researchers; 141 people on board had perished when it sunk after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.
The 1,000 or more dives that ROVs launched from Nautilus have been done, and the three dives were the deepest thus far. More than 100 marine archaeologists from the USA, Japan, and other countries were able to assist in guiding the expedition and provide “valuable real-time interpretations throughout the surveys” since they were livestreamed on Nautilus Live.
“During over 43 hours at depth, we methodically circumnavigated these historic wrecks, bringing to light many features in great detail, including their armament, battle- and sinking-related damage,” said OCT chief scientist Daniel Wagner. “Many anti-aircraft guns were still pointing up, providing clues about the final moments on these iconic ships.
“The vast majority of our ocean lies in very deep waters that we know virtually nothing about. These deep-sea explorations highlight how many extraordinary things are still hidden and waiting to be found in the great depths of our ocean.”
Each dive started and finished with a ceremony to remember the site and all those who perished in a manner that honored their importance to the Knaka ‘Oiwi (Native Hawaiian), Japanese, and US military families and communities.
On this occasion, we meet on those same Pacific waters in which Japan and the US once met in battle, but this time as allies and fellow researchers,” said Japanese minister Kosei Nomura.
“We are reminded that today’s peace and tomorrow’s discoveries are built on the sacrifices of war, and so in my view, it is meaningful that Japan and the US are now deepening their co-operation at Midway, utilising such cutting-edge technology.”
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