Feds to probe German subs sunk off Carolina coast

NOAA will lead a research expedition July 7-26 to study the wrecks of three German submarines sunk by U.S. forces in 1942 off the coast of North Carolina during the Battle of the Atlantic.

“This expedition is the first part of a larger multi-year project to research and document a number of historically significant shipwrecks tragically lost during World War II, including U.S. and British naval vessels and merchant marine vessels,” said David W. Alberg, expedition leader and superintendent of USS Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. “The information collected during this expedition will be crucial to efforts to preserve these historic sites.”

During the expedition, researchers will survey and photograph visible sections of the three submarines, U-352, U-85 and U-701 using non-invasive methods. The survey team will also study marine life found at the sites. Consistent with U.S. and international policy, the submarine wreck sites are considered war graves and will not be disturbed during the expedition. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is conducting the survey in partnership with the Minerals Management Service, National Park Service, state of North Carolina, East Carolina University and the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute, who are all providing technical expertise and logistical support for the expedition.

The sunken German U-boats are located in an area known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” which encompasses shipwrecks from both sides of the Battle of the Atlantic at recreational diving depths (less than 130 feet). The wrecks are popular dive sites off the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Two of the U-boats, U-352 and U-85, have been severely impacted by salvage operators and souvenir hunters since their discovery more than three decades ago. U-701 is relatively intact but also has begun to show signs of damage from illegal salvage attempts. The sub was discovered by recreational divers in 1989 before being covered by sand and rediscovered in 2004.

Phase two of the project, scheduled for summer 2009, will investigate primarily the Allied wrecks in the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Some of the wrecks lie at recreational diving depths, while many are located in deeper waters where they remain untouched and in relatively good condition.

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