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Submarine to dive on wreck of Andrea Doria

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 5/18/2016 By J.D. Capelouto

The Andrea Doria listed to starboard off Nantucket in 1956. © Phil Preston/Boston Globe/File The Andrea Doria listed to starboard off Nantucket in 1956. For 60 years, the SS Andrea Doria has sat 240 feet underwater off the southern coast of Nantucket. Divers have long taken missions into the depths some successfully salvaging items, some not so successful.

But no diver has been able to piece together a comprehensive picture of what is left of the ship.

That is what OceanGate — an Everett, Wash.-based company — hopes to accomplish in two weeks, when they will lead a manned submarine to explore the Andrea Doria shipwreck site. The expedition was announced Tuesday.

“The Andrea Doria is one of the most iconic shipwrecks in US waters,” OceanGate CEO and co-founder Stockton Rush said in an interview with the Globe.

The liner, which had set sail out of Italy, sank on July 26, 1956, after it collided with the MS Stockholm. Of the 1,700 people on board, 46 died.

Since then, the high-profile wreck has become an infamous — and often deadly — location for deep divers. It’s known as the “Mount Everest of Diving,” a location only the most experienced divers would even think about approaching.

Some remains of the 697-foot boat have collapsed, netting has created a hazardous web around the ship, and the sheer depth of the wreck leads to visibility and water pressure dangers.

Sixteen divers have died attempting to get closer to the wreckage, the most recent of which occurred just last summer. Tom Pritchard, a 64-year-old retired professor with years of diving experience, never returned from the waters following a mission.

Starting June 2 and going until June 9, OceanGate will go on two three-hour missions each day in the submersible vessel Cyclops I to explore the wreck. The submarine will be equipped with a crew of three or four explorers, researchers, and technicians each dive.

Inside the vessel, the crew will have about as much space as you would in your average Toyota Camry.

OceanGate is not invested in salvaging items, though, unlike Peter Gimbel, who famously led the recovery of a first-class bank safe from the wreckage in 1981. (It was filled with thousands of bills from several different countries.)

Instead, OceanGate is more interested in the visuals of the wreck, Rush said. The Cyclops is equipped with sonar imaging technology that will “allow us to create a very accurate digital map of the wreck,” he said.

OceanGate hopes to return to the wreck site next year, and eventually develop a year-to-year legend for what the Andrea Doria looks like.

This, Rush said, will allow scientists to learn more about the way this type of hardware decays underwater. The Andrea Doria is decaying rapidly, Rush said, and findings from this and other Cyclops trips could impact World War II shipwreck investigations around the world.

OceanGate contacted Boston Harbor Cruises for help with the expedition. In addition to the popular tourism aspects of the company, Boston Harbor Cruises owns 10 boats that make up the Division of Offshore Logistics, according to Principal and General Manager Alison Nolan.

In this case, the large boats will provide a “steady on-site platform,” giving the OceanGate crew members a place to work and rest while not among the ruins of the Andrea Doria, Nolan said.

“These off-shore support vessels are relatively large, about 150 feet long,” Nolan said, “and they sleep 20 the way they’re currently configured.”

Due to the armored nature of the Cyclops and its technological advantages, Rush said the team does not expect to run into as many hiccups as divers usually do.

The shipwreck is littered with netting, debris, and aquatic animals, but Rush said the sonar imaging will allow teams to see obstacles before hitting them.

The main concern, he said, is storms and other strong weather that could affect waters during the deep dives.

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