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Lost U-Boat found off in Gulf of Mexico

Jan 1, 2003

The location of a sunken World War II German submarine hasbeen discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. However, it was not found by archeologists, but by an oil industry survey team.

BP and Shell discovered the wreckage of U-166, the only submarine known to have sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during the war, while the companies were surveying a planned underwater pipeline route.

The discovery was made with a one of a kind, unmanned remotely controlled submarine, or autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), operating in waters almost a mile deep. The vessel, Hugin-3000, was developed and is operated by C & C Technologies Inc. of Lafayette, La. The AUV uses sonar and other equipment to provide detailed images of the sea bottom needed to determine optimum pipeline routes.

BP and Shell found U-166 in May 2001 but did not announce the discovery until June 8. Before announcing the find, the companies funded a video investigation using a remotely operated vehicle to capture detailed images of the wreckage, which archeologists will use to document the discovery of the submarine.

U-166 was found in approximately 5,000 feet of water, 45 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River, near the wreckage of its last victim, the previously located 375-foot passenger/freighter Robert E. Lee. U-166 torpedoed the vessel on July 30, 1942. The tugboat Underwriter and two Navy vessels, PC-566 and SC-519, rescued most of the passengers and crew from Robert E. Lee, but 15 crew members and 10 passengers were killed.

Now that the location of U-166 has been confirmed, the discovery that the sub is lying in a six-foot deep impact crater with 50 feet of its bow blown away from the rest of the submarine is leading historians to rethink the history of the German vessel. Since 1942, a U.S. Coast Guard patrol plane was thought to have sunk U-166 with depth charges two days after and 120 miles away from the Robert E. Lee attack. The evidence now suggests that U-166 was actually sunk by the patrol vessel PC-566, which was escorting Robert E. Lee at the time of the attack. When U-166 torpedoed Robert E. Lee, PC-566 attacked dropping six depth charges, apparently delivering the fatal blow to U-166 and its 52-man crew.

The BP and Shell crew discovered U-166 during survey work associated with the Okeanos Gas Pipeline, a joint project that will transport natural gas to shore from the Na Kika and Crazy Horse ultra-deepwater fields currently under development. BP and Shell notified the Minerals Management Service of the find and elected to re-route the Okeanos pipeline farther away from the site.

BP and Shell are continuing to work with the U.S. and German governments to provide information about U-166.


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