Experts say they have discovered a German World War II U-boat in the Atlantic Ocean off the Azores.
The wreck of U-581 was found at a depth of 2,953 feet near the south coast of Pico island by a submersible operated by the Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation. The sub sank in 1942 after it was attacked by the British destroyer HMS Westcott.
A non-profit organization devoted to marine science, the Rebikoff-Niggeler Foundation announced the discovery on Feb. 3 and released stunning images of the coral-encrusted sub. Experts verified the sub’s location on Sep. 13 2016 after a search of several months, it said.
The Foundation’s LULA1000 submersible was operated by Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen. “The moment of discovery was very emotional,” said Kirsten Jakobsen, in a statement. “A beautiful coral grows out of the gun. The wreck site is somewhat creepy but beautiful at the same time. It lies on the base of a steep slope which is a coral garden.”
Joachim Jakobsen explained that remote acoustic technologies were used for scanning a search area spanning 32 nautical square miles. Between March and September, the team produced 3D charts of the search area, and then harnessed sonar to create high-resolution acoustic images of much of the search area.
“The final discovery was made by looking out of the large Acrylite viewport of our research submersible LULA1000,” said Joachim Jakobsen, in the statement, noting that luck played a part in the discovery. “We had been following a deepsea fish for filming on this dive. We followed that fish from 800m to 870m of depth. Suddenly, we noticed a long cigarshaped echo on the onboard sonar of our submersible. We approached and finally had a breathtaking view to the cannon and the tower of U-581.”
U-581 sank on the morning of Feb. 2, 1942. After HMS Westcott caused severe damage to the sub with depth charges, U-581’s commander gave the order to abandon and sink the sub, with all but four of its 46 crew surviving the attack. One of the sub’s officers, Walter Sitek, swam four miles to reach Pico Island, and eventually made his way back to Germany. The remaining 41 crewmembers were rescued and became prisoners of war.
Gizmodo notes that the U-581 is the same type of Nazi sub depicted in the 1981 German war film “Das Boot” and Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
The wreck is described as a valuable site for the study of cold-water corals, which are considered vulnerable ecosystems. The Foundation says that relatively little is known about the growth rate of cold-water corals although some can live for hundreds or even thousands of years.