Divers ready to return to Monitor

Goals include mapping site, recovering artifacts off Cape Hatteras

April 01, 2001|By ASCRIBE NEWS SERVICE

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Teams of divers, led by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington's National Undersea Research Center, will soon begin the final stages of retrieving major portions of the wreck of the USS Monitor for permanent display in a safer home ashore.

Soon after its battle with the Confederate ironclad, CSS Virginia, the Union ironclad Monitor sank in stormy seas 16 miles off Cape Hatteras, N.C., in 1862.

In the 1970s, the wreck site became the nation's first National Marine Sanctuary. Now, time and the sea are taking the Monitor apart.

The goals of the 2001 operation are to map and recover small artifacts in and around the wreck, recover the ironclad's engine, and begin preparations for future recovery of the gun turret.

The Navy will carry out the heavy lifting. The other tasks, which go on before and after the Navy's work, will be carried out by divers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, East Carolina University, the Cambrian Foundation, and the Mariner's Museum, site of the USS Monitor exhibit.

During the spring phase of this year's operations divers will make observations and measurements needed by Navy engineers and salvors to carry out the engine recovery. During Phase II in June and July, the Navy will place a barge over the wreck and recover the engine. The final stage will take place from July to September, and will prepare for the turret recovery next year.

Advanced diving technology, including use of special breathing gas mixtures and equipment, is required for divers to safely reach the wreck, which is 240 feet beneath the surface.

"Led by UNCW's undersea research center, the Sanctuary will be able to carry out the advanced diving activities that remain be done outside the Navy's heavy lift operation," said Doug Keslino, the expedition diving safety officer for UNCW's National Undersea Research Center and dive supervisor for the non-Navy diving operations.

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