Military, Modern Day, News

WWII Wreck-Finding Research Ship Damaged, Multiple Injuries Reported

According to local reports, a Navy research vessel, R/V Petrel, appeared to tip about 45 degrees while in dry dock in the Imperial Dock in Leith, Edinburgh, on Wednesday. 

The Independent newspaper reported that 21 injured people were taken to the hospital. Meanwhile, another 12 received treatment at the dock and were released. 

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The History of R/V Petrel

The research vessel dislodged from the dry dock, as confirmed by a Scotland police spokesperson. Previously owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Petrel had been a part of the ocean discovery group Vulcan.

After Allen’s death in 2018, the ship remained in Vulcan’s ownership until 2020.

Dry Dock
In deep water. The RV Petrel listing in the dry dock in Edinburgh. 21 people were taken to hospital after the accident.

In June 2020, Robert Kraft, Subsea Director, announced that R/V Petrel would be placed into long-term moorage due to pandemic-related operational challenges. He expressed hope that Petrel would eventually return to service. Its job was to continue to discover, educate, and honour the heroes of WWII. Kraft also expressed pride in the successful Petrel missions that provided closure to families and friends of WWII heroes. 

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Subsequently, Allen’s estate began liquidating the oceanographic assets from Vulcan, and Petrel was laid up in Scotland. In September, the Royal Navy purchased the ship for $12.4 million – a price significantly below the market value.

R/V Petrel’s Campaigns

Petrel, which was owned by Paul Allen and later by Vulcan, was involved in various research missions to locate sunken ships and aircraft. The ship was part of a team that discovered the legendary wreckage of some of the most notable vessels.

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These finds include the first Japanese ship sunk by the U.S. during WWII and the USS Johnson, and the USS Wasp. 

RV Petrel
The R/V Petrel where it should be. It was designed to actively find wrecks. Not become one!

USS Johnston is the world’s deepest shipwreck, lying at a depth of 6,468.6 m (21,222 ft)!

However, its most famous discovery was the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis in 2017, one of the last U.S. ships to be sunk in the war. At the time of reporting, Naval Sea Systems Command had not provided a comment.

Other Instances of Navy Research Vessel Incidents

One notable incident occurred in 2018 when the Argentine Navy research submarine ARA San Juan went missing in the South Atlantic Ocean. At that time, the ship had 44 crew members on board. The vessel was later found at a depth of 800 meters, and all crew members were confirmed dead.

USS Indianapolis
The wreck of the U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis was discovered by the RV Petrel.

In 2019, the French research vessel Pourquoi Pas collided with a fishing trawler off the coast of Brittany, France. As a result, the trawler sank, killing three crew members on board.

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Also in 2019, the Russian Navy research submersible Losharik caught fire while conducting research in the Arctic Ocean, resulting in the deaths of 14 crew members.