The sound of history

By June 7th, 2018

By: Thomas Coad

During today’s surveying, we came across a rather interesting series of pings in the bathymetric multibeam data. The sound waves that had been returned from the seafloor had arrived from the final resting place of the SS Cambridge, a vessel under war charter by the British Government during World War II.

With a length of 160m and a crew of 58 on board, the SS Cambridge was sunk on 7 November 1940, when it collided with a German mine, 3.7 nautical miles off Wilsons Promontory. The mine had been set by Nazi raider ship, the Pinguin, tasked with the mission of capturing and destroying as many allied ships as possible. The Bass Strait shipping lane and in particular, between the islands off Wilsons Promontory, were identified as an area of maximum destructive potential. The wreck of the SS Cambridge holds particular historical significance, as it was the first allied vessel to be lost in Australian waters in World War II.

Shipwrecks provide a distinctive and useful feature when engaging in bathymetric mapping as they allow for precise calibration of on board sonar instrumentation. Even if the position of a shipwreck is previously known, great attention to detail is given when surveying at high resolutions, particularly with respect to finer protruding features such as masts. This information can then be used to ensure adequate clearance for vessels passing overhead.

As we continue to survey the seafloor aboard RV Investigator, we do so with the understanding that every ping provides us with potential to gaze into the past, or perhaps, even take a peak into the future.