Hi-tech hunt for Scotland’s shipwrecks reaps rewards

A 3D sonar image of a German wreck off Scapa Flow


By Alison Campsie - Scotsman


Scotland’s often treacherous coastline is littered with 1,800 known wrecks stretching from the Shetland Islands to the Solway Firth.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) has charted and mapped nearly 18,000 maritime losses in Scottish from the 17th century to the present day.

Now, maritime explorers such as Patrick Crawford, 32, of Utility ROV Services in Glenrothes, Fife, say telecommunications industry technology is being used for shipwreck exploration to great effect. Devices such as fibre optic ropes, acoustic cameras and underwater robots that can travel thousands of miles are transforming deep sea finds.

Patrick has worked on several deep sea wrecks with his parents – veteran shipwreck salvagers Moya and Alexander Crawford. They include passenger liner the SS Persia, which was torpedoed in the First World War and searched by the family near Crete in 2004. A haul of rubies, diamonds and Veuve Clicquot Champagne was made.

Patrick said: “Things have changed massively over the years and the amount of information that can be retrieved by the subsea guys is now phenomenal. “A lot of the kit is now being taken from the telecoms industry, such as fibreoptics which are allowing us to get to depths which we could never have achieved be before.”

Patrick has been able to gather information from as deep as 3,300m, using visual and acoustic cameras operated remotely from ships positioned above the potential salvage site.

He said: “When you get down to a certain level you get the dust kicking up from the sea bed and the visibility goes and you can’t see anything. “You would have to wait till that clears, but now with the acoustic cameras you can keep going.

They see the same way that a bat sees. It allows us to work in zero visibility. There are obviously air diving limits which mean you can only go so far.”


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Scotland RCAHMS maritime losses Patrick Crawford