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HLNMS Snellius Encounters Undiscovered Wreck Off the Saba Bank

Last June HLNMS Snellius, a Dutch hydrographic survey vessel in service of the Royal Dutch Marines, visited the island of Curacao at the end of her three month’s mission in the Caribbean, surveying and mapping the ocean floor around the Netherlands Antilles, SSS (St. Maarten, Saba and Statia), and the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao). Doing her job on the Saba Bank the Snellius discovered an untouched wreck of a freighter at a depth of 130 feet.

“That was a rare and unforeseen occurrence and a great surprise for our crew” says Diederick van der Plas, commander of the vessel.

“Most of the time wrecks at this depth are soon discovered by souvenir hunting divers and immediately robbed from all objects of value. In this case, the hunting habits of sharks in the well-stocked shallow waters of the enormous seabed with extensive coral reefs might be the cause of the pristine condition of the wreck.

“The unknown freighter is standing upright on the floor of the Saba Bank with her two 75 feet masts and an antenna straight up to the surface. That’s why we discovered the wreck initially. One of our sensors, worth more than $100,000 US, got stuck behind one of the masts during the last track we made to obtain a better picture of the contours of the wreck. Unfortunately the line broke, and the sensor would be lost if we wouldn’t take action. First we marked the spot with a buoy to gather information from local authorities and professional divers. The fact that our marines are not allowed to dive in deeper water than 50 feet without having a decomp tank on board, was an additional problem. The ever-present sharks too.

“The next morning we luckily discovered a bright yellow spot of the sensor in the cleared-up water and more fortunately it turned out to be in a fraction less than the critical depth of 50 feet. Just a few moments later the sensor was back were it belonged. The sharks obviously were still digesting yesterday’s meal. The only thing we could do was bring notice of the dangerous situation and advise the authorities to mark the spot and take action to prevent any collision with passing ships in the future.”

One can read the disappointment on the commander’s face while he is speaking these words. The question remains what happened to the compasses and other desirable stuff on board.

“I had to leave my crew with the lame feeling that the wreck is still untouched. We have to keep to the hard and fast rule, so our divers have to be satisfied with the clear and detailed sound image, provided by our sophisticated SSS (Side Scan Sonar)” concluded van der Plas.

Divers, who are not afraid of sharks, can try their luck. The wreck is indicated by the crew in red on the chart, shown on the photo. (“Nieuw Wrak”)

The Snellius returned to her home base in Den Helder (Holland) on July 3rd with a wealth of data and material from which the Dutch Hydrographic Service in The Hague compiles and publishes charts, books, pilots, atlases and the Netherlands Notices to Mariners.

During her stay in the Caribbean the ship also participated in the large military exercise Joint Caribbean Lion 2006, for which she carried out beach surveys in favor of the landing crafts and troupes.

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