New technology by a team of scientists at Ulster University has revealed “the most detailed images ever” of World War I shipwrecks in the Irish Sea.

The Irish Times reports that the researchers led by Dr Ruth Plets of the university’s School of Environmental Sciences set out to to capture the “highest resolution acoustic data possible” of the wrecks.

By using a new “multi-beam system” on board the Marine Institute’s Celtic Voyager research vessel, researchers were able to get the “best data ever acquired over these wrecks.”

“We were able to capture the most detailed images of the entirety of the wrecks ever,” said Dr Plets. “Some of the wrecks, which are too deep to be dived on, have not been seen in 100 years.

“So this is the first time we can examine what has happened to them, during sinking and in the intervening 100 years, and try to predict their future preservation state.”

Among those surveyed were the SS Chirripo, the SS Polwell, and the RMS Leinster.

The SS Chirripo, which was built in Belfast, sank in 1917 off Black Head, Co Antrim,  after it struck a UC-75 mine while outward-bound from Belfast. There were no casualties.

The SS Polwell was torpedoed in 1918 northeast of Lambay Island. The British steamer was on a trip from Troon, Scotland, to France with a cargo of coal on June 5th, 1918.

After a warning shot was fired across its bows by a German submarine as it approached the Irish coast, the crew abandoned ship and took to two lifeboats. 

The submarine fired a single shot at the Polwell – hitting it amidships and sinking it. The crew of 30 landed at Rockabill lighthouse off Skerries an hour later.

The RMS Leinster sank in 1918 after being torpedoed off Howth Head. More than 500 people died in what was the single greatest loss of life in the Irish Sea, the Irish Times reports.

“We often forget the battles that were fought in our seas,” said Dr Plets. 

“More emphasis is put on the battles that went on in the trenches.

“However, at least 2,000 Irishmen lost their lives at sea, but unlike on land, there is no tangible monument or place to commemorate because of the location on the bottom of the sea.”

Dr Plets, describing how the research was conducted, said the team “moved away from traditional survey strategies”.

“We slowed the vessel right down to allow us to get many more data points over the wreck, with millions of sounding per wreck,” she said.

“The detail is amazing. We can see things such as handrails, masts, the hawse pipe (where the anchor was stored) and hatches.

“Some of the vessels have split into sections, and we can even see details of the internal structure. With the visibility conditions in the Irish Sea, no diver or underwater camera could ever get such a great overview of these wrecks.”

The scientists collected samples from the wrecks to analyze the potential impact on the seabed ecology and to determine if the wrecks cause a concern for pollution.

The research project coincides with World War I centenary commemorations.

Image of the SS Chirripo.Irish Times