Britannic 99 Overview

Britannic 99 20-30 August

Project Overview

On August 20, 1999 Global Underwater Explorers will initiate the most complete and well-documented effort ever attempted to explore the mysterious circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Britannic - the world's largest shipwreck.

Project Goals

  1. Exploration / Documentation - Record-setting experience in deep exploration, coupled with advanced Halcyon rebreather technology will provide divers with nearly unlimited gas supply and the ability to explore distant sections of the Britannic. State of the art still and three-chip digital video images will be recorded on all dives in and around the wreck site.
  2. Survey - Extended exploration of the Britannic will allow detailed structural surveys and help to illuminate the circumstances that contributed to the sinking of both the Titanic and the Britannic by identifying the cause of the explosion and possible structural defects. Diver propulsion vehicles and side scan sonar will be used to survey the area around the ship to locate the debris field and possible evidence that will help to determine the cause of the explosion.
  3. Analysis - Metal fragments will be collected from the location of the hull breach and analyzed to determine whether structural defects and / or metal fatigue contributed to the sinking.

Project Qualifications

Global Underwater Explorers is uniquely positioned to conduct the most successful exploration and documentation of the Britannic wreck site.

GUE project members include an internationally renowned team of diving explorers who have attained several world records through remarkable excursions into deep environments while collecting survey and scientific data. Furthermore, significant filming experience will allow the team to document this unprecedented exploration of the wreckage for international media.

Historical Perspective

Britannic LaunchingNearly 100 years after the sinking of the world's most luxurious liner, the Titanic continues to captivate public sentiment. Yet the tragic mystery surrounding the sinking of the Titanic becomes even more remarkable when taken together with the fate of her larger and more enigmatic sister- the Britannic.

Weighing nearly 50 thousand tons and just over 900 feet long, Britannic in Dry Dockthe Britannic was approximately 20 feet longer than the Titanic. The ship was originally to be named the Gigantic. However, to avoid association with the unfortunate demise of the Titanic, the White Star Line changed her name to the more patriotic and appealing Britannic. Plans to outfit her with greater opulence than her infamous sibling were forsaken when wartime requisition dressed her as a hospital ship and forever altered her fate as a luxury liner.

The Mystery of the Britannic's Sinking

On November 21, 1916, just over four and one half years after the loss of the Titanic and a little over 18 months after the torpedoing of the Lusitania, the British hospital ship HMHS Britannic was sunk. On her sixth voyage as she passed the Greek island of Kea, an unexplained explosion sent her to the bottom of the Aegean Sea in a mere 55 minutes. Despite some allegations that a German U-boat had deliberately torpedoed her, the largest British passenger ship at that time almost certainly had struck a mine. Or had she?

Although only 30 of the more than 1,000 hospital staff and crewmembers were killed, the loss of the ship caused considerable concern. Many survivors stipulated that they had seen torpedo tracks prior to the explosion, lending credence to the belief that the Britannic had not hit a mine but had in fact been the victim of German aggression. Also, despite the numerous and costly improvements after the loss of the Titanic, the Britannic sank with amazing rapidity.

In 1975, underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau located the Britannic in 400 feet of water. Closer inspection the following year revealed the wreck to be lying on its starboard side with a large hole visible in the port side through to the seabed. Interestingly, the steel plate around this hole was bent outward, despite the fact that the mine had reportedly detonated to starboard, leading to speculation that a secondary explosion from an unknown cause had occurred. Controversy persists as to whether this hospital ship was secretly carrying munitions or whether she was the innocent victim of a secondary explosion from another source.

Only additional exploration of this gigantic wreck can determine whether a torpedo or a mine initiated her descent to the bottom of the Aegean Sea. And, only careful study can determine if, in fact, a second explosion hastened her sinking.

Diving Logistics

Britannic's twin screw propellersExtreme depth and occasionally fierce currents complicate safe access to the Britannic, requiring significant diving skill and detailed operations planning to complete a successful project. Global Underwater Explorers consists of some of the world's most accomplished divers well versed in a wide variety of extreme environments. Furthermore, each team of divers contains an accomplished photographer and/or videographer allowing for extensive project documentation.

Permitting Process

Obtaining diving access to the Britannic is a difficult and politically sensitive process. Global Underwater Explorers is one of only four organizations to be permitted access to the shipwreck. Because it is considered a war grave by the British government, diving is strictly regulated. Furthermore, access to the Britannic must be obtained from both the British owner and the Greek government as the ship lies in Greek territorial water.

Access to the wreck is granted no more than one time each year and is limited to only the most qualified organizations. Since its 1975 discovery, only three groups have been awarded permission to access the Britannic, all operating under a limited time window with very limited resources. Success of the project is promoted by the fact that Britannic '99 will be the first project conducted by an active exploration team accustomed to deep diving excursions.

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