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In April 2004, 40 miles off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan, ProMare, in partnership with Discovery Channel film-makers, located 24 World War II Japanese submarines.  The secret site was suspected to be the location of the subs, but remained unexplored, until this expedition. As part of a Discovery Channel documentary, Sen Toku: The Search for Japan’s Secret Subs, the site was documented and its existence verified. This find represented the single largest known underwater collection of WW II submarines, and the expedition marked the first major marine exploration undertaken in Japan.

The underwater expedition employed state-of-the-art ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), to descend 600 feet and record, for the first time on film, the I-58, responsible for one of the worst disasters in US naval history, when it sunk the USS Indianapolis on 30th July 1945.  The expedition also revealed the site to be the resting place of the I-402, or Sen Toku (Japanese for “Secret Sub”) as well as 22 other remarkable submarines, ranging in size from 45 to 122 meters. Brett Phaneuf, director ProMare made the discovery, accompanied by Bob Asplin of Kongsberg Simrad (Vancouver BC). Ian Herring of Parallax Films produced the documentary.

The largest submarine built during World War II (and remaining the world’s largest until the 1960s), the Sen Toku was an engineering marvel and the pinnacle of WWII underwater technology. Its enormous size and attack capability—it was also an underwater aircraft carrier—made it a threat to Japan’s enemies. But, the I-402 never fought a battle.

Ionian Sea


Dating to no later than the 4th century AD, this well preserved shipwreck was discovered buried in the silt of the Ionian sea floor while conducting a geological survey aboard the NR1, in the summer of 2001.

The shipwreck is located in about 990 meters/3250 ft of depth. Numerous artifacts were detected beneath the sea floor by sub-bottom profiler, and one of the ship’s anchors rests on the upper portion of the starboard hull, where it would have been stored while underway. Low frequency side-scan sonar, in conjunction with sub-bottom profiles revealed that a large intact portion of the ship may be preserved beneath the sediment.

2016-07-04T11:16:34+00:00Ionian Sea|0 Comments

Geophysical Studies


In cooperation with Dr. Will Schroeder (University of Alabama – Dauphin Island Sea Lab) and Dr. Roger Sassen (Texas A&M University, Geochemical Environmental Research Group), ProMare utilized the US Navy Nuclear Research Submarine, NR1, to explore sites of potential chemosythetic organism colonization and methane hydrate deposition for a period nearly one month during the summer of 2002.

Sites surveyed include petroleum lease-blocks VK826, VK862, VK907, MC029 and MC118 in water depths ranging from 400 to 700 meters. Significant colonies of deepwater, chemosynthetic corals, as well as relict carbonate lithotherms and methane hydrate deposits were located and studied.

“Western Empire” Shipwreck


In the early 1980s, during a geohazard survey, an oil company survey vessel came across an anomaly on the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico during a routine pipeline survey. Thinking that this might be a shipwreck, The company informed the Minerals Management Service (MMS). The “wreck” was added to the shipwreck database, created and utilized by the MMS for cultural heritage management purposes. That anomaly was inspected by the MMS in 1999 and an analysis of the video footage was compared to known shipwrecks in the area. Based on the historical search conducted at the time, the “Western Empire”, a Canadian ship built in 1862 and abandoned during a hurricane in September 18, 1875, was the only known wreck in the area, thus this site was identified as such. Historically-known length of the “Western Empire” matched the length of the archaeological find as determined by the sonar record.

In 2003, with the generous support of Deep Marine Technology, Inc. (Houston), TAMU/ProMare surveyed the wreck using an ROV and a manned submersible. The wreck is 1350ft (411.5m) deep, making its detailed documentation a technically challenging and costly project. Survey results revealed that the ship had double frames with minimal space between each frame set.

Preliminary research conducted by Josh Levin based on the video footage raised questions about the identification of the vessel as the “Western Empire.” Heavy style of construction is more often seen in wooden warships where hull strength was a necessary for both supporting the weight of cannon and providing protection from enemy attack. Another incongruity with the record of “Western Empire” in Lloyd’s Register is that the ship was registered as having last been sheathed in 1870 (LR 1874), but neither planking nor sheathing could be seen in the video. Finally, the absence of any visible cargo contradicted the identification of the site as the “Western Empire” that had a cargo of timber at the time it was abandoned.

In 2009, additional research conducted by Dr. Chris Horrell, from the MMA, discovered an additional document: in October 1875 a newspaper from Galveston, Texas, reported that a schooner captain saw the Western Empire in the Gulf: “mizzen mast standing, signal flag flying in mizzen rigging, fore and main masts lying alongside, both anchors hanging under her bow.” Following this thread, Dr Horrell was able to locate another newspaper from Pensacola, Florida, that reported (November 1875) that “the abandoned ship has been found, after making a voyage of more than five hundred miles without a hand at her helm…. caught in the reflux current… the masterless ship drifted with the influence of the gulf stream . . . swept through the straits of Florida and on toward the Atlantic until she was discovered 30 miles north of Jupiter inlet, swinging to an anchor.” Other documents located by Dr. Horrell established that the ship was salvaged in 1875 by Benjamin Baker, a wrecker near Key Largo, Florida.

Thus, while it certainly is not the Western Empire, the shipwreck studied in detail by Josh Levin is possibly a naval ship that may have been used as a merchant vessel at the time of its wrecking. The double framing is consistent with the mid-19th century construction techniques, and the wreck remains to be identified possibly after further data can be collected from the site. This wreck is now referred to as the BOEMRE Vessel ID No. 359, until further work is conducted for its identification. Bibliography below provides detailed information about the present state of research about this shipwreck.



[Article based on Chris Horrell’s paper “The British Merchant Ship Western Empire: A Lesson from the Archives,” presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference in York, England, in 2005, and under peer review for publication in Historic Archaeology.] Christopher Horrell, “The Hunt for the Real Western Empire,” in MMS Ocean Science, Volume 6 Issue 1 (January/February/March 2009) pp. 12-15.

2. Joshua Aaron Levin, “Western empire: The Deep Water Wreck of a Mid-Nineteenth Century Wooden Sailing Ship,” MA Thesis submitted to TAMU Nautical Archaeology Program. 2006.

Mica Shipwreck


In February 2001, an eight-inch gas pipeline was placed on the seafloor and passed directly through the midships section of a historic shipwreck tentatively dated between 1775 and 1830. Upon discovery, the shipwreck was immediately reported to the Mineral Management Service (MMS), the agency with jurisdiction over submerged archaeological resources discovered in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The shipwreck lies approximately eight hundred meters deep and is sitting upright on its keel with the remaining portion of the hull clad in copper sheathing.

After a preliminary study of the shipwreck conducted by ROV and funded by Exxon-Mobil, Inc., the MMS entered into a cooperative agreement with Texas A&M University (TAMU) to conduct an archaeological study of the wreck-site and the surrounding area. Through ProMare, TAMU requested the use of the United States Navy Nuclear Resarch Ssubmarine, NR1, and her support ship, SSV Carolyn Chouest, to conduct the study and to compile detailed side-scan sonar imagery and photo-mosaics of the site, and to recover a limited number of diagnostic artifacts, and to determine the origin and age of the ship.

Archaeological research revealed that the hull of the ship was constructed of Eastern White Pine that grows only along the eastern seaboard of the United States north of Virginia. Based on the presence of copper sheathing (to protect the hull from wood-boring marine organisms) and the general morphology of the ship, it most likely dates between the years 1800 and 1830. This small coastal merchant vessel (approximately twenty-five meters in length) was ubiquitous in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and throughout North American coastal waters. Ships of this type were the lifeblood of commerce and industry in the burgeoning United States. Archaeologists believe that this small merchant ship located on the main shipping route to and from New Orleans was either heading to or departing from that port when it came to grief.


“Mica shipwreck project: Deepwater archaeological investigation of a 19th century shipwreck in the Gulf of Mexico.” (2006) U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, New Orleans, LA. OCS Study MMS 2006-072. 116 pp. Authors: Atauz, A.D., W. Bryant, T. Jones, and B. Phaneuf.



Le Formiche shipwreck site—comprising the remains of a Roman merchantman—was surveyed and studied in the summer of 2009, near the island of Capraia in the Ligurian Sea. The underwater survey and excavation project was conducted by a joint team of archaeologists from ProMare and SBAToscana, Tuscany’s Underwater Archaeological Operative Unit (Nucleo Operativo Subacqueo). The vessel, which may have originated from a port on the central Italian coast facing the Tyrrhenian Sea was likely destined for southern France.

Artifacts that were recovered from the site included commercial storage containers (amphoras), black-glazed Campanian ceramics, and an oil lamp. No wooden remains of the ship’s hull were discovered, but artifacts that were parts of the vessel such as metal fasteners and nails (indicative of wood planking), the remains of an anchor, and roof tiles that were typically used to cover the roof of a ship’s galley, indicated the possibility of a deteriorated hull. Comparative dating of the diagnostic artifacts – based on the parallels identified for the amphoras, Campanian ceramics, and a preserved bronze coin – suggest a late second – early first century BC date for the site.

The fact that the artifacts were scattered in sand pockets inside and around a large posidonia growth seemed to indicate that parts of the site are obscured by this seagrass. A trench was excavated to test this hypothesis and several artifacts were recovered from beneath the roots.

Analysis of the archaeological data indicates that the assemblage represents the remains of a ship that was travelling a well-known route frequented by many similar vessels in this period. This conclusion is supported by comparisons between the artifacts found in the assemblage of Le Formiche Shipwreck and those discovered among the remains of several ships that carried amphoras and black-glazed Campanian ceramics from central Italy towards the sourthern France. Shipwreck assemblages that contain parallels with Le Formiche include those from Pegli, Albenga, Antibes, Dramont A, Cap Roux, Villepey, Anthéor, Bon Porte, Titan, Tiboulen, Cavalière, Spargi, Port Vendres and especially Grand Congloué II.



The island of Pianosa, part of Italy’s Tuscan archipelago, is located approximately 60 km east of the Italian mainland and 15 km south of Elba Island. Notable as the place the Emperor Augustus exiled his nephew Agrippa Posthumous in A.D. 6-7, the remote island was transformed to house this member of the imperial elite with a luxurious palace, thermal baths, a theater, and a fishpond built. The construction of a small harbor, of which some walls of possible Roman age have been found, appears to be contemporary with the Roman villa.

Between May 25th and June 5th, 2009, ProMare collaborated with Dr. Pamela Gambogi of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana, and with Dr. Kim McCoy of the NATO Undersea Research Center of La Spezia (NURC), to conduct an extensive AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) survey of the southern side of Pianosa Island. The use of AUVs, originally designed for the military and geophysical research, has proven highly effective when searching for submerged archaeological sites. The project was the second in a series of expeditions, beginning in 2008, that aimed to create a new and detailed map of all the archaeological material on the seafloor in proximity to the island. Pianosa, where a high-security penitentiary was active up until the late 1990s, is one of the few areas in Italy that has remained off-limits to divers, fishermen, and tourists for the past fifty years, and is thus an undisturbed area in which to conduct research and locate archaeological sites in a pristine state of preservation. A Remus 100 AUV, which NURC made available to the project, was used to map the seafloor with a side-scan-sonar up to a depth of 50 m, and the data was collected and geo-referenced using Site Recorder 4®, a geographic information system and mapping software.

In 2009, the team revisited a previously identified underwater site, located at a depth of 34 m, close to the rock called La Scola. There, approximately 100 amphoras of different types were spread across a vast expanse of the seafloor, instead of being concentrated in the typical “mound” formation that characterizes most shipwrecks. The vessel types identified fall within a broad chronological time frame, stretching from the first century B.C. to the third century A.D. It is possible that the site represents two or more wrecks, or a dump site, or an ancient anchorage situated immediately southwest from the small island port. Further research will be needed to understand in what circumstances this site was created.


Dolia Shipwreck: The Roman Shipwreck of Punta del Nasuto (Elba Island, Tuscany) (2008)

Elba, the largest island in the Tuscan archipelago, lies between the Tyrrhenian and Ligurian Seas, 20 kilometers off-shore from the town of Piombino, on the Italian mainland. In March 2008, the NATO Underwater Research Center (NURC) from La Spezia, Italy, dispatched to Elba an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) to investigate a previously sighted wreck of a Roman merchant ship (50 BC – AD 50) sunk nearly 300 meters off shore and 65 meters deep, with a cargo of dolia (storage containers). The AUV determined the maximum extent of the site and produced a site map, resulting in the first comprehensive image with all the dolia visible on the seafloor, as well as several buried ‘anomalies’ at either end of the site that may have been amphorae stored at the bow and the stern sections of the ship.

During the field season of September 2-11, 2008, a team consisting of scientists and technicians from the Soprintendenza peri Beni Archeologici della Toscana, the Interuniversity Center for Marine Environment from Politecnico delle Marche University (ISME), the non-profit organizations Explorer Team Chimera, the firefighters and mooring men of Piombino, and ProMare, returned to excavate a test trench through the site. The divers deployed a USBL (Ultra Short Base Line) positioning system to map the site, which was determined to be 7.5 m long and 4 m wide, that the mouth of one dolium is equal to 0.74 m in diameter (including the lip), and that all the dolia openings were oriented in the same North-Eastern direction and listing to one side, as the ship itself would have been immediately after coming to rest on the seafloor. Based on the dolia types found, the merchantman most likely dates to 50 BC-AD 50, the transitional phase between the Roman Republic and the Imperial periods, when ships carrying cargoes of wine travelled to Gaul.



The small island of Ventotene (less than 3 km long), is located 45 km off the Italian mainland in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The island became imperial property under Augustus and construction of a villa on the island was initiated shortly before Augustus’ daughter, Julia the Elder, was exiled there in the first century BC. After this, Ventotene became a popular destination for imperial exiles. Tiberius banished his grand-niece Agrippina the Elder (wife of Germanicus, mother of Caligula) in 29 AD; Julia Livilla, youngest daughter of Agrippina, was sent to the island, followed by (in 62 AD) Claudia Octavia, the first wife of Nero , who was subsequently executed there. Due to the social status of these upper-class inmates, the island underwent a major architectonic transformation: a large and elegantly decorated imperial villa was built on the northern promontory of “Punta Eolo,” a harbor was carved into the rock, a complex system of cisterns was designed to provide fresh water, and a monumental fishpond was built.

The fishpond, located on the northwest of the island at the extremity named Punta di Terra, was part of a large imperial maritime complex. Archaeological remains indicate an Augustan date for the initial construction. Carving saltwater pools into the rocks adjoining maritime villas and farming edible fish seems to have been a fashion among the Roman elite, promoting a taste for fresh saltwater fish.

In June 2008, ProMare sponsored the Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici del Lazio’s work in recovering the only remaining statue from Ventotene’s fishpond. The statue represents a Roman magistrate wearing a toga with the box containing the law scrolls to his right, carved from a single block of white marble (1.60 m tall and 0.70 m wide). The back of the statue is flat and purposely left unfinished, suggesting that it was originally placed against a wall, and might have fallen from one of the terraced upper rooms of the villa. The subject depicted might have been ideologically linked with the function of the villa as a place of political exile. Stylistically, it dates between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D. The artifact is currently being conserved at the local archaeological museum.

Lake Garda – The Search for Fallen Heroes

The Search for Fallen Heroes (2004)

In 2004 ProMare lead an expedition to Lake Garda, Italy to locate the remains of 24 US Servicemen lost in 1945, just days before WWII ended, when their amphibious truck overturned, drowning all hands aboard.

As Allied troops rushed north through Italy into southern Europe, this amphibious 2 ½ ton truck, one of the ubiquitous DUKWs, was lost on Lake Garda, 60 miles east of Milan.  One of three such vans in the advance north, the DUKW was loaded with a field artillery piece and 24 infantry when it was launched from Torbole on the northeastern corner of the lake.  Horribly overloaded, the vehicle was swamped taking both artillery and men to the bottom, 200 meters below. All of the servicemen who were aboard are still listed as missing in action.

We have employed state of the art sonar systems to search the lake bed but could not locate the DUKW. We plan to return to Lake Garda with an autonomous underwater vehicle and manned submersible to continue our search, in the near future.


The Lake Garda Project in the news

National Geographic published an article here.

The Daily Mail published an article here.

The U.S. Army published an article here.