Ship that sent iceberg warning to Titanic found on bed of Irish Sea

Multibeam sonar image of SS Mesaba taken using the Prince Madog research vessel.
A multibeam sonar image of the SS Mesaba taken using the Prince Madog research vessel. Credit: Bangor University

Powerful new technology has identified the submerged remains of the ship which sent an iceberg warning to the RMS Titanic before the ocean liner sank.

On April 14 1912, the merchant steamship SS Mesaba sent a warning radio message as it was crossing the Atlantic, and although it was received, it never reached the bridge.

Later that night, the supposedly unsinkable Titanic hit an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage, claiming 1,500 lives and becoming the world’s most infamous shipwreck.

The SS Mesaba continued as a merchant ship over the next six years before being torpedoed whilst in convoy in 1918 from Liverpool to Philadelphia.

The strike carried out by a German U-118 submarine killed 20 people including the ship's commander.

The SS Mesaba was torpedoed whilst in convoy in 1918 from Liverpool to Philadelphia. Credit: State Library of Queensland

Using state-of-the art multibeam sonar, researchers at Bangor University have finally been able to positively identify the wreck and have revealed her position for the first time.

For the marine archaeologist, multibeam sonar has the potential to be as impactful as the use of aerial photography was for landscape archaeology.

Multibeam sonar enables seabed mapping of such detail that superstructure details can be revealed on the sonar images.

The SS Mesaba was one among 273 shipwrecks lying in 7500 square miles of Irish Sea, which were scanned and cross-referenced against the UK Hydrographic Office’s database of wrecks and other sources.

Multibeam sonar imaging could revolutionise the work of marine archaeologists. Credit: Bangor University

It was thought that 101 wrecks were unidentified, but the number of newly-identified wrecks was far higher.

Many, the SS Mesaba included, had been wrongly identified in the past, researchers explained.

Details of all the wrecks have been published in a new book, Echoes from the Deep by Dr Innes McCartney of Bangor University.

The nautical archaeologist and historian worked on the project while under a Leverhulme Fellowship at Bournemouth University.

He said: “The results of the work described in the book has validated the multidisciplinary technique employed and it is a ‘game-changer’ for marine archaeology.

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“Previously we would be able to dive to a few sites a year to visually identify wrecks. The Prince Madog’s unique sonar capabilities has enabled us to develop a relatively low-cost means of examining the wrecks.

"We can connect this back to the historical information without costly physical interaction with each site.

"It should be of key interest to marine scientists, environmental agencies, hydrographers, heritage managers, maritime archaeologists, and historians.”

Dr Michael Roberts who led the sonar surveys at Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences added: “The expertise and unique resources we have at Bangor University, such as the ‘Prince Madog’ enable us to deliver high quality scientific research in an extremely cost-effective manner.

"Identifying shipwrecks such as those documented in the publication for historical research and environmental impact studies is just one example of this.

"We have also been examining these wreck sites to better understand how objects on the seabed interact with physical and biological processes, which in turn can help scientists support the development and growth of the marine energy sector.”