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Andrea Doria bow
The heavily encrusted bow of the Andrea Doria is dimly visible in this image captured from OceanGate’s Cyclops 1 submersible. (Credit: OceanGate)

A crew of undersea explorers from Everett, Wash., has gotten the best look in decades at the Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner that sank 60 years ago off Nantucket.

The hard-to-reach shipwreck has been called the “Mount Everest of scuba diving.” But this Everest is crumbling more quickly than expected, the OceanGate crew reported.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush told reporters at a Monday news conference in Boston that the ship looks “dramatically different” from images captured during previous dives. More than a dozen sonar images reveal that a significant portion of the ship’s hull has decayed, 240 feet beneath the Alantic Ocean’s surface. A large section of the bow appears to have broken off.

“Imagine it as a collapsing cave,” the Boston Globe quoted Rush as saying. “Once the cave loses its basic structure, it deteriorates very quickly.”

The Andrea Doria made headlines around the world in 1956 when it went down on July 25-26 after colliding head-on with a Swedish liner, the Stockholm. Fifty-one people died, including 46 on the Andrea Doria. Another 1,660 passengers and crew members were rescued.

Divers have visited the site for decades, but there have been only limited views of the wreck – in part because divers can spend only about 20 minutes at the bottom before they have to come up, and in part because the turbid waters restrict visibility. Sixteen divers have died exploring the wreck.

OceanGate was contracted to survey the site by Argus Expeditions, which puts together scientific and film projects about shipwrecks and other undersea wonders. The team spent two days at the site earlier this month to capture 2-D and 3-D sonar scans as well as videos and still imagery, using the five-person Cyclops 1 submersible.

“This is the first time a manned submersible has gone to the wreck of the Andrea Doria in over 20 years,” Rush said.

Andrea Doria sonar
A sonar scan shows a top-down view of the Andrea Doria’s bow on the left, with the port rail extending to the right. (Credit: OceanGate)

The team was planning on 10 dives, but only three could be conducted, due to bad weather that included high waves and heavy fog. The images captured so far show that the wreck has deteriorated significantly just in the two years since a previous round of less detailed sonar mapping.

“Just going in a sub and then seeing these things … it’s like the importance of seeing the Acropolis,” Rush told The Associated Press.  “The emotional impact of actually being there is significant.”

OceanGate plans to resume the mapping project next year, and eventually create a virtual 3-D model of the wreck’s exterior and the surrounding debris field. Such images could play a starring role in a future Argus Expeditions project and help divers avoid dangers in the future.

Meanwhile, OceanGate is developing its next-generation Cyclops 2 submersible, which should be able to reach depths of 13,000 feet. “We’re going to take mankind to the bottom of the ocean and discover things that no one can even imagine,” Rush said in a news release.

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