- NEW ORLEANS - Two
oil companies on Friday announced another big discovery in the Gulf of
Mexico " but this time it was a sunken World War II German submarine
rather than oil or natural gas. The wreckage of the U-boat was found 5,000
feet below the surface, and it may may rewrite a bit of wartime history.
- "This is the find of a lifetime. It really is."
- Robert Church - marine archaeologist
- BP and Shell, two of the world,s largest energy companies,
stumbled upon the U-166 submarine in 5,000 feet of water last month while
surveying a location for a planned underwater pipeline.
- The only submarine sunk in the Gulf of Mexico during
the war, U-166 lies near the U.S. passenger freighter S.S. Robert E. Lee,
which it attacked with a torpedo July 30, 1942.
- The 375-foot Robert E. Lee - a private vessel commissioned
by the Navy - was loaded with 268 passengers, many of them victims of prior
U-boat attacks who were coming back to the United States from Trinidad.
- When a torpedo hit the ship, the Coast Guard patrol PC-566,
about a half-mile in front of the Lee, turned back immediately and dropped
six depth charges.
- A tugboat and two Navy vessels rescued nearly everyone,
but 15 crew members and 10 passengers died on the Robert E. Lee.
- Until March, historians thought that the U-166 had survived
that attack and was sunk two days later and about 120 miles away.
- "This is the find of a lifetime. It really is, said
Robert Church, a marine archaeologist with C Technologies, which identified
the wreckage in March. Video taken May 31 and June 1 confirmed the find,
which lies about 45 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi River.
- Since 1942, an airplane was thought to have sunk the
- It was known that a plane had bombed a submarine on Aug.
1, 1942, two days after the U-166 sank the American passenger-freighter
Robert E. Lee.
- But the location of the sub and its condition may show
that the Robert E. Lee,s Coast Guard escort actually sank the U-166, said
Jack Irion, a marine archaeologist with the U.S. Minerals Management Service.
- Submarines did a tremendous amount of damage in early
1942, before the Navy organized convoys and escorts for U.S. shipping,
said Nathan Miller, author of "War At Sea: A Naval History of World
- BP and Shell made the discovery using a remote-controlled
submarine and have decided to choose a different route for the pipeline,
they said in a statement. Their survey took only sonar and video images.
Nothing else will ever be taken from either wreck.
- "Both the Robert E. Lee and the U-166 are protected
by international treaty, Church said. "They are war gravesites. They
can,t be disturbed. They can,t be dived upon. They can,t be recovered.
- The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this