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Lost WWII Ships Explored in Underwater Expedition

An exploration of a World War II battleground right off U.S. shores is now underway.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working with several nonprofit and private partners to explore the twin wrecks of the freighter SS Bluefields and the German U-boat U-576. The German submarine attacked and sank the Bluefields on July 15, 1942, and was then itself sunk by bombs from U.S. Navy air cover and the deck gun of another merchant ship in the convoy, the Unicoi.

All hands were evacuated from the Bluefields and survived. Everyone on the U-576 — a crew of 45 — died.

The precise location of the shipwrecks was lost until 2014, when an exploration by NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management discovered the two vessels 240 yards (219 meters) apart from one another off the North Carolina coast. The U-576 is a war grave; the German government stated in 2014 that it has no interest in recovering any wreckage or bodies and instead would be following the custom of viewing the wreck as a protected final resting place of any sailors within the submarine. Read more.

Lost WWII Ships Explored in Underwater Expedition

An exploration of a World War II battleground right off U.S. shores is now underway.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working with several nonprofit and private partners to explore the twin wrecks of the freighter SS Bluefieldsand the German U-boat U-576. The German submarine attacked and sank the Bluefields on July 15, 1942, and was then itself sunk by bombs from U.S. Navy air cover and the deck gun of another merchant ship in the convoy, the Unicoi.

All hands were evacuated from the Bluefields and survived. Everyone on the U-576 — a crew of 45 — died.

The precise location of the shipwrecks was lost until 2014, when an exploration by NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management discovered the two vessels 240 yards (219 meters) apart from one another off the North Carolina coast. The U-576 is a war grave; the German government stated in 2014 that it has no interest in recovering any wreckage or bodies and instead would be following the custom of viewing the wreck as a protected final resting place of any sailors within the submarine. [Photos: U-576 and the USS Bluefields]

New exploration

Now, researchers are taking a closer look at the two wrecks using manned submersibles. With support from the conservation nonprofit Project Baseline and the robotics and technology companies 2G Robotics and SRI International, NOAA scientists will gather visual, sonar and other data about the wreck sites until Sept. 6. Using this data, the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute will build 3D computer models of what remains on the ocean floor.

“By studying this site for the first time, we hope to learn more about the battle, as well as the natural habitat surrounding the shipwrecks,” Joe Hoyt, an archaeologist with the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and chief expedition scientist, said in a statement.

The Bluefields was flying under a Nicaraguan flag with a military escort the day it went down, torpedoed by theU-576, which had been previously damaged and was limping back to Germany. The freighter sank in a mere 12 minutes, according to NOAA, and the U-boat’s doom came soon after.

Answering questions, expanding protections

The new expedition to the wrecks is strictly observational, a NOAA spokesman told Live Science, and neither ship will be disturbed. Instead, researchers will take photographs and video and use remote-sensing methods to make bathymetric maps, which are like topographic maps for the seafloor.

Researchers will be looking into the details of the final battle for the two ships, the spokesman said. That includes investigating what sort of damage ultimately brought down the German U-boat and whether there is any indication the crew opened any of its escape hatches as the submarine went down, the spokesman said. The research team is also interested in the shipwrecks’ second lives as artificial reefs off the North Carolina coast, where they may be sheltering fish species that are environmentally and commercially important.

The wrecks sit about 30 miles (48 kilometers) off the Cape Hatteras coast, outside of any marine sanctuary protections. The Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is nearby, closer to the coast, and protects the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. It’s possible that the boundaries of that sanctuary will be expanded to include the World War II ships, the NOAA spokesman said. The agency and its partners also plan to investigate other World War II wrecks in the area, including the E.M. Clark, a tanker sunk in 1942 by a German U-boat, and the Panam, another tanker lost to a U-boat torpedo attack, in 1943.   

Original article on Live Science.

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The Latest: Dismal oil tract sale results due to low prices

NEW ORLEANS — The Latest on federal oil lease sale (all times local):

10:15 a.m.

A federal official says low oil prices are the reason few companies were interested in bidding in the latest oil lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico.

The regional director for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Michael Celata (sel-AH-tuh), says the $18 million sale was below last year’s record low in total money offered, number of bids and number of companies participating.

Last year, the same area off the Texas coast attracted 33 bids from five companies for a total of $22.7 million.

None of the bids was competitive, either this year or last.

Celata says all bids are reviewed to make sure the government is getting fair market value, a process that can take up to 90 days, and bids considered too low will be rejected.

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10:00 a.m.

The federal government’s first livestreamed oil lease sale suffered from a video glitch, as well as extremely low interest. Only three companies bid for a tiny fraction of the leases available in the Gulf of Mexico, and no bid was competitive.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director Abigail Ross Hopper read the first two bids and was about to read another when she said “We will pause for a moment.”

Several minutes then went by while the screen displayed messages such as “memory full” and “all scenes — now deleting.”

The bureau got bids for just 24 of nearly 4,400 tracts offered, totalling just over $18 million. That’s even fewer than last year, when 33 tracts attracted bids. And just like last year, there was only one offer per tract.

The bureau had sought to broaden its audience by livestreaming its lease sales. Officials say they don’t know how many people watched.

Bids were offered by only three major corporations — BP Exploration and Production Inc., BHP Billiton Petroleum Inc., and Exxon Mobil Corp.

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8:55 a.m.

The federal government says three companies are bidding on acreage in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas — and they’ve made a total of 24 bids on 24 tracts out of more than 4,000 offered.

That’s even fewer than last year’s sale, which was the smallest ever for the western Gulf. Last year, five companies made $22.7 million in high bids — also one per tract, on 33 tracts.

The statistics were released in advance of Wednesday’s sale, which is the first to be broadcast live on the internet.

At earlier sales, an official from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management read bids to oil company representatives and others in a Superdome ballroom in New Orleans. A bureau spokeswoman says protests in March and April played a part in the change, but the agency also wants to broaden the audience by opening it to people anywhere.

The three companies bidding are BP Exploration and Production Inc., BHP Billiton Petroleum Inc., and Exxon Mobil Corp. BP bid on 10 tracts, BHP on 12 tracts and Exxon Mobil bid on two.

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The item above had been corrected to reflect 10 bids by BP and 12 by BHP.

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2:45 a.m.

The federal government says that, for the first time, it’s broadcasting an oil and gas lease sale live on the internet.

The sale Wednesday offers all 23.8 million acres available for drilling and exploration in the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast.

At earlier sales, an official from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management read bids to oil company representatives and others in a Superdome ballroom in New Orleans.

A bureau spokeswoman has said protests that disrupted a lease sale in March played a part in the change. But Caryl Fagot (fuh-GOH) said the agency also wants to broaden the audience by opening it to people anywhere.

Last year’s sale for the western Gulf was the smallest ever: $22.7 million in high bids. Five companies bid on 33 tracts, with one bid per tract.

The Associated Press