September 3, 2021
Ocean Exploration Trust’s ROV Hercules and Argus were stranded on the seafloor last week, but were recovered thanks to cooperation from several ocean science and exploration institutions
Woods Hole, MA — On Thursday, September 2, the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Jason succeeded in helping recover two other underwater vehicles, ROV Hercules and Argus, that were stranded on the seafloor off the coast of British Columbia last week when their tether to the surface broke. The operation came about as a result of close collaboration and mutual aid that are a hallmark of the ocean science and exploration community and the maritime community as a whole.
Hercules and Argus, which are owned and operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, were off the coast of Victoria Island, British Columbia, to service seafloor instruments operated by Ocean Networks Canada at a location known as the Endeavor Hydrothermal Field. The vehicles were in the water when the tether connecting them to their support ship, the exploration vessel (E/V) Nautilus, separated and the pair became stranded on the bottom in 2200 meters (7,220 feet) of water.
“This incident occurred entirely underwater and at no time was an unsafe situation for the team onboard,” OET said in a statement online. “While this is a rare event to happen, this is not the first of these types of situations within the field of ocean exploration and research.”
Soon after the news about the loss of the vehicles spread, offers of assistance from the oceanographic research and exploration community began to arrive. Among those was for assistance from ROV Jason, which is owned and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Mass. As luck would have it, Jason was on board a U.S. research vessel, R/V Thomas G. Thompson operated by the University of Washington, servicing seafloor instruments that are part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative Regional Cabled Array less than 200 miles south of where Nautilus was operating when the incident occurred. Teams at WHOI, University of Washington School of Oceanography, Ocean Observatories Initiative, Schmidt Ocean Institute, Oregon State University, Ocean Networks Canada, the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, and NSF immediately began exploring options to assist recovery efforts being organized by OET and, when it was decided Jason was the best option, how to make the vehicle available as quickly as possible.
“Jason is a workhorse of the deep-submergence work and was in its “heavy-lift” configuration when we heard the news,” said Andy Bowen, Director of the National Deep Submergence Facility at WHOI, which oversees operation and maintenance of the vehicle. “If something like this was going to happen, you couldn’t ask for better circumstances. We were ideally prepared to offer the highest level of assistance possible. We know that, if the situation was reversed, we could depend on our friends at OET to do the same.”
After a half-day transit to meet Nautilus, the Thomas G. Thompson deployed Jason and the vehicle descended to and carefully approached Hercules and Argus. After inspecting both vehicles, Jason Expedition Leader Ben Tradd and pilot Mario Fernandez cut the tether connecting them and Hercules rose to the surface under its own buoyancy. When Hercules had been safely recovered, Jason returned to the seafloor, attached a cable to Argus and the crew on Nautilus recovered it to the ship a little more than 24 hours after Jason arrived on site.
“At sea, you are reliant on the people and resources immediately at hand to see you through your mission safely and successfully,” said Bowen. “So, when something goes wrong, the community of mariners rallies to offer any and all assistance necessary. No questions asked.”
About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930, its mission is to understand the ocean and its interactions with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate an understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. WHOI’s pioneering discoveries stem from an ideal combination of science and engineering—one that has made it one of the most trusted and technically advanced leaders in fundamental and applied ocean research and exploration anywhere. WHOI is known for its multidisciplinary approach, superior ship operations, and unparalleled deep-sea robotics capabilities. We play a leading role in ocean observation and operate the most extensive suite of ocean data-gathering platforms in the world. Top scientists, engineers, and students collaborate on more than 800 concurrent projects worldwide—both above and below the waves—pushing the boundaries of knowledge to inform people and policies for a healthier planet. Learn more at whoi.edu.