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    SMD in search for sunken gold

    Vessel & ROV News // September 12, 2003
    An undersea exploration vehicle designed and built by Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) in Newcastle, UK, is playing a key role in the salvage of what could be the most valuable shipwreck in history.

    Newcastle based SMD specialises in remotely operated vehicles for subsea use and was responsible for developing 'Zeus' which is being used by US-based Odyssey Marine to recover the gold on board the SS Republic which lies off the Georgia coast.

    The ship sank during a voyage to New Orleans in 1865 carrying 20,000 gold coins. The 'Liberty Heads' were the preferred currency of the time and weighed one ounce each.

    Worth $400,000 when SS Republic set sail the cargo is now valued at $160 million. The money was to be used in the South's reconstruction, and to help relieve the post-civil war misery.

    Mike Jones, sales and marketing manager at Soil Machine Dynamics, said: "Most of the machines we create are used for laying and burying cables and pipelines deep undersea. It is really exciting to see one of them being used to find such a historically important and valuable wreck."

    Privately owned SMD was founded over 30 years ago by Dr Alan Reece from the University of Newcastle and employs around 70 people. Zeus, which was named by Odyssey Marine, especially for this mission, weighs in at 7 tonnes, has 240 horsepower for propulsion and can operate at depths of over 8000ft. The system's cameras feed high-resolution video signals to the operators at the surface, which enables them to control two position feedback manipulators for retrieving the delicate artefacts.

    It was originally designed for advanced deep-ocean fibre optic cable maintenance operations and is perfectly suited for the rigors and precise handling required by delicate shipwreck excavation far below the ocean's surface.

    "We should be hearing a lot more about Zeus in the coming months as Odyssey Marine has a deal with the British Government to recover 9 tons of gold from the shipwreck of HMS Sussex," added Mr Jones.

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