HMS Echo. Photo: The Royal Navy

Since the beginning of 2011, survey ship HMS Echo has been gathering hydrographic data east of the Suez in the poorly mapped regions of the Libyan coast and the Red Sea to help improve charts of the region’s waters. HMS Echo is the first of two hydrographic survey ships commissioned by the Royal Navy. With her sister ship, HMS Enterprise, they form the Echo class of survey vessels.

While searching for volcanoes on the seabed in the southern Red Sea region, Echo came across a huge underwater mountain, as large as the Rock of Gibraltar. The Rock of Gibraltar is 426 meters (1,398 ft) high and is located in Gibraltar, off the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. It is Crown property of the United Kingdom, and borders Spain.

From The Royal Navy: “We were actually looking for volcanoes – the southern Red Sea region has seen a significant amount of recent tectonic and volcanic activity with several volcanoes emerging from the sea close to the Yemeni coast line,” said Cdr Matt Syrett, Echo’s Commanding Officer.

“We didn’t find any. But we did find this. It is absolutely massive. And finding it is something which really makes everybody on board feel good.”

Multi-beam Echo Sounder Image. Photo: UK MOD

The huge ‘seamount’ is the biggest success of Echo’s deployment.

Local fishermen spoke of the mounts existence, but the existing charts of the area had mapped the seas depth at 385 meters (1,263 ft) until the data collected by HMS Echo proved otherwise.

3D imagery shows the mount rising to just 40 meters (131 ft) below the surface of the Red Sea – too deep to cause interference for any civilian or military surface ship, but would definitely be a danger to submarines traveling through the Mediterranean. Echo’s hi-tech sonar mapped the huge mount and it will now be marked on updated charts.

From The Royal Navy: “So often it’s difficult to show that what the Navy does has a tangible effect. This is visible proof. We found it and, as it’s a danger to other seafarers, it’s been reported to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office and is expected to appear on new charts of the region in the near future.”

With her 19-month deployments almost over, Echo’s may have also found the wreck of a WW2 Liberty Ship, 12-miles off the coast of Tripoli. The object stands 22 meters (72 ft) high on the seafloor, and is 105 meters (344 ft) long and 22 meters wide.

From The Royal Navy: “From the shape of the hull and location of the superstructure it is likely to be an old Liberty Ship – and was most likely another casualty of World War 2,” said Cdr Syrett.

Echo has informed the UK Hydrographic Office, which provides charts for the Royal Navy and many of the world’s merchant mariners, so other sailors can be warned of the location of these new discoveries.

by Mai Armstrong for Working Harbor Committee