Ballard's Team Brings Back Photos of USS Independence

By The Maritime Executive 2016-08-24 21:20:06

A team on board Robert Ballard's research vessel Nautilus piloted a remotely operated vehicle to the wreck of the USS Independence off of California on Tuesday, bringing back the first imagery of her blast-damaged hull in 65 years. 

The Independence was commissioned in the middle of World War II and saw extensive action in the Pacific. In the Battle of Leyte Gulf, her aircraft were involved in the sinking of the Musashi, the heaviest battleship ever built. 

After the war, Independence was used as a target for the “Operation Crossroads” atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. She was badly damaged and contaminated with radiation by the two blast tests, but she stayed afloat.

Blast damage, USS Independence, Operation Crossroads (USN)

She was towed back to San Francisco and signed over to the new Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, where she was used in the study of the effects of nuclear attacks. The Navy sank her in what would later become the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary in 1951. 

A survey run by Boeing, Coda Octopus and NOAA found a site believed to be the Independence in a sonar survey last year, and Ballard's organization planned the visit in coordination with several agencies as part of a larger cruise in the area.

The Nautilus mission and NOAA studied the dangers posed by remaining radiation from the contaminated ship and concluded that the risk was low due to many years of radioisotope decay and the dilution of any dissolved contamination in seawater. 

Ballard's Ocean Exploration Trust plans to create a full 3D composite of the Independence's hull from the video and photo imagery captured by the Nautilus team. 

Bow of the Independence (courtesy Ocean Exploration Trust)

Glass sponges on an anti-aircraft gun (courtesy Ocean Exploration Trust)

Crabs on an anti-aircraft gun (courtesy Ocean Exploration Trust)

Remains of a Hellcat fighter (courtesy Ocean Exploration Trust)