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Divers working on the NorthSea clean up, by Joost van Uffelen

North Sea south expedition 2016

Recently I took part in the southern Duik De Noordzee Schoon expedition. 

After many trainings like a wreckdiving specialty and various surviving-at-sea courses we set out on our expedition with the expedition ship the Cdt. Fourcault. The ship that is sailing under Panamanian flag is the perfect expedition vessel. It supposedly once caught the interest of Sea Shepherd legend Paul Watson when he was looking for a ship that could help his organization to protect the whales. Its crew was awesome, knew exactly what our team needed and were above all great company.

The expedition set out to research and remove fishing gear off the many shipwrecks that are to be found on the seafloor between the European mainland and the UK. I was happy to work with an incredible passionate team of voluntary support divers, biologists, archeologists and cinematographers.

On day 2 the team sadly suffered the worst possible fate when one of our valued expedition members lost her life after surfacing at the end of one of our dives.

I am sad to say she was part of the buddy team I was diving with. As a buddy you do feel the responsibility to take care of each other although by now I realise that I could not have prevented the incident from happening. It happened at the very end of the dive during the shallow decompression stops. I never noticed that something had gone wrong as we all finished the stops mostly individually with many other divers around doing their own stops. I only learned about the issue once I surfaced. 

It was gutwrenching to learn that one of our divers was in trouble and I instantly seemed to feel whom it would concern. The crew and expedition team responded well though and the recovery and cpr were all well underway when I arrived back on board. All of it was in vain however as she past away during the transportation in the helicopter (that arrived above our vessel 55min after the emergency call..) to mainland.

After returning to mainland and consultation with the family of Alice the expedition continued to reach its goals. We paid tribute to Alice by having our own ceremony at sea. It helps thinking she past away doing what she loved most and the memories to her positive and passionate nature during our time together will stay. 

I think it was a good decision to continue the expedition, not in the least because we also could process together what had happened. We did about 15 different dives on various wrecks amongst which submarines, steamships and former fishing vessels.

In the end we managed to salvage 2000kg of deadly fishing gear from the wrecks. 

The team also researched the biodiversity in the nets and on the wrecks. It discovered (Doto pinnatifida) and rediscovered (Cumanotus Beaumonti) as species of nudibranchs within Dutch waters.

The Cumanotus Beaumonti (below) was only registered twice in Dutch waters before.

The expedition visited potential locations of the last missing Dutch submarine from WOII, the HMS O13. It was not found, so the search continues.

Two dives are especially memorable to me. Both were dives with exceptional visibility (for NorthSea circumstances) and a great history to its wrecks.

The U-31, a specific type of German U-boat built in World war I was believed to be damaged by a mine and sunk in 1915 in 30 meters of water. The U-Boat had sailed out of Wilhemshaven in north Germany in January 13, 1915. It carried a crew of 35 men. Both the U-Boat as well as its crew would never return.

The wreck was discovered and identified as the U-31 last year in August. Many fishing nets were draped over the wreck structure. Although the outside of the submarine has long disappeared because of its relatively thin layer, the vessel is still very much recognizable as a German U-Boat. The tower structure and its periscope are still clearly visible. It does not take too much imagination to become impressed by such a wreck appearing from the deep in good visibility.

The other memorable wreckdive was on the "Wisselvalligheid" GO-6, a former fishing vessel from Goedereede. It sits upright in maximum 40m of water. The vessel sank in 1996 after a collision with the Baltic Stone, a 118m long freighter which was transporting 5750 tons of salt at the time. One of the members of the expedition was in close contact with the owners of the ship before we embarked on our journey. Bringing back images and video for them meant a lot to them. The wreck is beautifully overgrown with colorful life and lobsters and NorthSea crabs now have taken residence. Shooting the top of the mast of the vessel with my dive buddy Harold felt nothing like diving in the NorthSea. The blue color of the water was just spectacular..

As for me, the expedition was a great introduction to new friends, diving the shipwrecks of the NorthSea and the opportunity to shoot in some challenging conditions.

Although the passing away of one of our teammembers was very traumatic, I guess you can say that I am hooked. The NorthSea has it's challenges. The cold water, the current, the sometimes mediocre visibility all add to the difficulty of diving in these waters. But when the NorthSea shows its secrets..

More importantly maybe, working with so many different specialists for the conservation of our own NorthSea was really motivating. 

One of the things that was mentioned more than anything during the trip was that we were experiencing the best weather in years. A flat NorthSea is not something that happens often. 

All welcomed that, but I appreciated it probably more than most, since I have had the occasional bad trip due to some sea sickness. Some teammembers were happy however when the last day did deliver on at least one NorthSea-diving-day-type-weather.. I wasn't too happy about it though. But it did help in getting some dramatic action images while the wind was howling, rain clouds formed and the first raindrops came down..

I am already looking forward to another expedition with the team, hopefully next year.

For more images and a video of our trip please find this portfolio of the expedition.

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About the Author:
Joost loves the oceans, travelling and (underwater)photography. Combining those three elements he creates ocean art, travel reports and ocean photo stories...


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