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Beating diving burglars

Divers who plunder wrecks illegally could face arrest once they get back to shore, if a new underwater surveillance device ever reaches production.

An international team is designing a unit which, when attached to a valuable wreck site, would be able to detect acoustic signatures produced by boat propellers and scuba equipment.

The unit would be programmed to send, via a surface buoy satellite transmitter, an alert to the monitoring party, if it detected the combination of a propeller noise stopping within the vicinity of the wreck, followed by the sound of divers’ bubbles.

Various challenges have still to be addressed, however. In the case of a wreck close to shore, divers might reach it by rowing out; and the divers might use silent rebreathers.

Further, while it would be one thing to detect that a raid had taken place, it would be another to determine where the offending vessel departed to afterwards, in order to apprehend it.

Speaking at the recent Acoustics 08 conference in Paris, a member of the project research team, Tuncay Akal of Tubitak-Marmara Research Center in Kocaeli, Turkey, said the was confident “we’ll be able to build a functioning prototype”.

Any effective unit which reaches production would be of use in cases of wrecks representing monetary, cultural or historical worth, owned privately or by military forces, or when protected statutorily as important archaeological sites.

Any working prototype would, said Akal, be tested on a 50m-deep Roman wreck that lies off Turkey’s Bodrum harbour.

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