Sonar image of the wreck of HMS Ardent taken by  HMS Protector in 2012

Sonar image of the wreck of HMS Ardent taken by  HMS Protector in 2012

Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) is a branch of the MOD responsible for managing the environmental and safety concerns associated with legacy shipwrecks. They have carried out this role since 2010 and currently manage a global inventory of approximately 5000 wrecks dating from 1870 to the present. The majority of these wrecks are from the First and Second World Wars with those from the latter conflict attracting the greater attention because of the large number lost while carrying significant quantities of fuel. There is considerably greater awareness of the problems associated with wrecks as a result of leaks from HMS Royal Oak, USS Mississinewa and RFA Darkdale amongst others. The clean-up and compensation costs resulting from even a relatively minor spill can be extremely high. For this reason SALMO attempts to identify high risk wrecks before they become a problem and take remedial measures where required.

SALMO have informed us that they will be carrying out a survey of HMS Ardent and HMS Antelope because they are relatively large, shallow lying wrecks located in an environmentally sensitive area. The wrecks from the Falklands War form, by some margin, the most recent significant concentration for which SALMO are responsible. While the warship wrecks of earlier conflicts have often proved surprisingly long lived because of their robust construction and the armour plate they frequently carried the durability of these more recent wrecks is poorly understood.

The proposed survey will comprise a visual inspection of each wreck by one of SALMO’s Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) or, alternatively, by our team of in-house divers. We are at an early stage of planning the work so the exact methodology and timings remain to be determined. Regardless of the exact method the survey will be non-intrusive. The aim is to conduct a systematic survey of the exterior of each wreck in order to determine their condition and the possibility for oil to remain onboard. The survey will be filmed and the results will be used as the basis for writing a report on the wrecks and for deciding what, if any, further work may be required. It is possible that one or other of the wrecks may eventually require the remaining oil to be removed from them. However, we will not know if this is needed until we have conducted the initial surveys.

In 2012 SALMO conducted an inspection of the wreck of the tanker RFA Darkdale at St Helena. A copy of the report can be found on the St Helena Government website and provides a good indication of the work we will be carrying out on HMS Ardent and HMS Antelope: We subsequently removed the oil from RFA Darkdale in 2015 and a final report is pending, further details can be found here.

The background research will be conducted on our behalf by Wessex Archaeology and SALMO would be grateful for any assistance readers are able to provide in sourcing information on the two ships. As an example of one of the challenges we face is that The National Maritime Museum, our usual source of ship plans, has been unable to help us on this occasion. We believe the plans of HMS Ardent and HMS Antelope’s sister ships may have ended up with the Pakistan Navy when the vessels were transferred at the end of their service in the Royal Navy. We are liaising with our Defence attaché in Islamabad in an effort to secure copies but we would be grateful for any alternative suggestions.

SALMO are proposing to undertake the survey in early 2017 although the exact date remains to be finalised. They conduct all such work with respect to the wrecks, their crews and next of kin and will keep the Association informed as their plans develop.