In June 2013, the OceanGate team and flagship submersible Antipodes completed a series of successful expeditions in three separate bodies of water across the contiguous United States. The focus of the expeditions’ dives ranged from collecting video transects on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico to biological data collection on invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. The missions provided deep-sea data to OceanGate’s commercial, research and academic, nonprofit and government partners, further validating three main applications relating to OceanGate’s business model: subsea technology and equipment testing, environmental assessment, and the ability to dive around an oil platform to collect video transect data.
The month-long series of expeditions began in Puget Sound, Washington, with the completion of a special survey for the American Bureau of Shipping, required every three years to maintain Antipodes’ ABS classification. During this comprehensive survey, the submersible was completely disassembled and reassembled before performing a series of dives in the Sound. In addition to the ABS classification dives, OceanGate’s team of marine operations used the opportunity to test various subsea tools and technologies, and demonstrated the company’s commitment to safety by executing several safety training exercises.
Within a week of completing the ABS classification dives, Antipodes boarded a container travelling to Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) in Chauvin, Louisiana, to fulfill a contract with Black Elk Energy. Antipodes does not require a designated surface support vessel, and was able to travel aboard LUMCON’s R/V Pelican, a vessel specifically designed for a variety of oceanographic research missions. Through the use of Antipodes, Black Elk President John Hoffman, LUMCON researcher Dr. Paul Summarco, CBS national news correspondent Chip Reid and the OceanGate team directly collected video footage of the impressive biodiversity found on one of thousands of oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Evidence of these thriving underwater habitats fuels the Idle Iron debate, which centers on whether or not these decommissioned platforms should be removed. OceanGate’s dive on Black Elk Energy’s platform was featured on a Rigs to Reef segment on CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.
Finally, OceanGate travelled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for Expedition Lionfish, during which Antipodes performed six dives with marine experts and researchers to investigate invasive species of lionfish. The expedition included a multi-institutional effort to take researchers to sites below scuba depth to observe the presence and/or absence of lionfish on sandy-bottom and artificial-reef sites. Researchers observed lionfish in high numbers at sites that had not been accessed in the past due to depth limitations on scuba divers. Sites that were within scuba depth range had reduced numbers or were void of lionfish, likely due to spearfishing efforts. Lionfish were also discovered around habitat that was previously thought of as unsuitable, such as old broken up tire reefs and exposed sandy-bottom terrain. The final day of the expedition was dedicated to a review of scientific observations from the dives by panels of scientific experts. Top-tier media outlets including the Associated Press, the Washington Post, the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel covered this expedition.
The series of dives performed by Antipodes and the OceanGate team on opposite coasts of the country in only a matter of weeks illustrates the effectiveness of manned submersibles as a tool for research and commercial applications. With easy transportability and maneuverability during operations, a dedicated team of experts, and the ability to transport up to four passengers from multidisciplinary backgrounds, Antipodes enables real-time engagement, collaboration and analysis of observations and data, a feat nearly impossible with alternate technologies.
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