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Environmental core recovery tubes are prepared for descent to the site believed to be HMS Sussex
The ROV is launched for descent to the site believed to be HMS Sussex
Acquisition of environmental data from the site believed to be HMS Sussex
Anchor on the shipwreck site believed to be HMS Sussex
Ballast stone on the shipwreck site believed to be HMS Sussex

HMS Sussex Operational Overview

Now Online: The HMS Sussex Shipwreck Project (Site E-82) Preliminary Report

Odyssey Marine Exploration began researching the loss of HMS Sussex in 1995, on the basis of a letter dated 1694, written by the French consul at Livorno, Italy. The letter informing the French government of the Sussex disaster, described the ship and its cargo. Since then, archives in England, the United States, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere have been searched for information about the shipwreck. Based on this research, Odyssey conducted offshore search and survey operations east of the Straits of Gibraltar between 1998 and 2001. In the course of these expeditions, over 400 square miles of seabed in the Western Mediterranean were searched for the Sussex shipwreck.

During the search phase Odyssey used side-scan sonar and bathymetric surveys to map the sea floor and to locate potential targets. The most promising anomalies were inspected visually with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). During the course of Odyssey's search expeditions, 418 targets were located. Several of those targets turned out to be ancient shipwreck sites, including Phoenician and Roman sites over 2,000 years old. Many were also modern shipwrecks, aircraft, geological features or simply debris. Only one off the coast of Gibraltar presented features consistent with the Sussex including cannon distribution and size, anchors, approximate date and location.  

Ten days of the 2001 expedition were spent in an attempt to identify the shipwreck remains at this site. The archaeological investigation, directed by project archaeologist, Neil Cunningham Dobson, examined the site in great detail using the Achilles Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) system and special tooling for uncovering and recovering artifacts. In all, 17 ROV dives were undertaken, clocking over 65 hours of dive time on the site. Measurements were taken and several artifacts retrieved for identification purposes.

This site, believed to be HMS Sussex, lies in international waters to the east of the Straits of Gibraltar at a depth of nearly 3,000 feet. The distribution of clustered cannon suggests that the site is a coherent shipwreck lying in one continuous area. However, the site’s archaeological integrity has been disturbed by intrusive modern contamination. Bags of trash are scattered over some parts of the site and are partially buried alongside shipwreck materials. A long section of modern steel wire cable passes under and over one side of the visible wreck mound. Clothing, including a stray sock, has been found molded within the concretions on and around the cannon.

In September 2002, Odyssey entered into a partnering agreement with the owner of HMS Sussex, the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, referred to as Her Majesty's Government (HMG). In accordance with this agreement, Odyssey developed an HMS Sussex Archaeological Project Plan approved by HMG.

The archaeological aim of the Sussex project is to identify and record the archaeological character of the site, and to retrieve select cultural material useful for comprehensive interpretation of the ship believed to be HMS Sussex. Historical research suggests that the material on the site will include an extensive 17th century coin cargo which sank with the vessel. Analysis of the coin cargo comprises one element in a wide portfolio of research goals established by Odyssey to facilitate comprehensive study of HMS Sussex and to make the excavation results available to both the scientific and public community.

The fieldwork outlined in the Sussex Archaeological Project Plan comprises two phases designed to systematically and strategically examine the site’s character and identity:

Phase 1: Non-disturbance Survey (Stage 1A) and Trial Excavation (stage 1B), limited to approximately 10% of the wreck site area in order to determine the orientation of the site through the exposure of key features; to reveal the level of preservation under the sediments and to provide evidence which may help to confirm the identity of the wreck.

Phase 2: Systematic and strategic excavation of the coin cargo and its immediate area.

On January 27, 2006, Odyssey announced it had completed the archaeological and environmental survey operations to fulfill the requirements of Phase 1A, and a substantial portion of Phase 1B of the Project Plan which included gathering archaeological evidence to identify the site believed to be HMS Sussex. Odyssey's archaeological team subsequently prepared an archaeological report which was submitted to Her Majesty's Government (HMG) pursuant to the Sussex Archaeological Project Plan.

All work done to date on the site has met or exceeded the requirements of the archaeological plan approved by the UK Government and Odyssey has authorization to continue work on the site. However, due to interference by various Spanish entities we have postponed further work on the site to allow diplomatic issues to be resolved.

In July 2008, Odyssey delivered a report to HMG with the results of the environmental and biological sampling which were submitted for extensive post-fiedwork analysis. Coring samples and other evidence indicate that the wreck may be at least twice as large as visible on the sea floor, and could potentially include areas displaced some distance from the visible wreck mound. Only further trenching and site exploration can confirm or discount the presence of considerably more wreck material than is either evident or exposed in the limited trial trenching conducted to date.

Although the work completed to date does not conclusively identify the site as that of the Sussex, the evidence gathered suggests a vessel of the approximate timeframe and provenance of HMS Sussex.

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