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Mysterious research vessel will not be allowed to continue its secret research S.W. of Iceland

By Staff

  • The Research vessel Seabed Constructor in Reykjavík harbour yesterday. The Metropolitan Police interviewed the captain and some of the crew as well as investigating the ship logs and equipment onboard. Photo/Eyþór

A Norwegian owned research vessel, Seabed Constructor, which was brought to harbour on Sunday by the Icelandic Coast Guard on suspicion of being engaged in unauthorized marine research, has been cleared to leave harbour. It has, however, been banned from engaging in any further research in Icelandic waters, the local news site Vísir reports.

A strange story
The Metropolitan Police believes the crew and captain have provided sufficient explanations of what kind of research the ship and its crew had been conducting 120 nautical miles south west of Iceland.  

Seabed constructor, SS Minden
120 nm SW of Iceland The location of the wreck of SS Minden Photo/Google Maps

According to local news the vessel was hoping to recover valuable minerals. When the Coast Guard intercepted the vessel it had spent several days circling an area where a German merchant vessel, SS Minden, sank in September 1939, shortly after the outbreak of WWII. The crew also told local authorities that since they were engaged in a salvage operation they did not need to apply for a permit to engage in marine research. 

An expensive and mysterious mission
The research vessel is being operated by a UK company called Advanced Marine Services. Local media has tried to get answers from the company about the mission of the Seabed Constructor, without success. Very little is known about the company.

The local news site Vísir reports that very little is known about this company, but points out that renting a research vessel like Seabed Constructor, costs at least 1 million NOK (116,000 USD/110,000 EUR) each day. It's mission in Icelandic waters would therefore already have cost several million USD/EUR. 

Read more: Police investigating suspicious researchers: Claim to be searching for German WWII wreck

Local media and historians have pointed out that there must be something more to this story. According to historical documents and the manifest of the SS Minden the vessel was not carrying a valuable cargo when it sank. Instead of minerals or valuables the ship was carrying resin from Brazil intended for industrial use. One of the sources on the cargo of the SS Minden the documents from a court case involving the insurance on the cargo. None of the documents or sources mention any other cargo than the resin.

A hidden treasure?
The German vessel did make a stop in Rio de Janeiro after picking up its reported cargo in Santos. After this stop the ship attempted to run the UK blockade of Germany, but was caught by the Royal Navy. Rather than having the Royal Navy capture the ship its crew scuttled the vessel.   

SS Porta, sister ship of SS Minden

SS Porta The same make and one of four sister ship of the SS Minden. Photo/Wikimedia under Creative Commons license.

It is unclear if the ship picked up any cargo on this final stop. However, as the local newspaper Morgunblaðið points out it is certain is that if the research vessel is seeking to rescue valuables from the SS Minden the nature of these valuables remains unknown. What is known about that the ship manifest of the SS Minden does not justify launching an expensive treasure hunt.

The local newspaper Morgunblaðið inquired with the shipping company Hapag-Lloyd AG, which is the successor to Norddeutscher Lloyd which owned and operated the SS Minden, whether the company had any further infrormation about the ship or what it might have been carrying. Hapag-Lloyd was unable to provide any answers as most of the documents of Norddeutscher Lloyd had been destroyed in US ari raids in WWII.

A hidden agenda?
The decision by the Icelandic authorities to ban the ship from engaging in further research in Icelandic waters suggests that they did do not accept the company's argument that they were engaged in a salvage operation. Had they accepted this explanation the Seabed Constructor would have been allowed to continue its mission.

A local historian, Illugi Jökulsson, explores the history of the SS Minden in an article in the local newspaper Stundin, reviewing all the known sources on the ship's last voyage, pointing out that while it is possible the ship would have been carrying some secret treasure, no sources hint at this.Illugi argues that it is more likely the treasure hunt is being used as a cover for the real mission of the Seabed Constructor: 

"Either the British company has found some new information which has eluded everyone for the past 80 years, or they are using the Minden as cover for something else they are studying at the bottom of the ocean. For the time being I find the second explanation more likely."

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