Chance find of WWI battleship in Mediterranean

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The vessel, which first took to the water in 1910, formed part of the French Mediterranean fleet during World War I.

The Hague -- A French battleship torpedoed by a German submarine during World War I has been found by chance by a Dutch team working on a pipeline in the depths of the Mediterranean, it was announced Thursday.

The Danton went down on March 19, 1917, with almost one-third of its 1,000-strong crew as it made its way to the Greek island of Corfu from the French military harbour of Toulon.

More than 90 years later it was discovered in unlikely fashion by a team of Dutch geoscientists as they examined the seabed to prepare for the construction of a gas pipeline between Algeria and Italy.

The Danton was found resting upright some 1,000 metres (3,300 feet) below the surface, south of the Italian Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

It was discovered at the start of 2008, but the announcement could not be made until now because the ship had to be identified first by experts.

"It is a spectacular discovery because of the good condition of the wreck," Rob Luijnenburg from Fugro, the Dutch firm that made the discovery, told AFP by phone from Milan, where the find was announced.

The 19,000 tonne, 150-metre-long gun turrets on the vessel remain intact, along with the grim remains of 296 naval personnel.

Luijnenburg said it was "highly unlikely" the wreck could be brought to the surface. "It is too deep. No divers can reach that depth, only robots. I don't think it is feasible."

As for retrieving the human remains, "the French authorities will have to decide about that," he said.

The vessel, which first took to the water in 1910, formed part of the French Mediterranean fleet during World War I.

The remainder of the 1,000-strong crew are believed to have been saved by patrol boats that had been accompanying the battleship.

The planned pipeline had to be shifted some 100 metres to bypass the historic find, said Luijnenburg.

AFP/Expatica

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