Written by CTM on August 6th, 2012


After returning to Malta from a successful fall project conducted off Hvar, Croatia, Craig and Ian spent the winter months gathering support for AURORA’S 2012 operating season. World economic conditions have made it increasingly difficult to support the high level of operations that have been characteristic of AURORA’S annual expeditions since 2006. As a part of this effort the Trust headquarters was moved to America and established as the AURORA Trust Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 “not for profit” organization under the internal revenue rules of the United States. Hopefully this broadens the support base of AURORA

Meanwhile, AURORA’S work around Malta continued and the team, lead by Timmy Gambin, verified the identity of a wreck we had previously located off the Grand Harbor of Malta as the submarine HMS Olympus N35 which was lost in action on 8 May 1942. In addition to its normal crew of 55, the Olympus was carrying 43 crewmen from two other British submarines that had been sunk during air raids by Italian and German forces.


Leaving the Grand Harbor under cover of darkness with Gibraltar as its destination, the Olympus was maneuvering to clear Malta when it struck a mine and rapidly sunk. Only 9 survivors of the 98 crew and passengers onboard made the 7-mile swim back to Malta.


The Olympus lay undiscovered for 70 years until AURORA made this startling discovery.

Locating the Olympus is yet another example of the rich treasure trove of cultural heritage that lies undiscovered under the worlds oceans. What is particularly poignant is the Olympus was lost, unlike so many of AURORA’S other “ancient” discoveries’, in the modern era and yet had remained hidden until AURORA began systematically surveying the Maltese coastal waters. Who knows what other discoveries lie submerged off Malta’s ancient shores and elsewhere under the watery blanket of the worlds oceans.


Written by CTM on July 16th, 2010

Rounding Salina's Northeast Side

We cleared Portoferraio, Elba just before midnight on the 13th and slipped the ISIS out on the towline shortly afterward and headed out to sea. All went well and we settled into the routine of transit for the 320 nautical mile trip to Salina. The weather was excellent for the trip – light winds on the head, but calm seas all the way. We had periodic visitors as pods of dolphins came to play and preceded the FORTALEZA as she chugged south toward Salina with ISIS in tow. The nights were clear and star gazing helped pass the time

Two nights passed before catching the twin peaks of Salina rising up from the depths in front of us and we cast loose the ISIS just outside the harbor of Santa Marina at noon and were stern-too our berth just inside the breakwater in time for a late lunch. We settled into our new home pretty quickly. Tomorrow continues the survey started last year around Panarea which lies just to the northeast of Salina and preparations were made to get an early start.


Written by CTM on July 8th, 2010

The 4th of July came and went without the customary fireworks; it seemed somewhat anticlimactic as at least a couple of us kept expecting fireworks somewhere, but alias, not so much as a sparkler! We did work in a bar-b-cue and toasted to Independence Day with some wonderful wine from Penisola Sorrentina, around where we had worked around Capri.


Our last day at Ponza as spent preparing for the journey north to Elba. The ISIS was prepared for the 16 hour tow and equipment stowed for sea. Annalisa Zarattini, of the Superintendents for cultural heritage for Lazio met with us to review our results for the time we have spent at Ponza. The discovery of 4 new wrecks around the Isle of Zannone was pretty spectacular and Annalisa was dully appreciative.

We gave the crew shore leave in shifts as we are at anchorage and preparations to depart must be complete by this evening before the evening meal. Some of the crew toured the Island in a little yellow, oversized golf cart and managed to get off the beaten path. Some observed it was a little like squeezing 10Kg into a 5Kg space as they negotiated the tiny back “lanes” up and down the hill behind the town.

Later that evening, Fortaleza raised anchor at slowly streamed the ISIS slowly behind to tow her and began the 16 hour transit to the north and our next set of challenges.



Written by CTM on June 30th, 2010

Day two of the planned survey of Zannone went off without a hitch. The weather has been perfect for survey and Timmy, Aaron and Paul added more area to that covered during the first day. A portion of the site we have selected to survey has clearly been visited by fishing trawlers and that may affect the results we have seen in this area. The mass of holiday boaters have departed and we now have just a few dozen around us.


Meanwhile on Fortaleza, Eric has worked out the interface problems between the ROV and our new manipulator skid and it’s up and running. It turns out it was just some ROV “brain surgery” and things started to click. Eric spent some time practicing and was able to handle a ceramic mug without destroying it – a definite necessity in the field of archeology. It might be tricker when in the water, doing it for real. When needed the skid holding the digital camera and flash, typically located under the vehicle, will be removed and the manipulator skid attached in its place. The manipulator is controlled from the surface through the vehicle. This allows us to recover items of interest for further study.



Written by CTM on June 28th, 2010

Shortly after 3PM our project team departed the now bustling harbor of Ventotene and headed north west toward Ponza, the largest Island of the Italian Pontine Islands archipelago. The Island, located 33 Km south of Cape Circeo in the Tyrrhenian Sea, was inhabited from neolithic through Roman times. Except for a stretch during the Middle Ages when it was abandoned due to constant raids by Saracens and pirates it has been inhabited into modern times as well.

Ventotene to Ponza and Zanonne

In Roman times, like our recently departed Ventotene, Ponza was used as an exile venue for high station Roman elite such as Nero Caesar, Agrippina the Younger and Julia Livilla while awaiting their fate for real or imagined transgressions against the more powerful.

But it isn’t Ponza that brings us to this part of the Tyrrhenian Sea; it is the uninhabited Island of Zannone lying about 10 Km to the northeast of Ponza. This small Island was chosen as our next survey location as it stands in the pathway of vessels heading to and from the port of Rome and the newly colonized lands to the south and west. An additional important criteria was that it apparently has not be subjected to concentrated bottom trawl fishing which generally destroys ancient ship wrecks.

We plan to use Ponza to support our efforts to provide the first ever cultural heritage sea-floor survey around the Island of Zannone. This will start Monday morning and we hope to spend a week surveying the sea floor out to approximately 150 meters in depth. Stay tune for our finds.



Written by CTM on June 26th, 2010

The at-sea portion of the documentary filming phase of our time on Ventotene effectively came to an end on Tuesday the 22ed of June with the completion of the deep dive on site 3, the Cylinder Wreck. The divers successfully completed their 4+ hour, in-water decompression drifting with the currents. The non-dive support part of the team headed into port to check the results of filming on-site and determine the remaining support footage to be shot before the Windfall Films team departs on Wednesday. A number of interviews were conducted with various team members to be used to explain various activities shown in the final film.

With on-site filming complete the Deep Divers, Carabinieri Dive team and Windfall crew made preparations to depart on Wednesday’s ferries. To acknowledge the mutual contributions our collective successful effort and our Island volunteer support (diving, harbor/berthing support, fork-lift, education /museum) we held the traditional end of project social onboard the Fortaleza.


AURORA furnished the venue, food and wine; the Carabinieri provided sweets and the wonderful singing voice of Alberto with a selection of traditional Neapolitan songs and the Windfall team provided enough Garum, a Roman fish sauce (from a old family recipe we are told) add to the air of authenticity (I guess that was the aroma in the air) to our explorations; and we had an ample supply to go around.

Carabinieri Escort for Recovered Amphora

The amphora recovered on the initial dive was removed from its bath-tub of fresh water on the Fortaleza and escorted by the Carabinieri to its new home in the AURORA ROOM of the Ventotene museum where it will complete the conservation process prior to being put on display with other items collected last season during our visit.



Written by CTM on June 26th, 2010

Day seven of the Ventotene project found the weather improved, but far from ideal. Unfortunately, successive days of poor weather had eaten all the schedule contingency provided for in the filming program and, through surface conditions were not great, after conferring with the dive teams, we decided to give it a try on the deepest site 140+ meters. A new marker/lift line was prepared to mark the wreck location for the divers and a recovery pendent rigged just above the marker line anchor should bottom conditions allow recovery of one of the intriguing +/- 1M long cylinders found at this location.

ISIS, loaded with the marker line, ROV and film team preceded the diver support flotilla of Carabinieri divers and Roberto & Marco to the site. The sky remained overcast with continuing winds, though diminished, blowing our little boat about the lumpy, confused sea over the deepest of all the wreck sites. With the marker line successfully deployed, the ROV was next into the choppy seas. Because of the constant motion of our little ISIS we concluded using the regular handling system was too hazardous and two of the team “deployed” the vehicle by sliding it over the side by hand.

The ROV headed straight for the bottom to clear the ISIS as it bounced about on the sea. Strong currents were experienced as we passed down through the water column arriving near the wreck to confirm the placement of the marker line for the divers who went immediately into the water and fought their way to the bottom. They struggled with strong cross currents and poor visibility at the dive site. The ROV was a beacon over the site and guided Roberto to the wreck; Marco stayed with the marker – decent line to guide Roberto back to the line after filming.

Though photographic conditions were marginal, Roberto immediately set about capturing the wreck on HD digital video. Shortly after commencing filming, one of the two air-filled buoyancy cylinders mounted to the camera imploded rocking Roberto and throwing the camera off balance. This was rectified shortly when the remaining cylinder imploded and, as our intrepid friend said later, the problem was solved. What a guy, Roberto never stopped filming throughout all the difficulties. Diving conditions for man and machine were difficult and visibility caused by several days of NW winds was marginal. We were happy to get to get some footage and happier to bring Divers and the ROV back safely.


Ventotene Day 6

Written by CTM on June 21st, 2010

We had hoped to slip out of the harbor during a predicted lull in the windy weather we’ve been having, however the lull never materialized. We did venture out (along with the Carabinieri divers) to check out the conditions on site and found them worse than yesterday; stronger winds (20 kts +) and larger swells 2 meters)! We quickly concluded today was not a dive day and retreated back into the safety of the harbor. The Fortaleza remained at anchor sheltered by the Island just off the old Roman harbor.

Timmy takes the lead in filming a segment about the Roman Harbor

The film crew from Windfall Films made good use of their time by filming interviews with the expedition participants and short segments around the harbor and aboard Fortaleza. We appear to be creating a new generation of film stars within our multi-talented team; perhaps there’s a change of careers in the future! Also, one of the directors took advantage of the lull in off shore activity and left us to begin the long trip home. Much work remains to make arrangements for the work scheduled for the fall and our Florida office will be in a better place in which to communicate the details.

Ian heads for the afternoon ferry



Written by CTM on June 20th, 2010

The morning found us in port, but with a strong wind blowing around the Island and whipping up the seas just past the breakwater. The Fortaleza was surging against her moorings and the wind was attempting to push us up against the dock; and predicted to increase in strength! The project team gathered on Fortaleza for breakfast and to discuss what could be accomplished given the winds and seas observed in all the dive sights.

The planning session reconvened to the shore to allow the Fortaleza to leave the harbor and move to a sheltered anchorage between Ventotene and Santo Stefano so as not to be beat against the stone dock. The project team (Carabinieri Divers; Roberto; Windfall Films and ourselves) concluded that conditions were too hazardous at all the wreck sites to safely conduct diving operations, but we could work in the channel between the two Islands to compile film footage that supported the story line.

1st Century BC Amphora in temporary storage

We spent the day working with the Windfall Film team accumulating support footage for the ultimate documentary film that will tell a story of Roman Ventotene and the relationship between the Islands; the empire and the sea.


Ventotene Day 4

Written by CTM on June 19th, 2010

The first diving day found us in a beehive of activity. Split between the divers preparations for a 112 meter dive; Rov support preparations on ISIS and working with the filming crew to meet their requirements, all hands were engaged in working toward a mid-morning departure from the harbor. Rigging for the planned recovery of a sample amphora from this wreck was checked and rechecked to insure the divers would have an easy time securing the recovery line (doubling as a marker/down line) to a selected amphora.

The ISIS was first on site and deployed the marker/down line near the wreck. The ROV was then deployed to confirm the position of the down-line as next to the wreck and in range for the divers. The divers, Roberto and Marco supported by the Carabinieri divers, arrived shortly after the line was deployed. Once in the water the divers utilized the marker line as a guide to the wreck. Once at the wreck site, the divers, supported by the ROV operated from ISIS above, began filming the wreck. Photography at the wreck was marginal due to the massive amounts of sea-grass that had accumulated around the wreck during the months since our last visit. Also, the presence of a dark layer of particles encountered by the divers in route to the bottom further reduced the amount of light filtering to the sea floor and made filming a further challenge.

Before departing the wreck site Marco secured a previously placed length of line that had been attached to the marker line, to an amphora selected for recovery. The divers slowly rose toward the surface and their lengthy (3+ Hours) decompression schedule. When the divers were safely away, the ROV was recovered and the ISIS moved into position to recover the amphorae waiting on the seafloor. With a few anxious moments and support from the Carabinieri divers, the amphora was finally recovered to the ISIS and was heading toward its new home on Ventotene.