The world record for deepest dive using scuba gear stands at 330m. Impressive, but when laying transatlantic telecommunication lines 2000m down, leave the humans on the surface and send in an ROV Trencher.
An ROV is an unoccupied underwater vehicle tethered via an umbilical cable to a surface vessel. This cable transmits data, video and images from the ROV back to the ship while powering the submersible and transmitting control input from the pilot. The pilot’s station closely resembles one for military drones – the unit’s movement, camera and other functions are controlled via joystick.
ROVs were originally developed by the US Navy back in the 1960s to perform rescue and recovery missions too deep for human divers to reach, like in 1966 when the military “misplaced” a nuclear bomb in the Mediterranean after the B-52 carrying it crashed. In the 1980s, ROVs played an integral part in the expansion of deep-ocean offshore oil production. Since then, the scope and scale of ROV applications has exploded, and they’re now used in a variety of military, scientific and commercial settings – most extensively in the oil and natural gas mining industry.
ROVs used for trenching, the process of protecting telecommunication cables and pipelines by burying them under the seabed, are the largest and deepest-diving class of ROV, often working at depths of 3000m or more. To create a trench, the ROV navigates to the seafloor where the cable has already been placed. It positions itself straddling the cable, then deploys a pair of high-pressure water jets (also known as “jet swords”) on either side. These inject water into the strata causing it to “fluidise”, loosening it and allowing the cable to sink in.
The most massive trencher class behemoth is the UT-1 Ultra Trencher, built by CTC Marine. It is, quite simply, gigantic. Weighing over 60 tons, it measures over 9m long, nearly 8m wide, and 7.5m tall. The UT-1 draws a massive 2100mW (making it the most powerful jet trencher ever) and can direct as much as 1500mW of that to the forward “jet swords”, gouging out a slot 2.5m deep and up to 1m wide. It’s so big and so powerful, in fact, that it can deploy in weather and sea conditions that would ground lesser submersibles. Equally enormous? The price tag: It costs over $US16 million.
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