It is looking like outdated charts were the cause of this month’s accidental grounding of the U.S.S. San Francisco south of Guam. The charts used on board the submarine dated from 1989. Naval investigators are focusing on the charts used, since the submarine was not off course at the time of the accident.
Officials at the Bethesda, MD.-based National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency said Saturday the main chart likely used by the U.S.S. San Francisco didn’t reveal any obstacle anywhere near where the boat struck on the floor of the Pacific Ocean during underwater operations last Saturday about 350 miles south of Guam.
The closest notation on the map indicates discolored water about three miles from the accident site. The discolored water was reported by the Japanese most likely in the 1960s or even earlier, according to David Burpee, the agency’s spokesman.
The Defense Mapping Agency created the chart in 1989, and it was never revised. That agency later became a part of the Defense Department’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, responsible for maps and sea charts.
Burpee said a satellite photograph taken 10 years later could be read in hindsight to show an undersea mountain not on the chart, but that was not clear at the time and, in any case, the photo was just one among thousands of shots of ocean expanses that have not been fully charted using all the latest methods.
…”It’s not like there was one little area that got away from us, that escaped detection,” he said. “This is part of a massive amount of sea that has not been mapped or charted in detail.”
The emphasis in charting has been on the Northern Hemisphere because that’s where the majority of commerce is, he said.
The submarine crashed head-on into an undersea mountain that was not on the charts while traveling at 30 knots. No officials say they have found a satellite image taken in 1999 that indicates an undersea mountain rising to perhaps within 100 feet below the surface there. The accident highlights the need for more exact charts of the ocean floor. Increasingly submarines no longer patrol the frozen waters of the Arctic and North Pacific, lurking beneath the waves to launch a counterstrike in the event of a nuclear war. The 21st century demands that submarines be used in counter terrorism activities, in the waters of the Middle East and Southeast Asia.