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Counting DecoBubbles: A Crowdsourcing Initiative For Diving Research

Frauke Tillmans and Virginie Papadopoulou and their team need YOUR HELP counting bubbles! Their goal: to develop an automated algorithm to detect and score venous gas emboli (VGE). It’s a new crowdsourced research initiative from Divers Alert Network (DAN) in collaboration with the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC Chapel Hill & NC State University. Welcome to Counting DecoBubbles.

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By Frauke Tillmans and Virginie Papadopoulou
Header image courtesy of the authors

What do DAN researchers do during a pandemic with few diving opportunities? We put the final touches on our new diving research app, of course! The research team at the Divers Alert Network (DAN) and Department of Biomedical Engineering at UNC Chapel Hill & NC State University, together with a handful of collaborators worldwide, is proud to present DecoBubbles.com

Venous gas emboli (VGE) are decompression bubbles that are detectable on ultrasound imaging in the blood of some divers for several hours after a dive. Higher loads of VGE are associated with a higher risk of decompression sickness (DCS), but the relationship is not linear. Differences in VGE and DCS risk have been documented among individuals and in the same individual—even with identical dives. Importantly, VGE evolution post-dive varies dramatically, so getting frequent measurements can help us study the influence of VGE on other physiological mechanisms in diving. Toward this goal, we are refining automated algorithms for VGE detection. 

Decompression bubbles counted on post-dive echocardiography can vary drastically between subjects having performed the same controlled pool dive (a – showing each subject as a separate line), and even for the same individual repeating the same dive 24 hours later (b) (plots adapted from Papadopoulou V, et. al. EJAP 2018;118(6):1255-1264).

We have developed an online application where anyone can volunteer their time to help locate bubbles in post-dive echocardiograms. This will help us build robust machine-learning algorithms to automate this task and accelerate the pace of decompression research to improve our understanding of how these bubbles are related to decompression sickness and human physiology. 

This project has also provided training opportunities for the numerous students involved at various stages of the research development. Read on to learn about the first “dive into research” on the part of our lead developer Martin Smolka, a computer science senior at UNC! And be sure to register here to start counting bubbles: DecoBubbles.com.


Creating a Crowdsourcing Research Tool

By Martin Smolka

I am a senior at UNC Chapel Hill where I am finishing my bachelor’s degree in computer science. A year ago, a friend forwarded an email to me about a diving lab that was looking for someone to build a website. I uttered the famous last words, “How hard can it be?”, and sent over my resume. 

App developer Martin Smolka getting wet

Looking back, after working with this team for more than a year now, I find it funny how quickly I found myself in over my head. To this day, the closest I have ever been to diving was when I was 10 years old and angry that the deep end of the local YMCA pool was closed off for diving training. Combine this with the rude awakening that completing a three-month internship at a tech company does not automatically make me an expert web developer, and you can see my dilemma. 

The one thing I did have going for me was that I knew so little, I never knew how in over my head I truly was at any given time. Now, a year later, I am happy to announce that the website is live on Decobubbles.com. Building this site has been the most difficult and most rewarding aspect of my journey to earn my undergraduate degree. 

Decobubbles.com is the latest chapter in my team’s story to personalize decompression procedures. Currently, decompression procedures are successful at reducing the risk of decompression sickness (DCS); however, they follow a one-size-fits-all approach, and cannot predict if an individual diver is likely to develop DCS. While two divers can make the same dive and follow the same decompression procedures, one may develop DCS, and the other will not.

DCS results from decompression bubbles growing during and after the diver ascends to the surface, but the majority of divers with bubbles do not develop DCS. My team, known as “Team Scuba” around the biomedical engineering department, in collaboration with DAN, researches these bubbles and is currently optimizing their detection using ultrasound imaging. Ultrasound imaging is widely used in diving research to detect circulating bubbles post dive; the VGE appear as bright spots moving through the chambers of the heart. We are researching these bubbles because we believe that they can help personalize decompression procedures.  

To study how divers’ physiology responds to dives, we collect multiple ultrasounds of divers’ hearts (echocardiograms or “echos”) for several hours post dive. The reason we take so many echoes is because the amount of decompression bubbles, aka decobubbles, can vary dramatically over time and the dynamics of those changes could offer new information for our research. 

Collecting each echo is relatively easy and takes less than a minute; however, determining how many bubbles are present in an echo is more complicated. While this is a pretty simple process for medically trained personnel, it is difficult to get a cardiologist to review the thousands of ultrasounds one of our experiments can produce. So, Team Scuba began to focus on ways to streamline the process of determining how many bubbles are present in echos.

Former DAN intern George Anderson taking an echo on the boat.

I’m Forever Counting Bubbles

The process of “bubble counting” was developed to easily quantify bubbles on echocardiography. Bubble counting can be done by anyone with relatively little training. While easier, bubble counting started out much slower, taking well over eight minutes to count a 20 second video by hand. This process now takes around three to four minutes thanks to a previous undergraduate student’s work building a computer interface that automates many of the time-consuming aspects of the method. This program has greatly increased the volume of data a given research team can analyze in the context of their own experiments, but is not ideal for sharing the analysis of a large amount of data between people located in different parts of the world. 

This is where my chapter of the story begins. I was brought onto the team to bring the echo rating program to the web for easy sharing and crowdsourcing. Starting out, while I was very excited about working on this project, I was even more excited at the prospect of not being completely broke on the weekends. Then, when I began to start researching what would be necessary to pull off this task, the weight of the task started to crush a good portion of the initial excitement. 

What makes this website much more complicated than the previous rating program is that everything needs to be done through the cloud. Whereas many things, like determining what video to show the rater, and determining who could use the program, were trivial on the old program, I would now have to design systems to run on the cloud to accomplish these tasks. I had never attempted to build systems as complicated as these before, and I had no idea where to even begin. I would spend many hours with a pen and paper just drawing out the process behind the systems, and eventually I would think I had a winner. Then I would spend the next few days implementing the idea and spend the next month finding all the little bugs and mistakes in my strategy. Creating Decobubbles.com was a slow and tedious process, so I am ecstatic that it has finally come together. 

While I spent countless hours learning and implementing new technologies, the most difficult thing by far was creating the tutorial. This was not only difficult for me technically, but also difficult conceptually. It took me a long time to create a system to train and test new raters; however, it took me much longer to actually create the tutorial video. 

When I started creating the tutorial, I naively thought I was a bubble counting expert since I spent hours glancing at echos while I was building the website. I quickly figured out that being able to make out a few bubbles on an echo and having the knowledge to teach someone how to rate an echo were two separate things

When I started creating the tutorial, I naively thought I was a bubble counting expert since I spent hours glancing at echos while I was building the website. I quickly figured out that being able to make out a few bubbles on an echo and having the knowledge to teach someone how to rate an echo were two separate things. I find it very funny that my process to learn how to rate an echo was creating a tutorial to teach others how to rate echos. This had one big benefit, however. I knew what aspects would be confusing to new raters because those aspects were still confusing to me. Then I was able to take those confusing aspects and explain them further in a way that even I, a complete novice, would understand. All in all, I am very happy with how the tutorial turned out and glad to have learned so much through the process. 

The DecoBubbles.com dashboard

The story of personalizing decompression procedures did not start with me; nor will it end with me. In the next chapter, the team will pull the data generated from decobubbles.com to train an artificial intelligence (AI) to automate the echo rating. Automated echo rating would mean that the team can conduct experiments while no longer constrained by the capacity of echo rating and will be able to generate more data than ever before. This data will become a major part of our larger goal to target decompression procedures to individual physiology and could eventually be loaded onto dive computers as personalized algorithms. AI might even be used again to aid in this task because of its ability to find patterns and correlations in large and complex datasets!



My contribution to this story is quickly coming to an end as the days until my graduation continue to count down. After I graduate, I plan to get a job using the skills I have developed working on Decobubbles.com by writing software. The research environment allowed me to take extra time to learn new technology and to develop as a programmer. 

One great way to learn about echocardiography and aid in research is to log onto decobubbles.com. Each rating that you submit will aid our efforts to better understand DCS and produce personalized decompression procedures.

One great way to learn about echocardiography and aid in research is to log onto decobubbles.com. Each rating that you submit will aid our efforts to better understand DCS and produce personalized decompression procedures. So, help me end my project on a high note by checking out Decobubbles.com today!

Funding:

This crowdsourcing project is funded by the Divers Alert Network (grant #DAN-UNC-1), and analyzed data is being fed into the collaborative project, “Automating the detection of post-dive venous gas emboli” funded by Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research (grant #N00014-20-1-2590), bringing together DAN, UNC, Duke and UCSD.


References:

Nishi RY, Brubakk AO, Eftedal OS, Bubble detection, in Bennett and Elliott’s physiology and medicine of diving, A.O. Brubakk and T.S. Neuman, Editors. 2003, WB Saunders: Philadelphia, PA. p. 501-29.

Eftedal OS, Lydersen S, Brubakk aO. The relationship between venous gas bubbles and adverse effects of decompression after air dives. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine, 2007. 34(2): p. 99-105. 

Papadopoulou V, Eckersley EJ, Balestra C, Karapantsios TD, Tang MX. A critical review of physiological bubble formation in hyperbaric decompression. Advances in Colloid and Interface Science, 2013. 191-192: p. 22-30. 

Le DQ, Dayton PA, Tillmans F, Freiberger J, Moon R, Denoble P, Papadopoulou V. Ultrasound in Decompression Research: Fundamentals, Considerations, and Future Technologies. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine. 2021;48(1):59-72.

Markley E, Le DQ, Germonpre P, Balestra C, Tillmans F, Denoble PJ, Freiberger JJ, Moon RE, Dayton PA, Papadopoulou V. A fully automated method for late ventricular diastole frame selection in post-dive echocardiography without ECG gating. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine. 2021;48(1):73-80.

Papadopoulou V, Germonpre P, Cosgrove D, Eckersley RJ, Dayton PA, Obeid G, Boutros A, Tang MX, Theunissen S, Balestra C. Variability in circulating gas emboli after a same scuba diving exposure. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2018. 118(6): p. 1255-1264. 

Papadopoulou V, Tillmans F, Denoble P. Call for a multicenter study on the intra-subject variability of venous gas emboli. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine, 2017. 44(5): p. 377.  

Vann RD, Butler FK, Mitchell SJ, Moon RE. Decompression illness. Lancet, 2011. 377(9760): p. 153-64. 

Sawatzky, K.D., The relationship between intravascular Doppler-detected gas bubbles and decompression sickness after bounce diving in humans, 1991, York University: Toronto, ON.

Papadopoulou V, Lindholm P. An Echo from the past; building a Doppler repository for big data in diving research. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine. 2021;48(1):57-58.

Additional Resources:

Here are some of the DAN research projects in the works:

Comparative Testing of Ultrasound Devices in Monitoring VGE

Exploring Decompression Bubbles Using Advanced Ultrasound Techniques

Freediving and DCS

InDepth: Retired French Naval officer Axel Barbaud and his team have developed an automated bubble scoring algorithm for doppler readings: Oh Deco, Oh Doppler, O’Dive: Assessing the World’s First Personal Deco Safety Tool

InDepth: Everything You wanted To Know About PFOs and Decompression Illness, But Were Too Busy Decompressing to Ask by Dr. Doug Ebersole


Dr. Frauke Tillmans is the Research Director at Divers Alert Network (DAN). She has a PhD in Human Biology and oversees DAN’s research initiatives in injury monitoring and diving physiology, including acute diving injuries, as well as long-term health effects of diving and extreme exposures. Throughout her career she has participated in projects covering a variety of medical aspects in recreational and military diving. An avid and well-travelled diver herself, she has become DAN’s point of contact for global scientific collaborations, including the newest addition, “DecoBubbles”.


Dr. Virginie Papadopoulou is a Research Assistant Professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at the UNC Chapel Hill & NC State University. Her research aims to bridge the different areas dealing with bubbles in the bloodstream, from environmentally triggered endogenous bubbles, to engineered contrast agents for ultrasound imaging and therapy. She has been awarded the 2017 Divers Alert Network/Bill Hamilton Memorial Grant by the Women Divers Hall of Fame, the 2020 Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine Young Scientist Award, as well as the title of Divers Alert Network Scholar since 2018, for her on-going work creating a dynamic ultrasonic assessment of decompression bubbles.


Martin Smolka is a Senior at The University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he is finishing up his bachelor’s in computer science. Martin has experience with building modern web applications and works as an undergraduate researcher on Dr. Papadopoulou’s team to build and maintain DecoBubbles. He designed and developed the application using Google’s Angular Framework and developed the structure of the database in Firebase.

Exploration

Stefano Carletti: The Man Who Immortalized The Wreck of the Andrea Doria

Poetic Italian explorer and instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini reveals the inside story of Italian adventurer Stefano Carletti, who wrote the first book—Andrea Doria – 74—on the wreck of the Doria. Carletti penned his work after participating in the first expedition to film the failed luxury liner in 1968, led by Italian cinematographer Bruno Vailati, along with cameraman Al Giddings.

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Text and archives research by: Andrea Murdock Alpini

Header image: The dive deck of the Narragansett used by Vailati’s expedition.

Restored Images from the Book “Andrea Doria-74” (2021, new upcoming press by Magenes Editoriale). Courtesy of Luca Maresca

Original images from Ansaldo Archive based in Genoa: Antonio Pacucci, chief curator of Archivio e Fototeca Fondazione Ansaldo

Stefano Carletti is an adventurer, scuba diver, aviator, fisherman, and storyteller. He has told many stories about his great love, the sea; he has searched for hidden treasure on the seabed; and he is a man with a soul that mirrors the many moods of the sea—sometimes calm and placid, and other times stormy and unpredictable. The story of Stefano Carletti’s life is an extraordinary tailor-made adventure illustrated by sea life and narrated with books and articles which have fascinated audiences in the past as well as today. One of the stories he is likely known best for is that of the ship the SS Andrea Doria. 

The Andrea Doria was a fascinating ocean liner that sailed from  Italy to New York City. She was a symbol of class, taste, and refinement. The ship was launched on June 16, 1951, for its maiden voyage crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Genoa, Italy, to New York City on January 14, 1953. Andrea Doria remains a symbol of a bygone era. To travel on the Andrea Doria was a dream for many—from the anonymous third class passengers to the rich and famous first class voyagers whose names were well known: Magnani and John Ford, Orson Welles, Cary Grant, and Spencer Tracy, amongst others.

Andrea Doria in the shipyard – Archive Rare Image Fototeca Fondazione Ansaldo

On a damned night—July 26, 1956, to be precise—the magnificent ocean liner sank off the Nantucket shoal after a long, agonizing struggle in the ocean’s current. The cut in her hull made by the MS Stockholm tore apart the right side of the Doria. Commander Piero Calamai was the last man to disembark from the doomed ship, the accident having struck his soul so deeply that he spent the rest of his life obsessed by the event. 

As the Atlantic Ocean closed up its waters, surface foam was all that was left of the most beautiful ship ever built in the modern era. Nationwide, TV channels broadcast scenes of the abandoned dreams of a nation as the muddy seabed of the ocean welcomed the magnificent Andrea Doria vessel and transformed it into a myth. 

In the summer of 1968, Bruno Vailati, the Italian film maker and scuba diver, gathered a crew of adventurers to travel to the USA to film the wreck of Andrea Doria. They were the second film crew to visit the wreck, though the first led by James Dugan, a colleague of Jacques Cousteau reportedly were not successful. Vailati’s crew was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei, Al Giddings, and finally Stefano Carletti: the man who made  Doria’s wreck immortal. The expedition was “provocatory” and demanding.

Coming back from the expedition to Rome, Stefano Carletti wrote the first book ever about the wreck of the Doria entitled, Andrea Doria -74 (the -74 refers to the depth of the shipwreck in meters). The book is a collection of feelings and rare images caught during scuba dives onboard the expedition’s side ship, Narragansett, where Stefano and the crew spent a month. 

Historic poster

The first edition of the book has now become treasured possession for collectors world-wide, and a new updated edition with restored images, a new introduction from the author, including a critical essay from me (Andrea Murdock Alpini) will be soon available. The book will be a stunning new opportunity for wreckers and historians to own a re-edition of the extraordinary book into their private library. 

Similarly, more than fifty years later, Bruno Vailati’s documentary by the same title, Andrea Doria -74, has become a cult classic. Thinking of the Andrea Doria invokes hundreds of emotions for Italian scuba divers. History, for us after all, is a foundation on which we build our lives. In the end, the wreck of the Doria will disappear into the Atlantic seabed, but her story will live on. After all, immortality is a destiny reserved only for the great beauty of the world.

I was honored to be able to interview Stefano and bring his thoughts and words about the Doria, which had been hidden by time, to a new audience.  

Interestingly, the Doria was, of course, launched in Genoa in 1951. Two decades later, in 1971, a son of the same city, Fabrizio De André, composed a vinyl album inspired by The Spoon River Anthology from the American poet Edgar Lee Masters. The disc title, “Non al denaro non all’amore nè al cielo” (Nor to money, not to love, or the heaven) well describes the pure spirit of Stefano Carletti. [Listen to the track here] He loved, dived, flew, discovered, wrote, explored, and bequeathed his stories throughout his life. Here is the story that he told to me.

Andrea Murdock Alpini: Who is Stefano Carletti, today?

Stefano Carletti: Stefano Carletti is an eighty-year-old man, a kind of living anecdote. In fact, on May 1 [2021], I will turn 82 years old.  

Congratulations! Do you remember the winter evening dinner we had in Rome with Paolo Barone? He granted us a small ink bottle which he had taken from the wreck of Laura C., sunk off Calabria’s shore. Our story started with an ink pen and some stories to be remembered and told.

Of course, I remember that great dinner we had together in Rome. One of the first ice-breaking questions was about my writing practice, a world we both love. Writing is an activity that has been with me all my life, and by the way, one I never gave up to go to the Sea. 

Stefano Carletti entering the water to dive the Andrea Doria

At present, I own a small fishing boat that makes me happy during the summer time, from early June to September. Usually, I sail the central and southern Mediterranean Sea: Sicily, Sardinia, Tunisia, and Libya are favorite spots where I have fished for decades. Fishing is an expression of freedom to me. This activity allows me to return to a special place where I have been going for forty years.

I am also still a scuba diver. I haven’t abandoned diving, I don’t miss an occasion to go scuba diving with good friends. However, I look at the sea with different eyes from the ones I had as a boy.  

Before we started our interview you said, “The sea is a kind of amniotic fluid.” Can you tell me what you mean by that?

The sea has a moral and aesthetic sense for me. It has become a primary biological requirement over the years for my state of mind. It enables me to tell sea-based stories in my novels, and in this way I feel that the sea loves me.

Do you think of yourself as a scuba diver or a fish hunter with scuba gear?

Stefano Carletti sull’Andrea Doria

The world has changed.  Once a long time ago, the main goal of scuba diving was hunting fish. All was born by the limits that freediving imposed at that time, but scuba gear opened a new world, and we went deeper and for a longer time. We had, for the first time, a chance to catch huge-sized fish. We saw ourselves as hunters more than scuba divers. 

Fifty-sixty years later I am aware that I have taken advantage of the Sea. My confessions are not those of an old man, for I was aware of what I was doing at those times too, but surviving to live this long has allowed me to admit my transgressions.. I wrote a book some decades ago titled “Naumachos”, and one chapter reads as a sort of regret. By the way, it was another time with different rules. 

Sponges, red coral, fishes, ancient Roman urns and wrecks—that was what I hunted in my life to earn my daily bread. We did things that were so close to being illegal that probably today if you tried them, you would go to jail. The sea belonged to all who were crazy enough and brave enough to explore it.  Wrecks? Those were considered “Res Nullius” (nothing) as ancient Latin people used to say, wrecks never belonged to anybody. There were no rules on this matter.

So what is a shipwreck to you today?

A wreck, first of all, is a terrible loss. Economical, psychological, and human. The wreck signifies the loss of mortal human beings who end up on the seabed. 

How did the idea to film Andrea Doria’s wreck come about?

That is a very funny story that occurred while Bruno Vailati was onboard the Giaggiolo minesweeper, a ship which belonged to the Italian Navy. In 1967, Bruno was sailing onboard the Navy ship and went to Lampedusa Island (a remote and small Italian island close to Tunisia’s shores). At that time, I was living on the island and working as a shark hunter, and you know the Doria is famous for sharks. Bruno Vailati was preparing a set of documentaries about sea life titled, “I Setti Mari” (The Seven Seas) and was interested in filming some wrecks from WWII that I had discovered on the seabed that were unknown.

Bruno Vailati filming Stefano Carletti on the Doria’s wreck, photo by Al Giddings

One evening Bruno invited me onboard the Giaggiolo to meet with him. He told me that a group of French explorers who worked with J.Y. Cousteau did not succeed in filming the wreck of the Doria, and had lost an ROV off Nantucket shoal. Intrigued by this little-known information, I played a joke on him and told him that I had a connection with a member of Cousteau’s crew and boasted that “If the Andrea Doria were here, I would be able to break her down, bolt-by-bolt,” as I had dived many, many wrecks

Some months later, during winter time, I saw Bruno and we worked together on the film we had planned since summer. Once again, Bruno Vailati caught me by surprise, “Stefano! Set up a press conference, and we will announce that we are planning an expedition to Doria’s wreck!”

You were surprised?

I was. I didn’t know anything about this beautiful ocean liner except the chronicles of its sinking. I didn’t even have an exact idea of where it was. The Expedition Board asked us to provide accurate historical research and to write a report after each scuba dive we made on the wreck. As I began to work on this matter, I found an air of mystery about the sinking and the wreck. 

We had the Doria’s Loran coordinates which were taken by Doria’s Commander Piero Calamai, and we had been secreted by the American Coast Guard and Marine Navy. However, most of the information I found about the wreck was inaccurate; articles were in contradiction with one another, and a lot of the details were wrong. We spent almost a week at sea trying to get a signal from the wreck, while calculating currents, fog and wind, before finding the Doria on the bottom.

I believed the whole story must be told. Our expedition was known to history as a large-scale expedition, but in truth we sailed only for a great adventure. 

So how did you feel about the expedition? Were you drawn by the Doria or the shipwreck itself? 

The Andrea Doria expedition was born as kind of an afterthought. I merely followed the intention of the filmmaker, Bruno Vailati, to film an Italian wreck that had sunk in difficult conditions—not only the sea’s surface conditions, but also the surrounding waters. All contributed to the factors that piqued our interest about the wreck. 

Our goal was to produce good quality images of the luxury liner on the seabed as an episode for the “I Sette Mari” Italian TV series. At the time, we were not yet fascinated by the Doria; we simply went to the US to do a job. Emotions initially played little part in our trip. We were not engaged with either the ship or the wreck. 

Stefano Carletti si prepara all’immersione sull’Andrea Doria.

Every time I watch the movie Pulp Fiction I love the way Samuel L. Jackson says, “Hamburger: The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast!” Stefano, nowadays, as I’m sure you know, decompression diving is to tech diving, what hamburgers were to Jackson’s Pulp Fiction breakfast. LOL! Please tell me a little about your nutritious decompression diving.

Ha! Well Andrea, first I do remember our expedition breakfasts onboard the Narragansett quite well. I can tell you we had a black coffee, milk, and a healthy Italian breakfast prepared by Chef Mimì Dies and his assistant. After breakfast, we made two consecutive dives on the wreck of the Doria, which we planned according to the tides, fog, swell, and current.

We dived on air with 12-liter twinsets, wetsuits, deco tables, and watches with a bottom timer. We didn’t carry any deco cylinders. I used to drag a hemp rope to the bottom as a main line to find the way back to the boat.  Typically, we spent 20 minutes on bottom each dive with an average depth of 55-75m (179-245 ft), and our decompression times varied from 35-45 minutes breathing air and later oxygen, which was supplied by the surface at 9 meters, 6 meters and 3 meters. Sometimes we spent that deco time inside a shark cage we built. 

Stefano Carletti revealing the name Andrea Doria one letter at a time.

Diving the Doria was hard; the ocean was cold, visibility was often poor, and our lamps seemed like candles in the night. Of course we were also carrying heavy movie equipment. We recorded more than 2km of film, and made thousands of photos. We each spent about 21 hours diving the wreck in the month we were there! We had a great expedition.

The Doria has been called a death wreck, a fatal scuba dive, the Mount Everest of scuba diving. What is your perspective?

Today, you can see videos on YouTube of scuba divers diving the wreck of the Doria. Most of them carry large amounts of equipment they may consider necessary; whereas simpler, more streamlined technology would be more efficient and might even save lives. The excess equipment itself makes Doria’s dive dangerous, not the wreck. 

I’m also sure, in some cases, inadequate skills and lack of fitness put many divers at risk. It’s true, too, that so many divers are interested in retrieving artifacts from inside the wreck, which puts them in danger. They have transformed a mid-level difficult dive into a “fatal dive.”



And that’s why it has a bad reputation?

The Andrea Doria does not deserve to fill the black chronicles of scuba diving. Too many poor souls have lost their lives, which is why it has been called “fatal dive.” I trust that the Doria is not a “fatal” wreck, and not even a difficult dive; however I think it is necessary to rethink the current way to approach diving this amazing wreck. If this were done, lives could probably be saved. A dive becomes “fatal” if the scuba diver makes it so. The wreck has no responsibility at all. 

The Andrea Doria, what an amazing fate; from Dolce Vita’s luxury liner to a shipwreck. People say that today there are more Doria artifacts stored in American households than there are on the Nantucket shoals seabed. Each year the Doria is cannibalized by scuba divers from around the world. Did you keep any memorabilia from your exploration?

I have never removed any relevant memorabilia from the Doria’s wreck. Most of our scuba dives took place in the exterior part of the ship. I have gone inside the wreck only a very few times. I went to the commander’s deck, and I remember the helm and the stunning windows. To tell you the truth, I dived the Doria to tell a story, to write a book, and to make a film—that is to do a job—not to gather souvenirs. During my dives, I took just five or six First Class forks from the Doria’s dining room, and I gave them all to special friends. All I have left are my memories.

At the end of the final dive, filmmaker Bruno Vailati said, “We turned back and we looked at her.” For the first time he appears melancholic. It seemed like the great filmmaker finally put aside the job and revealed his feelings about the ship. 

The last dive we made was during incredibly flat and calm sea conditions with no current. The visibility for the first time was stunning. I can say it was the only dive I had on Doria with crystal-clear visibility. It seemed that the wreck showed herself to us. During the previous 21 dives we had never really seen the Andrea Doria; we had only an idea of it because the strong current and the cold water with tons of plankton had hidden the wreck from our gaze. In fact, the majority of our dives were more tactile than visual. 

Those times, what was in front of our eyes could have been a common ship. But on our last dive, when I brushed away the silt from her beautiful name letter-by-letter, I will never forget when the name “Andrea Doria” finally appeared to me. Yes, it is true, when we did the last amazing dive, we turned in awe, and said, “Arriverderci” to the ship.

The commemorative plate that Carletti placed on the wreck of the Doria. It says, “We come here to do a job, to enable the impossible and the Andrea Doria turns back to the light”

Additional Resources:

LA Times (1990): Bruno Vailati; Producer Known for Sea Footage

Bruno Vailati’s Andrea Doria-74 (In Italiano)

Andrea Doria-74 is a 1970 documentary directed by Bruno Vailati, a film director specializing in marine and underwater films. The film was the first documentary able to show, in an organic and complete way, the wreck of the Italian ship Andrea Doria, which sank 14 years earlier. He received the David di Donatello Critics’ Award and the “Jury Prize at the Paris Film Technology Congress.” Filming took place in July 1968, during 21 dives on the wreck, with a diving group composed of Bruno Vailati, Stefano Carletti and Al Giddings, while the surface assistance group was composed of Mimì Dies, Arnaldo Mattei and the crew. ship Narragansett, chartered for the purpose. Source: Wikipedia.

Newsreel: Divers Go Down to Andrea Doria One Week After Sinking

Alert Diver (2016): Remembering the Andrea Doria by Michael Menduno


Andrea Murdock Alpini is a TDI and CMAS technical trimix and advanced wreck-overhead instructor based in Italy. He is fascinated by deep wrecks, historical research, decompression studies, caves, filming, and writing. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture and an MBA in Economics for The Arts. Andrea is also the founder of Phy Diving Equipment. His life revolves around teaching open circuit scuba diving, conducting expeditions, developing gear, and writing essays about his philosophy of wreck and cave diving. Recently he published his first book entitled, Deep Blue: storie di relitti e luoghi insoliti.

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