OceanGate uses manned submersible to observe Rigs to Reefs (photos)

HOUSTON — OceanGate, a Seattle-based provider of deep-water submersible vessels, has released a new crop of underwater images from the federal Rigs to Reefs program, showing sea creatures swimming among the steel legs of an old Black Elk Energy platform.

The manned submersibles typically are contracted for deep-water research and filming of shipwrecks and underwater life. But OceanGate made its first dive to observe an oil facility in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

The team, including coral expert Paul W. Sammarco of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, wanted to observe the environmental impact of the Rigs to Reefs program, which allows operators to sink their decommissioned platforms into Gulf of Mexico to become artificial homes for fish and other ocean life.

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OceanGate’s submersibles have been used to observe a World War II hellcat fighter plane off Miami and shipwrecks in the Pacific Northwest. But OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said the company wanted to take the Rigs to Reefs dive to pitch its vessels as tools for inspecting offshore oil and gas facilities, a job typically done by scuba diving teams or remotely operated vehicles.

He said OceanGate’s submersibles allow for lengthier underwater stays than scuba diving and provide a larger fields of view than ROVs.

“In manned submersibles, you can stay down for hours,” Rush said. “You can converse with a partner and your field of vision is greater, so you see animals in a broader environment.”

CBS went underwater with Sammarco and the OceanGate team while observing the Black Elk platform. You can check out the colorful display they found there in this CBS Evening News segment, originally aired in July: