India suits up for deepest dive yet

NIOT is set to spearhead a 6,000-metre dive into the Indian Ocean,

a mission to explore marine biodiversity and potential of the seabed

The influence of James Cameron, the Canadian-American filmmaker, whose cinema has frequently explored the mysteries of the deep ocean, looms large on scientists at the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in Chennai.

“Have you seen the film [Deepsea Challenge]?” Ananda Ramadass asks this correspondent. The documentary charts Mr. Cameron’s solitary, 10,000-metre journey down the Marianna Trench — the deepest point in earth’s seabed — in 2012 aboard the Deep Sea Challenger, a submersible. “It is incredible,” he adds.

Dr. Ramadass and his colleagues aspire to capture some of the aura of the ocean depths when India’s indigenous submersible, MATSYA-6000, plunges into the bowels of the Indian Ocean, with a three-person crew onboard. At 6,000 metres, this will be shallower than Mr. Cameron’s excursion but the deepest dive yet by Indians. If India’s mission — expected to take place in late 2024 or in 2025 — were to be successful, it would make it only one among six countries to have piloted a manned under-sea expedition beyond 5,000 metres.

Much like the early days of India’s space programme, which prioritised public utility over Cold War spurred space races, India’s motivations are guided by pragmatism – explore the potential for precious metals and scope marine biodiversity. “India’s seabed and the relevant zones with economic potential aren’t deeper than 6,000 metres. Our technology and vehicles are designed and developed for our needs,” said Dr. Ramadass.

Samudrayaan, or the journey into the sea, and NIOT mission can be conceptualised as the reverse of the forthcoming Gaganyaan mission — The Indian Space Research Organisation’s attempt at a manned mission into space.

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