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Tom Dettweiler,

Senior Project Manager*

 

Tom (green jacket),

Alberto Falco and Jean-Michael Cousteau chipping ice off the foredeck of Calypso

 

Tom standing in

front of the DAKAR sail

following its recovery

 

Tom with his sons

Johann and David

 



Feature Interview:

Tom Dettweiler

 

Explain your role at Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc.

I started at Odyssey as as a Senior Project Manager, where I worked with the other project managers and Odyssey's corporate management team to determine a general company field plan and schedule. As a Senior Project Manager you help determine which assets, including the ships, equipment, and personnel, should be applied to the various portions of each year’s marine operations’ plan.

In 2009, I became involved with helping Odyssey make its move into mineral exploration as I had extensive background in this field. I was responsible for helping set up the Dorado Discovery for the purposes of exploration near the volcanically active region of the South Pacific to find new sources of metals and minerals. Although a bit different than shipwrecks, it utilizes many of the same techniques and much of the same equipment.

Since we began mineral exploration operations in 2010, we have been exploring for minerals such as Seafloor Massive Sulphide (SMS) deposits, phosphorites and Polymetallic nodules.


When did you know you wanted to explore the deep-ocean?

I knew from a very early age that I wanted to explore the various oceans around the world, and discovering shipwrecks was a part of my plan. I find the ocean challenging and exciting, and every new adventure unique. Shipwrecks present one of the most interesting fields of exploration, as they are a concentration in one small area of potentially very important cultural patrimony. As a child, my mother used to tell me she always knew I was going to have something to do with the sea, as she always remembered my fascination with the water and boats.

What did you study in school?

In High School I studied a math/science curriculum, as I knew this would lead me in the right direction in college. I then earned a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronics engineering. I realized that I didn't want to end up in a factory, and in pursuing this educational background I knew I would be able to establish a career in ocean exploration. My path started when I found an ad on the university bulletin board by a professor in Marine Sciences who needed someone to build current meters for Great Lakes' Studies. I took the job, and while building the meters went on to study marine sciences (waves, currents, environmental factors, planet function, etc) and then Ocean Engineering which taught me how to apply my bachelor's degree to the ocean world.

Before coming to Odyssey, what did you do?

I have spent 35 years exploring the ocean from many different directions. I worked in manganese nodule mining, and I have also had the opportunity to work with some of the forerunners in ocean exploration such as Jacques Cousteau on his ship Calypso, and Dr. Robert Ballard where I led the team that found the Titanic. Before coming to Odyssey, I worked at Nauticos, a defense contractor and shipwreck exploration company.

What has been the most personally gratifying discovery of your career?

My most gratifying discovery was the finding and exploration of the Israeli submarine DAKAR. This submarine had disappeared in the Mediterranean in January 1968 and represented one of the worst losses for Israel. Many prior searches for the submarine were conducted without success, as the submarine had disappeared without a trace. When my company, Nauticos, was brought in on the program, we conducted a thorough investigation and analysis of the incident, and defined a search area which led to us successfully finding the sub, exploring it thoroughly, and retrieving a 4-ton piece of the sail (conning tower) which we delivered to Israel as a monument and a symbolic homecoming. What made this project the most rewarding was the fact that I was able to bring closure to all of the family members who had been searching for their missing loved ones for 30 years. All projects are challenging and memorable, but the personal relationships developed with the family members, and the gratitude they showed will always keep this project at the top and very close to my heart.

What goes through your head when you come across something in the deep-ocean that has been lost for centuries?

After the initial elation of finding something really exciting lost at sea, my team and I immediately begin to think about the human aspect and the historical significance of the site. What happened? What were the activities of the crew and passengers during the last minutes before the ship sank? How did the ship meet her demise? The project becomes a CSI where we must forensically determine the story of the wreck. If we do a recovery of artifacts, there is an indescribably unique feeling that comes over you when you hold the artifact in your hand. Knowing that you are the first human to touch that object in perhaps hundreds or more years, one feels as if the artifact is trying to scream out its past and how it came to its final resting place. It often consumes our thoughts to the point that we can't rest until that story is extracted.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

Especially rewarding in my job is the opportunity to see things for the first time that no human has seen before. How often does someone get to do that without leaving the planet? I am fascinated by the ocean and love everything it has to offer: its diverse sea life, its structure and movement, and most of all its awesome power.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Again, the tremendous power of the ocean, and the problems it can throw at you. Just when you think you've seen it all, Mother Nature hits you with something new. The sea poses challenges to our equipment, our ship, and of course, to those of us aboard. We have to be able to anticipate all predicaments that may confront us and take the appropriate steps to prevent any potential problems. Every once in awhile though the ocean still catches us by surprise.

When you are away from the sea, what activities do you enjoy?

I enjoy physical fitness activities, including working out, bicycling, kayaking, and hiking. I also like to seek out new activities and try them at least once. I'm a little bit of an adrenaline junkie as well, which I think is just an extension of my desire to always be exploring something new and which is why I have chosen a career exploring the vast oceans of the world.

* Photo copyright DCL/Scott Wiseman



 

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