A laptop and back-up disks containing months worth of important survey data were stolen from a flat at Stromness in Orkney this past weekend.
The stolen data contained key material that was being used to create three-dimensional images of HMS Royal OAK, a battleship torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1939.
The images were part of a project to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the sinking in which more than 800 crewmen, more than 100 of whom were boy sailors under the age of 18, perished.
The British ship was torpedoed in the early hours of 14th October, when the German vessel stole into what was thought to be the secure anchorage of Scapa Flow. Taken by surprise, the crew wrongly assumed the impact had come from an internal problem and not from an attack. It took less than 15 minutes for the battleship to sink, claiming the lives of 833 seamen.
Those working on the project have spent months working with the Royal Oak Association and the Royal Navy collecting data from the wreck along with video and photographs, which were to be shared with relatives of those who were on the ship.
Prof Chris Rowland, from the University of Dundee, was working to create 3D images from the data, told BBC radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “Losing the data that we’ve been processing is devastating to us. We have a team of excellent volunteers who have dedicated their time, their money and their equipment to examining the Royal Oak.”
Emily Turton, who runs the Stromness-based dive boat Huskyan, in an appeal to the culprits, said: “Just from a data point of view, this is months of someone’s time. We are nearly in February. We have got a few months before this data was supposed to be ready to share with the families and the relatives of the people who died on that ship.
“That’s what they’re doing. They’re taking away the possibility of us giving as much as we were planning to give to that commemorative event in October. Just hand it in, give the stuff back”.
The stolen laptop is a distinctive Schenker model. A Dell monitor and two powerful underwater lamps were also stolen.