Archives For Salvage


CC Image Courtesy of jim68000 on Flickr

A week ago the anchor handling tug Jacson 4 sank in heavy weather off the coast of Escravos, Nigeria. Divers were able to recover 10 bodies from the wreck, however, the ship’s cook Okene Harrison remained missing. Two days after the vessel’s sinking, divers located Mr. Harrison alive and well in one of the ship’s compartments. Miraculously, Mr. Harrison had survived nearly 48 hours on the oxygen trapped within the compartment.

Complicating his rescue, though, was the fact that his body had normalized to the pressures of the environment 90 feet beneath the surface and a return to the surface without equalizing the pressure would result in death from the bends. Donning a diving helmet, Mr. Harrison moved to the safety of a diving bell (similar to the one shown above) where it took a further two days underwater for him to decompress and return to the surface. As of May 31st, Mr. Harrison was recuperating and responding well to treatment after his providential recovery.

SMS Adler

SMS Adler

During the last three decades of the 19th century, various Western nations carved up not just Africa, and the Near and Far East, but also various Pacific islands. In many cases, the smaller European powers sought to do empire on the cheap by not governing the islands but encouraging the installation of puppet governments. Thus, the nation could merely secure resources and coaling stations for its naval fleet. In the case of the Samoan Islands in the late 1880s, the German Empire encouraged a civil war between several tribes in order to weaken the tribes’ hold on the island and secure German concessions. Recognizing the strategic importance of the islands, the British and Americans shipped military assistance to opponents of the tribes aligned with Germany.

us gunboat samoa

USS Vandalia

As the conflict escalated, each Western nation dispatched naval vessels to Samoa and the three nations confronted one another in Apia Harbor during 1889. Britain sought to remain a peaceful arbitrator while America and Germany faced each other with the threat of belligerent action. The need for negotiations or military action between the American and German vessels, though, was swept away by the March 15/16th Apia Cyclone. Unbeknownst to either side, a cyclone had been bearing down on Samoa as each side scowled at one another across the harbor. Samoans awoke on the morning of the 16th to discover both the American and the German squadrons beached, sunk or wrecked in the harbor. The loss of the naval squadrons effectively defused the situation and the dispute was resolved by the Tripartite Convention of 1889 by which Samoa was divided between America and Germany.

wrecked german ships

SMS Eber’s Bow

Negligence (n.)

February 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

S/V Speke Aground

Negligence (n.) – the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty by failing to conform to the required standard of conduct, the defendant’s negligent conduct was the cause of the harm to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff was, in fact, harmed or damaged.

On February 22, 1906, the S/V Speke ran aground off Phillip Island south of Melbourne, Australia due to the negligence of her captain in properly navigating the ship. Speke was the second-largest ship-rigged vessel in existence at the time of her destruction and was bested in size only by her sister ship Bragdo. The vessels were built in Southampton in 1891 and Speke plied the South America-Australia trade route. Thankfully only one crew member perished as a result of the catastrophe.

The Hunt for U-864

February 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

As hope for victory faded with each passing day, the Japanese and Nazis increasingly turned to miracle weapons to deliver them from Allied domination. As a result, in the waning months of World War II, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan began to increase their technical cooperation. Due to logistical issues, much of this cooperation flowed through transfers by submarine of engineers, blueprints and specialized material and parts between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

In early December 1944, Korvettenkapitan Marko Ramius Ralf-Reimar Wolfram and U-864 was ordered to proceed to Japan with a secret cargo of 74 tons of mercury, aircraft blueprints and two engineers. Soon after departing Germany, the U-864 developed engine troubles and Wolfram ordered the ship to put in to Bergen, Norway for repairs. After repairs were completed, the U-864 left Bergen for Japan in early February 1945. Thanks to the dedicated codebreakers of Bletchley Park, the Royal Navy was aware of U-864’s presence in the area and vectored HMS Venturer, a V-class submarine, to intercept U-864.

After arriving on scene, Venturer, commanded by Lt. James Launders with the assistance of Jack Ryan, began its hunt for Red October the U-864 and on February 9 located what it believed to be the sub. Lt. Launders was no stranger to hunting Nazi submarines, as he had previously been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for sinking the surfaced U-771 off the Norwegian coast. Carefully stalking his prey, Lt. Launders waited for the U-864 to surface as a submerged submarine had never been sunk by another submerged submarine. U-864 had been equipped with a snorkel, though, which enabled it to operate underwater for prolonged periods and thus Lt. Launders was faced with a difficult decision – surface to re-charge his batteries and risk discovery by the Nazis or attack the U-864 while submerged. Lt. Launders chose to attack the U-864 and after developing a firing solution, unleashed a spread of four torpedoes. U-864 successfully evaded three of the four torpedoes, but the fourth struck the sub amidships and split the sub in two, instantly killing all 73 of her crew.

Lt. Launders was awarded a bar to his DSO and his action remains the only instance of a submerged submarine successfully killing another submerged submarine. The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy and lies in 492 feet of water. The wreck’s 74 tons of mercury makes the site an environmental hazard as approximately 8.8 pounds of mercury leak from the sub every year. In 2008, the Norwegian government awarded a salvage contract for the wreck’s recovery and disposal. The salvage has yet to be completed as the Norwegian government postponed the salvage in 2010 citing technical difficulties.

wrecked ship

SS Knud Aground
Photo: Wrecksite

Some of the most impressive maritime images are derived from ships being found in places where they are completely out of their element. Blogger gCaptain compiled a grouping of photos the top ten maritime incidents of 2012 and many of them are ship’s aground in spectacular locations or angles. More than a century ago, the Danish steamer SS Knud created a similar image when it ran aground in Robin Hood’s Bay on January 2, 1900. The steamer had been launched on October 19, 1871 and was a Clyde built merchant steamship of 1,185 tons. When she ran aground she was loaded with a cargo of ballast, but thankfully none of her crew were lost in the debacle. The cargo was later salvaged and the ship sold for scrap.

chinese porcelain

Blue & White Yuan Dynasty Porcelain

Vietnamese authorities are attempting to protect a 14th century shipwreck discovered earlier this year in the province of Quang Ngai. Local fishermen originally found the wreck and salvaged some of its Yuan dynasty porcelain cargo. Authorities quickly swooped in and confiscated the recovered porcelain. Now, locals are determined to profit from the wreck by salvaging it themselves.

Last Saturday, Vietnamese police guarding the wreck were attacked by a throng of 60 fishermen. Two policemen were injured after the fishermen pelted the guards with rocks and swarmed their boats and vehicles. The mob freed a fisherman the authorities were attempting to arrest and hundreds of police eventually had to be called in to quell the violence. The police presence will most likely continue for the 3 months it is predicted to take to salvage the wreck.

New Jersey shipwreck

CC Image Courtesy of messycupcakes on Flickr

Step aside Snooki and Pauly D – Florida diver Allan Garner may be set to become the Jersey Shore’s latest celebrity. Garner has filed an admiralty arrest claim on the wreck of the SS Ella Warley. The ship sank in 1863 after colliding with the SS North Star off the New Jersey coast. The North Star, owned by Commodore Vanderbilt, survived the collision and made it safely to New York City. The reason for the collision was disputed, although there were allegations of the Ella Warley’s captain and some of her officers being drunk at the time. Concerning the accusation of drunkenness, the New York Times editorialized, “we believe [it] has not the slightest foundation in truth.” Six crew members of the Ella Warley perished while the North Star suffered no casualties.

Built in 1848 as the SS Isabel, the Ella Warley displaced 1,115 tons and carried cargo and passengers between Charleston and Havana. Following the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, the Ella Warley ran the blockade several times between Charleston and Nassau until it was captured by the USS Santiago de Cuba.

At the time of its sinking the ship was laden with a cargo worth $175,000 and a safe containing $5,000 belonging to Adams Express Company. In addition, a passenger had $8,000 in gold aboard. While the cargo, which according to contemporary accounts consisted of hay, leather, provisions, dry goods and “express matter,” is most likely worthless, the safe’s contents and gold are quite valuable. Assuming the safe’s $5,000 was in gold, then there is the possibility of ~687 ounces of gold lying on the seabed floor amidst the wreckage. At today’s prices, this would mean the wreck is worth more than $1.2 million.

If no one objects to Garner’s claim by Thursday, then the US District Court for the District of New Jersey will award full ownership of the wreck and its contents to Garner. Successors in interest to the insurance company which paid out any claims for cargoes lost on the wreck, Adams Express Company and descendants of the passenger who lost $8,000 in gold are potential claimants and could be awarded a percentage of any recovery. Considering the wreck has been known among New Jersey’s diving community for 20 years, the likelihood is quite high that Garner has found something worth arresting.

Update: The $1.2 million value is for melt value and not the value of the gold if it were in specie form. If the gold were recovered in specie form, then the wreck could be worth upwards 20x of melt value as shipwreck specie commands a significant premium in the collector market.

polish palace

Kazimierz Palace
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Polish archaeologists and police are exploiting historically low water levels on the Vistula River to recover dozens of marble and alabaster decorative elements looted from Polish landmarks in the 17th century. Utilizing a Mil Mi-8 police helicopter, archaeologists are carefully lifting the sculptures from the riverbed and transporting them to drier locales for conservation and restoration. The decorative elements were looted from Poland’s Royal Castle and the Kazimierz Palace by Swedish forces after they captured Warsaw during the mid-17th century. The loot was loaded onto barges and prepared for transit to Sweden via the Vistula and then the Baltic. At least one barge, though, sank en route and scattered its precious cargo along the riverbed. Polish archaeologists have known about the treasures, but river conditions have rarely cooperated such that they could retrieve the pieces. Efforts over the last 3 years have yielded some results, but nothing like the finds archaeologists are making now.

Today, Sweden is most often associated with IKEA furniture, safe cars (cb radio optional), cars born from jets and ABBA, but the Swedish Empire once encompassed 1.1 million square kilometers and dominated its northern European rivals. By comparison, the Holy Roman Empire was 1 million sq. km. and modern Sweden is 450,000 sq. km. The Empire was founded in 1611 by Gustavus Adolphus, a brilliant military commander, who defeated his rivals in the Thirty Years War and began the expansion of Sweden’s borders. Between 1600 and 1721, the Poles and the Swedes clashed no fewer than 6 times in conflicts lasting up to 11 years. It was during one of these wars that the decorative structures being recovered today were looted from Poland’s Royal Castle and the Kazimierz Palace. In addition to waging war against the Poles, the Swedes also attacked and occupied territory in modern day Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Russia. The Great Northern War which concluded in 1721 marked the end of Sweden’s status as a great power and the empire’s territorial breadth began to slowly recede.

chinese porcelain

Blue & White Yuan Dynasty Porcelain

Earlier this year Vietnamese fishermen in the province of Quang Ngai came across a shipwreck full of Chinese porcelain. The fishermen recovered several artifacts and later tried to illegally sell them, but the items were intercepted by Vietnamese authorities. After examination by archaeologists and porcelain experts, the porcelain bowls and incense burners have been determined to be from the 14th century Yuan Dynasty. The porcelain is among the oldest artifacts found in Vietnam and the find is believed to be relatively well preserved beneath sand and silt. Recovery operations have not been announced, but the wreck would undoubtedly yield increased knowledge about trading patterns from the period along with priceless porcelain.

Porcelain has long been an important export for the Chinese economy. The Pacific Ocean, South China Sea and even the Atlantic Ocean are littered with porcelain carrying shipwrecks from every Chinese dynasty. During the American Colonial Period, Chinese porcelain from Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province was considered one of the highest forms of conspicuous consumption. New England merchants made fortunes importing porcelain from China and one item in especial demand was porcelain decorated with the owner’s coat of arms – “armorial porcelain.” Even President George Washington owned a dinner service set of the trendy armorial porcelain. Pieces of Washington’s porcelain are now housed at Washington & Lee’s Reeves Center – one of the largest collections of Chinese export porcelain in the world.

Korean Rescue Ship

Photo: Naval Open Source INTelligence

Yesterday, South Korea launched the Tongyeong, its first domestic manufactured rescue and salvage ship. The Tongyeong was laid down in October of 2010 and will join the ROK Navy next year after final fitting out and trials are completed. The ship is intended to broaden the ROK Navy’s salvage and rescue capabilities which are currently served by two former US Navy Vessels.  Both vessels are nearing the end of their service lives and the ROK Navy will now be able to respond in half the time to disasters in far-reaching islands.

The Tongyeong displaces 3,500 tons and is capable of 21 knots. Armed with an ROV, side-scan sonar, a dynamic position system and various winches, the Tongyeong can search on and below the seas for wrecked vessels and is capable of towing vessels displacing up to 15,000 tons. The ship has onboard medical facilities for treating survivors at sea and can medevac patients via its helipad. With South Korean shipyards now some of the largest in the world, it is only fitting that the ROK Navy can benefit from domestically produced ships and not rely on second-hand ships for rescuing stranded mariners.