This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Marine Salvage: Costa Concordia and The Cougar Ace

Costa Concordia
By Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images
As searches continue for more victims in the submerged parts of the Costa Concordia, salvage operations are also beginning.  It appears that Dutch Smit and Salvage is doing the salvage. (Dutch salvagers have long dominated the trade because of the expertise with pumps developed to keep The Netherlands dry.) They have equipment in place already to keep track of the ship's movement, and equipment to begin transferring fuel out of the ship could be ready to proceed on Wednesday (the 18th).  The Concordia is nearly twice the size of the Titanic, and salvage operations will be fascinating to follow. The Cougar Ace was 654 feet long, and had 23 people on board.

Marine salvage law is complex, and perhaps a reader would like to comment. I decided, instead, to look at some previous salvage efforts. I found a great article in Wired Magazine in 2008 called "High tech cowboys of the deep seas: the race to save The Couger Ace."

The Cougar Ace
Photo by U.S. Coast Guard
The Couger Ace was a deep-sea car transport ship with 14 decks packed with 4,703 brand new Mazdas bound for North America, a cargo estimated to be worth $103 million (for comparison, the Costa Concordia alone is a $500 million dollar ship that was carrying over 4,000 passengers and crew.) The Couger Ace was about 230 miles south of the Aleutian Islands in a heavy fog. The captain and crew started the ballast water taken on in Japan to replace it with local water, a procedure that the US requires to prevent contaminating American marine environments with foreign life. It's a tricky procedure to maintain stability and equilibrium.

Something went wrong during the procedure and the starboard ballast tanks failed to refill properly. The ship rolled, and just at the wrong time, a large swell hit and exaggerated the roll. The salvage operation was run by Titan Salvage, led by Rich Habib. The crew of such an operation has a wide range of skills--deep-sea diving, computer modeling, underwater welding, engine repair. A key person on this team is the naval architect capable of building digital 3-D ship models to plan and execute salvage procedures, an approach quite different from the Dutch pumping approaches.

Meanwhile, The Cougar Ace was drifting toward rocks on the shores of the Aleutian Islands and was taking on water. The danger was losing the ship, the cars, and 176,000 gallons of fuel in an area of rich wildlife and fishing grounds. The insurers felt that the ship was lost, but then executed a "Lloyd's Open Form agreement" with Titan: if they don't save the ship, they don't get paid. If they save the ship, the compensation is based on the value of the ship and cargo, and is a fortune.

The naval architect, Marty Johnson, took a fall and died during the salvage. The crew eventually built a digital model of the ship and developed a plan for shifting water between ballast tanks. You have to read the full (and long) report to get a feel for the difficulties of the operation. Bottom line is that although they righted the ship and saved all the cars, they had sat at a 60-degree angle for two weeks and Mazda couldn't be sure that there wouldn't be problems. Would the air bags function properly after such an event? Will the engines live out their warranty?  After a year, 4,703 Mazdas were loaded one-by-one onto a converyor belt that removed them from the ship and dropped them into a "Texas Shredder," a 50' tall machine that smashed each car to small chunks.


Unknown said...

The author is is in error as to how the vehicles on the Cougar Ace were handled once the ship was docked in Portland. The ship not only had Mazda's but also Iveco trucks. Each of the vehicles was towed off the ship. Mazda brought several engineers from Japan and every car was inspected. The discharge and inspection toook several months. When Mazda decided to scrap the vehicles they took incredibly extensive steps to insure that not one part from any car would ever be reused. The cars were unceremoniously picked with a front end loader equipped with a grapple and dumped into a trailer. They were then taken to a location where the removal of liquids and tires was monitored. From there they were taken to the grinder.

Anonymous said...

Cool! Thanks for the correction! SWK

dan wear said...

I was involved in raising a sunken dredge in the Portland Harbor and the divers inflated lawn garbage bags and placed them into the voids of the vessel until the bouyancy returned enough to allow pumping of the water from the vessel and salvage could be perfomed. The same logic could be utilized in this situation and if hoses were placed at the low parts of the vessel, as the bags displaced the water, the water could be pumped in a manner to right the vessel. Of course, patching the torn hull would be done as well. This is an oportune case in as much as the hole in the hull is above water!

Dan Wear
washougal, Was

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

It is the modern day story of the titanic. I cant even imagine what was going on the occupants of the ships thoughts and fears.