Quotulatiousness

October 23, 2013

The most dangerous shipwreck in the Thames Estuary

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:45

Uploaded on 16 Aug 2010

A documentary about the SS Richard Montgomery. The remains of this second world war Liberty ship lie semi-submerged in the Thames estuary. There are currently over 1500 tons of explosives left on board. This documentary looks into the danger the wreck still presents.

I’m mildly amused that they frequently mis-name the vessel as the “USS” Richard Montgomery (she was never a commissioned ship of the US Navy, so it should be just “SS” not “USS”). If you watch to the end of the documentary, they’ve included a “blooper reel” of voice-overs for the last minute or so…

August 17, 2013

Delays in India’s submarine program

Filed under: India, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

In the Times of India, Rajat Pandit reviews the state of the Indian Navy’s submarine fleet:

Is India’s aging fleet of conventional submarines threatening to go the MiG-21 way? The Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), already 30 years in the making, was slated to replace the obsolete MiG-21 in the 1990s but is still at least two years away from becoming fully-operational.

Similarly, the Navy too was to induct 12 new diesel-electric submarines by last year, with another dozen to follow in the 2012-2030 timeframe. This was the 30-year submarine building plan approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) way back in July, 1999. But the Navy has not inducted even one of the 24 planned submarines till now, and is forced to soldier on with just 14 aging conventional vessels.

“The Navy is steadily modernizing in the surface warship and aircraft arenas. But our aging and depleting underwater combat arm is a big worry. But it also must be kept in mind that INS Sindhurakshak‘s accident is the first such incident we have had in over four decades of operating submarines,” said a senior officer.

Sources said INS Sindhurakshak, after Wednesday’s accident, is “a clear write-off”. Of the 13 submarines left now, as many as 11 are over 20 years old. The setback comes when China and Pakistan are systematically bolstering their underwater combat capabilities, with the former being armed with over 55 submarines.

Update: MarineLink reports on the investigation into the INS Sindhurakshak explosion.

The Indian Navy diving teams have been working nonstop to reach into the compartments of the submarine since rescue operations commenced early noon of August 14. The boiling waters inside the submarine prevented any entry until noon that day. Access to the inner compartments of the submarine was made almost impossible due to jammed doors and hatches, distorted ladders, oily and muddy waters inside the submerged submarine resulting in total darkness and nil visibility within the submarine even with high power underwater lamps. Distorted and twisted metal within very restricted space due extensive internal damage caused by the explosion further worsened conditions for the divers. This resulted in very slow and labored progress. Only one diver could work at a time to clear the path to gain access. After 36 hours of continuous diving effort in these conditions, Navy divers have finally reached the second compartment behind the conning tower in the early hours of August 16.

Three bodies have been located and extricated from the submarine from this compartment. The bodies are severely disfigured and not identifiable due to severe burns. The bodies have been sent to INHS Asvini, the naval hospital, for possible DNA identification which is likely to take some more time.

The state of these two bodies and conditions within the submarine leads to firm conclusion that finding any surviving personnel within the submarine is unlikely.

August 14, 2013

Fatal explosion on Indian submarine

Filed under: India, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:21

A report from FirstPost.India on the worst naval disaster in Indian history:

The Indian Navy suffered a huge blow Wednesday when a frontline submarine exploded and sank here at dawn with 18 sailors after two explosions turned it into a deadly ball of fire.

The deep sea attack vessel INS Sindhurakshak, recently refurbished in Russia, suffered an unexplained explosion just after Tuesday midnight and an immediate deafening blast heard almost in the whole of south Mumbai.

Naval officials said the rapid spread of the blaze and the intensity of the explosions left the trapped 18 sailors, including three officers, with apparently no chance of escaping.

“We cannot rule out sabotage,” navy chief Admiral D.K. Joshi told the media after Defence Minister A.K. Antony visited the disaster site at the Mumbai naval dock.

“But indications at this point do not support the (sabotage) theory,” he said. “At this point of time we are unable to put a finger on what exactly could have gone wrong.”

An inquiry set up to probe the disaster will submit its report within four weeks.

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak (S 63) at anchorage off the port city of Mumbai, India

The most recent update to the Wikipedia page says:

On 14 August 2013, the Sindhurakshak sank after explosions caused by a fire took place onboard when the submarine was docked at Mumbai. The fire, followed by a series of ordnance blasts on the armed submarine, occurred shortly after midnight. The fire was put out within two hours. It is unclear exactly what caused the fire. Due to damage from the explosions, the submarine sank at its berth with only a portion visible above the water surface.[10][14][15] Sailors on board reportedly jumped off to safety. Navy divers were also brought in as there was a possibility that 18 personnel were trapped inside. India’s defence minister confirmed that there were fatalities.[6]

Due to the explosion, the front section of the submarine was twisted, bent and crumpled, and water had entered the forward compartment. Another submarine, INS Sindhuratna, also sustained minor damage when the fire on Sindhurakshak caused its torpedoes to explode.[14][16] Defence minister A. K. Antony briefed the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the submarine incident, and would leave for Mumbai to visit the accident site.[17][18]

Official sources said it was “highly unlikely” the submarine could be returned to service.[19]

February 1, 2013

USS Guardian to be dismantled in place after grounding on coral reef

Filed under: Environment, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The US Navy has decided that the best course of action is to break up the minesweeper USS Guardian after it ran solidly aground on a coral reef in the Sulu Sea:

USS Guardian aground in the Sulu Sea January 2013

“We’re working very closely with the Philippine coast guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We’ve been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” James said.

It’s expected to take over a month to dismantle the Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.

Crews have already removed 15,000 gallons of fuel from the ship. They’ve also taken off hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil and paint. They’ll be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.

The U.S. Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the removal. A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days.

The Navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard. But now the Navy says the ship is “beyond economical repair.”

No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park. The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.

Update, 8 February: A bit more information about the salvage operations which are supposed to have started on February 4th.

May 19, 2012

Salvage operation on Costa Concordia to cost more than £200 million

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:45

The Telegraph headline says £200 million, but the scrap value of the vessel must be much lower than that:

The operation is due to start in the next few days and is expected to take a year, with the battered ship to be towed to an Italian port in one piece and then dismantled for scrap.

“This is the largest ship removal by weight in history,” said Richard Habib, the president of Titan Salvage, the American company that has been given the job of raising the 1,000ft-long, 114,500 tonne cruise liner.

“The magnitude of the job is unprecedented. But we feel confident that we can do it and do it safely, with the least disturbance to the environment and the economy of Giglio.” The Concordia has been wedged on rocks and semi-submerged just a few yards from the coast of Giglio, an island off Tuscany, ever since it ran aground on the night of Jan 13.

[. . .]

The two companies’ plan for removing the wreck involves extracting the huge chunk of rock embedded in its side and patching up the torn hull.

Engineers and divers will then construct an underwater platform beneath the ship.

They will also fix steel compartments or ‘caissons’ to the side of the ship that is out of the water.

Two cranes will slowly pull the ship upright so that it rests on the submerged platform.

The caissons will be filled with water to help the cranes lift the massive weight of the ship.

Once the vessel is upright, more chambers will be attached to the other side of the hull.

All the caissons will then be emptied of water and filled with air, which will stabilise the ship in preparation for it being towed to a nearby port for demolition.

January 23, 2012

Raising the wreck of the earlier HMS Victory

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The famous British warship HMS Victory preserved in Portsmouth was built to replace an earlier ship lost in a storm in 1744:

The remains of a 300-year-old warship are to be raised from the sea bed, according to reports.

The wreck of HMS Victory, a predecessor of Nelson’s famous flagship, was found near the Channel Islands in 2008.

The British warship, which went down in a storm in 1744 killing more than 1,000 sailors, could contain gold coins worth an estimated £500m.

The Sunday Times says the Maritime Heritage Foundation is set to manage the wreck’s raising.

It also reports that the charity will employ Odyssey Marine Exploration to carry out the recovery.

The American company found the ship four years ago, with the ship’s identity confirmed by a bronze cannon.

January 21, 2012

The Birkenhead drill

Filed under: History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:55

Mark Steyn’s latest column in the Orange County Register contrasts the behaviour of the crew of the Costa Concordia with that of the crew (and male passengers) of the RMS Titanic:

In the centenary year of the most famous of all maritime disasters, we would do well to consider honestly the tale of the Titanic. [. . .]

On the Titanic, the male passengers gave their lives for the women and would never have considered doing otherwise. On the Costa Concordia, in the words of a female passenger, “There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboat.” After similar scenes on the MV Estonia a few years ago, Roger Kohen of the International Maritime Organization told Time magazine: “There is no law that says women and children first. That is something from the age of chivalry.”

If, by “the age of chivalry,” you mean our great-grandparents’ time.

In fact, “women and children first” can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship’s cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. As Kipling wrote:

    We’re most of us liars, we’re ‘arf of us thieves, an’ the rest of us rank as can be,
    But once in a while we can finish in style (which I ‘ope it won’t ‘appen to me).

Sixty years later, the men on the Titanic — liars and thieves, wealthy and powerful, poor and obscure — found themselves called upon to “finish in style,” and did so. They had barely an hour to kiss their wives goodbye, watch them clamber into the lifeboats, and sail off without them. They, too, ‘ope’d it wouldn’t ‘appen to them, but, when it did, the social norm of “women and children first” held up under pressure and across all classes.

Today there is no social norm, so it’s every man for himself — operative word “man,” although not many of the chaps on the Titanic would recognize those on the Costa Concordia as “men.”

January 17, 2012

The media angle on the Costa Concordia wreck

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:17

Tim Black points out the most common media memes about the Costa Concordia have much more to do with snobbery and disdain than with human interest or concern about the actual causes of the shipwreck:

The sequence of events that led to the sinking of the luxury cruise liner, the Costa Concordia, is now pretty much established. But facts have not got in the way of a variety of commentators who are using the accident to parade their prejudices about too-big ships and ignorant passengers.

[. . .]

These are the tragic facts so far. What no one knows exactly is why it happened. Explanations have been mooted, of course: a power blackout affecting the ship’s steering; inaccurate navigation charts failing to show the rocks; or human error, in particular by the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino. Yet while the exact reason for the ship straying off course remains unclear, that has not stopped another object of blame coming to the fore in some of the coverage. That is, the real, underlying reason for the Costa Concordia accident is to be sought not in the actual events of Friday evening but rather in the profit-driven, build-‘em-high cruise industry and, by association, in the sea-faring ignorance of all those who sailed aboard her.

This is why so much of the coverage seems obsessed with the size of the Costa Concordia. Over the past few days, we have been repeatedly told that cruise ships have doubled in size over the past decade. While this is true — and as the twenty-sixth-largest liner in the world, the Costa Concordia is far from the most impressive of this new breed of ships — the Concordia’s size does not actually tell us why it was three miles off course. Nor does it explain why the ship’s crew was unaware of the rock outcrop despite having navigation equipment. Yes, perhaps ship size does affect manoeuvrability, but would a smaller vessel not have suffered a similar fate that befell the Concordia? In fact, the obsession with the ship’s size sheds very little light on what happened to the Concordia on Friday evening.

What the convenient obsession with size draws upon, rather, is an antipathy towards the cruise industry, a sense that it is little more than the ocean-going equivalent of that other right-thinking person’s bête noire, Dubai. In other words, a vulgar testament to profit and sky-high consumption. So although size here is not really relevant as a cause of the Concordia’s capsizing, it appears relevant to certain commentators as a symbol of commercial hubris, of complacent materialism.

October 31, 2011

Shipwrecks: salvage or preserve?

Filed under: Environment, History, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:26

An article at the BBC website looks at some of the issues involving shipwrecks in international waters:

When a ship sinks and lives are lost, it is a tragedy for the families involved.

For the relatives of the dead, the ship becomes an underwater grave but as the years pass the wreck can become a site of archaeological interest.

In recent years technological innovations have allowed commercial archaeologists, decried by some as “treasure hunters”, to reach wrecks far below the surface.

[. . .]

In November 2001, the Unesco Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage was finally adopted.

But 10 years on, it still has not been ratified by the UK, France, Russia, China or the US, and commercial archaeologists continue to locate wrecks, remove their cargoes and sell them off.

“The convention has not been ratified yet because of the issues it throws up about the cost of implementing and policing it,” a spokesman for the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport, says. “Discussions continue within government, but ratification is not currently seen as a priority.”

It’s telling that the convention has not been ratified by five of the nations most likely to have both the technology and the interest to take on major underwater archaeological or salvage projects.

Robert Yorke, chairman of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, argues the real reason the government, and the Ministry of Defence in particular, are not ratifying the convention was becayse of a misplaced fear about the implications for British warships around the world.

The internationally recognised concept of “sovereign immunity” means nations should not interfere with foreign warships.

Under the Military Remains Act 1986, a number of British warships around the world are protected, including several ships sunk during the Falklands conflict. Also covered are several German U-boats in UK waters.

October 18, 2011

Sable Island becomes Canada’s newest national park

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:46

Canada’s newest national park is a tiny dot of sand out in the Atlantic:

It is just a long, slender, green-bean of a thing, but this dune off the cold coast of Nova Scotia is anything but a harmless strip of sand. Its swirling waters are known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, for they have swallowed 350 ships since 1583. Its underwater Scotian Shelf hosts 18 shark species who feast on the island’s grey seals.

The island is tall and narrow — 40-km in length, and only 1.5-km in width — and its body is held together by a skeleton of beach grass that traps the sand granules and the pirate wreckage buried within. Hundreds of untamed horses run wild, their matted manes unruly in the blustering wind where the Labrador current collides with the warm gulf stream and breeds thick fog.

This is Sable Island, a crescent-shaped mass roughly 300 kilometres out to sea. On Monday, Sable Island was formally named a Canadian national park reserve to ensure, the environment minister said in a statement, that the “iconic” and “fabled” island will be protected for all time.

[. . .]

Now that Sable Island is a national park, rigs are prohibited within one nautical mile of its shores, and its surface will never again be drilled. Some fear the new distinction will spur tourism and threaten the island, but Ms. Hirtle said resources are so scarce that she does not foresee a “Sable Island Club Med.”

September 5, 2011

How the wreck of a ship-of-the-line led to the Mary Rose

Filed under: Britain, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:41

The bottom of the Solent must be carpeted with shipwrecks:

According to naval historian Dr John Bevan, the largely forgotten flagship, which sank in the Solent at Spithead in August 1782, helped divers to locate the wreckage of the Mary Rose in the 1830s — a full 150 years before the stricken vessel was raised from the seabed.

More than 900 people died when the Royal George sank, including 300 women and 60 children who were visiting the ship which was due to head for Gibraltar with HMS Victory.

It was the biggest loss of life in British waters.

The 100-gun battleship had been heeled on to its side for repairs to be carried out on its sea cock — a valve on the hull — when it began to take in water though its open gun ports. It capsized and sank.

“For weeks after the tragedy, bodies washed ashore at Southsea, Gosport and Ryde and were buried in mass graves along the seafront,” said Royal Marines Museum historian Stuart Haven.

The Royal George remained in shallow water just beyond the entrance to Portsmouth harbour for many years, “her masts standing above the water a macabre reminder of the tragedy,” Mr Haven said.

Some 50 years later the pioneering divers Charles and John Deane tried to recover the battleship, which had become a hazard to other vessels.

Between 1834-36 the brothers undertook a series of dives.

August 29, 2011

Site of Royal Navy’s WW1 submarine disaster to be used for wind farm

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:16

In 1918, the Royal Navy suffered the loss of two submarines, with another three damaged along with a light cruiser. And you’ve probably never heard of it. It’s okay, I hadn’t heard of it either, and the British government went to great lengths to conceal the incident, because no enemy vessels were involved:

An underwater war grave containing the victims of one of the worst British naval disasters of the first world war has been surveyed for the first time so it can be preserved in the middle of a windfarm.

The two K Class submarines were destroyed on 31 January 1918 during the so-called battle of the Isle of May, in which 270 lives were lost. The two submarines were sunk and three more damaged along with a surface cruiser.

But no enemy ships were involved in the sinkings, 20 miles off Fife Ness on Scotland’s east coast. The deaths were all caused by a series of night-time collisions within the British fleet.

So embarrassing was the incident that even though one officer was court-martialed, the facts were not generally admitted for more than 60 years, until after the death of the last survivor.

A longer account of the accident is on the Wikipedia page. It’s pretty grim reading.

June 15, 2011

Daily link roundup

Filed under: Cancon, History, Media, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:16

More links that don’t quite make it as separate blog entries.

  • North Carolina shipwreck officially recognized as being Queen Ann’s Revenge, the flagship of the infamous pirate Blackbeard. “The Queen Anne’s Revenge, a captured French slave ship, was part of a four-vessel pirate flotilla when it ran aground in 1718 beside the inlet leading to Beaufort and was abandoned. The wreck was found a little more than a mile off the beach in 1996 by Intersal, a private salvage company. The location precisely matched historical accounts of the grounding, and the ship appeared to be the right vintage and size and was armed to an unusual degree. And from the first, the artifacts brought up fit the origins of the ship, the crew and the places it was known to have visited.”
  • If more reporters (and bloggers) followed John Rentoul’s list of forbidden words and phrases the internet would be only a few megabytes in size (really, those phrases seem to appear in every article and blog post lately). “The original Banned List was, of course, George Orwell’s in 1946: dying metaphors (“Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed”); verbal false limbs (“Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of”); pretentious diction (“Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilise, eliminate, liquidate”); and meaningless words (his examples included “class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality”).”
  • Significantly different approaches by Canadian and British militaries to dealing with “operational security” over Libyan operations. “It is interesting to contrast the amount of information the Canadian Forces releases on its missions in Libya. It talks about the war in general terms but CF spokesman Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette claims that detailing the type or numbers of bombs dropped on targets (or even naming specific targets) would violate operational security.” The British, in contrast, are eager to tell how many bombs (and of what type) were dropped from which aircraft and which Royal Navy vessels were involved in combat operations.
  • I was happy to see that Rogier van Bakel is now working with some co-bloggers at a new URL. Here’s the round-up of who, what, and where.

December 4, 2010

Looking for the remains of Zheng He’s treasure fleet

Filed under: Africa, China, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:22

Virginia Postrel looks at the latest archaeological expedition in the Indian Ocean:

A team of Chinese archeologists arrived in Kenya last week, headed for waters surrounding the Lamu archipelago on the country’s northern coast. They hadn’t made the trip to study local history. They came to recover a lost Chinese past.

In the early 1400s, nearly a century before Vasco da Gama reached eastern Africa, Chinese records say that the great admiral Zheng He took his vast fleet of treasure ships as far as Kenya’s northern Swahili coast. Zheng visited the Sultan of Malindi, the most powerful local ruler, and brought back exotic gifts, including a giraffe. “Africa was China’s El Dorado — the land of rare and precious things, mysterious and unfathomable,” writes Louise Levathes in her 1994 history of Zheng’s voyages, “When China Ruled the Seas.”

Now the Chinese government is funding a three-year, $3 million project, in cooperation with the National Museums of Kenya, to find and analyze evidence of Zheng’s visits. The underwater search for shipwrecks follows a dig last summer in the village of Mambrui that unearthed a rare coin carried only by emissaries of the Chinese emperor, as well as a large fragment of a green-glazed porcelain bowl whose fine workmanship befits an imperial envoy. Although Ming-era porcelains are nothing new in Mambrui — Chinese porcelains fill the local museum and decorate a centuries-old tomb — the latest finds suggest that the wares came not through Arab merchants but directly from China.

China’s brief dabbling in overseas exploration ended fairly suddenly, but there was no technical reason that they could not have continued. It would be a very different world indeed if the Emperor hadn’t decided to ignore everything outside the Middle Kingdom.

The real problem with contemporary China’s version of the Zheng He story is that it omits the ending. In the century after Zheng’s death in 1433, emperors cut back on shipbuilding and exploration. When private merchants replaced the old tribute trade, the central authorities banned those ships as well. Building a ship with more than two masts became a crime punishable by death. Going to sea in a multimasted ship, even to trade, was also forbidden. Zheng’s logs were hidden or destroyed, lest they encourage future expeditions. To the Confucians who controlled the court, writes Ms. Levathes, “a desire for contact with the outside world meant that China itself needed something from abroad and was therefore not strong and self-sufficient.”

October 23, 2009

Wreck of WW1 British submarine found in Baltic

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:48

BBC News reports on a recent discovery by the Australian descendent of the only survivor of the sinking:

The wreck of a British naval submarine lost for more than 90 years has been found in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Estonia.

HMS E18 – with its complement of three officers and 28 ratings – went out on patrol in May 1916 and was never seen again.

The submarine was one of a handful sent to the Baltic during World War I by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, to disrupt German shipments of iron ore from Sweden and support the Russian navy.

E18 left its base in the Russian port of Reval – now Tallinn, the capital of Estonia – on the evening of 25 May 1916 and headed west.

The following day she was reported to have engaged and torpedoed a German ship.

A few days later, possibly 2 June, she is believed to have struck a German mine and sunk with all hands.

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