Talk about maritime heroes, there goes one now.

Posted: May 10, 2008
…from Our Man on the Pier…

For probably many valid reasons, the professional mariner is one of those people, I think, the average guy walking down the street just has no idea even exists. He works half-a-world-away from average-walking-guy; figuratively and sometimes literally. It’s a world he never sees and doesn’t need to. You see, waking-man gets his fish at the supermarket and his gas at the gas station. Perfect Storm was a really cool movie and if he has a boat it’s probably just for the fun of it. Nothing wrong with that. But he never sees the half of the world that makes the half he lives in possible. This suits the professional mariners I know just fine. They’re not a complaining bunch.

But that guy walking down the street just doesn’t know who he’s missing. I know. I used to be that walking guy until I started working here back in the early 90s. I’ve met some incredible people in this strange business. Our Man on the Pier tells us we are missing one more of those greats, from the other half-a-world-away: Australian salvage master, David Hancox.

Even though it was for only a week or two, way back then, I consider myself fortunate for having worked with David. We learned of his passing from Bill Milwee recently. Bill, a well known salvor in his own right, and longtime friend and colleague to David, writes to us with this fitting tribute as only he could. Thanks, Bill.

I knew David for some thirty plus years–met him out in Singapore in the early 70s and had the privilege of working with him in a number of capacities in various places in the world as well as carrying on a long and active correspondence–in both letters and phone calls–with him. We were good friends. There was something about this quiet, unassuming guy that made you know he was a man you could trust.
A few things you may not know: David and the Hancox family were good friends with Captain Sir John Williams who recovered the gold cargo from the Niagara–a significant part of the British Treasury–when that ship was sunk off Auckland in four hundred feet of water in 1940. Sir John (also a man I counted among my friends) headed the Australian salvage effort in World War II. I met him when I visited him in Melbourne to discuss a Southern Pacific salvage contract with the US Navy with him. He was larger than life. I had the privilege of sitting in his dining room watching the original films of the gold recovery while sipping Sir John’s fine brandy. When I met David he was a salvage master for Selco–later Semco when Ernest Kahlenberg, another larger than life character, sold out to Singapore Electric.
I don’t know exactly what name David was operating under during the Tanker War in the Gulf. What was going on there made it the Happy Hunting Ground for salvors
When he went back to Australia after Selco was sold he became the senior salvage master for United Salvage which was forming with the name of John Williams’s old company–and Sir John’s permission.
David lived on a farm where he ran a few thousand sheep outside a one pub town called Drysdale near the city of Geelong in Victoria–not far from Melbourne. He did have dogs on the Farm and they were Australian sheep dogs, but not what are called Australian Shepherds in this country. They were Kelpies. When I was down there with him, his retired Red Kelpie worked with us in the office–occupying a large Papa-san chair and demanding that we right it when he capsized it. David had a couple of wonderful stories about how this dog, shortly after his retirement from farm work and moving to Singapore, helped discharge a sheep carrier that had no power after an engine room fire and later advised them that the doors on the cages on another sheep ship were hung the wrong way round.
You may not know that while David carried an Unlimited Master’s license his military connection was with the Army which had the responsibility for salvage. He actually made general a few years ago.
Kazuko, David’s lovely Japanese wife died a few years ago. She was visiting family in Japan when she had a cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. She was also a dog person who trained Akitas as guard dogs–she had switched to Shiba Inus shortly before he died. They had one daughter Harumi whose address I have enclosed. That is the suitable address for condolences. After Kazuko died, David’s Army CO suggested he learn something new. Since David had been one of the early and most enthusiastic users of helicopters in salvage he suggested that David learn to fly a helicopter. David did and shortly thereafter was commanding a helicopter regiment. Shortly after I heard that I got a call from New Zealand from Don Patterson of Columbia Helicopters-my choice of heavy lift operators–who was incensed that the Australian Army was discharging a log ship off New Zealand. Yes, it was David and his regiment.
David had remarried, a woman who is named Kate. All I know about her I learned over a beer with Trevor Cosh at the last ITS in Rotterdam. Very different form Kazuko, but you would expect that.
You are right. Rick, he had incredible patience.
His Commercial Salvage Practice was a major contribution to the literature. He was planning to do an updated edition stating this year. What you may not know, is that David reviewed every chapter of my Modern Marine Salvage. The comment I liked best was that one chapter (I don’t recall which one) was “just like baby bear’s porridge–just right.” High praise, beautifully put.
David did not pass suddenly. He had had a long battle with TB that he credited to a forty plus day sojourn on a particularly filthy Chinese ship. I imagine the cancer coming on top of that just overwhelmed him. He told Ken Ross shortly before his death that he was “F—–.” Guess he was right. Dammit.
David Hancox was a man of many facets, of many layers, and many textures. It was a privilege to have known him
On the personal side I turned 70 last year and the doctors put me on the blood thinner which requires regular monitoring. That and the fact that I can’t handle seven day weeks, sixteen hour work days in remote places and the ever present hazard of traumatic injury make it very unattractive. I don’t go to casualties anymore and resigned as a SCOPIC Special Casualty Representative and a couple of other places. I am learning to live with it, but don’t really much like it.

Rick, do you remember the month David and I shared an apartment in Jamestown working on some part of the Salvage Manual? (I sure do, Bill.) The thing I remember best about that month was that every afternoon we would walk up the street. The two grizzled old salvors went for an ice cream. I had walked into a wall in the apartment and broken a toe so I limped.
One of the most pleasant times I spent with him was at the ITS Conference in Southampton in 1994. We went to the conference party one night on a vessel that was packed–after less then half an hour we went back to our hotel put on our jeans and went to a pub for dinner. David was one of the realest people I have ever known.


By Professional Mariner Staff