Using novel methods, Titan faces a prodigious salvage challenge

In May, Titan Salvage arrived in Coos Bay on the mid-Oregon coast and began final preparations to remove the stern of New Carissa from a remote beach on the North Spit of the harbor entrance. If all goes as planned, by October the company will have written the final chapter in a saga that began on Feb. 4, 1999, when the 639-foot Japanese wood-chip carrier ran aground after anchoring overnight when rough weather closed the bar.

A portion of the stern section is raised by the crane on one of the two barges supporting the salvage.

The stern, weighing about 1,200 tons, sits in the surf at the southern end of the Oregon Dunes — a popular recreation area — and close to a bird refuge. Area residents forced the state to keep the beach open and make it off-limits to any salvage activity. Titan’s plan depended on its ability to position its two jack-up barges securely around the wreck and create a stable working platform from which to lower men down and hoist and store the cut sections on deck. These barges have been key to Titan’s success in many demanding projects.

The 208-foot barge Karlissa A has a machine house aft with a helicopter pad on the roof and a large working deck. The 169-foot Karlissa B is permanently fitted with a 1,100-ton Manitowoc platform ringer crane with a capacity of 350 tons at a 55-foot radius, with a smaller cargo deck. Each barge is supported by six 6-foot-diameter steel legs that are stowed on deck during transit, then picked up and inserted dockside close to the job site by the crane. They are lowered by DeLong pneumatic jacks that use no oils or potential pollutants. Each ring of jacks has a lifting capacity of 500 tons and a lock and hold capacity of 1,000 tons. The jacking speed ranges from 10 to 21 feet per hour, depending on the load on the barge.

After the state of Oregon sued New Carissa’s owner, Green Atlas Shipping of Panama, in 2002, Titan founder David Parrot testified that he could remove the stern during the short summer season using the two barges. An expert witness for the owner disagreed, saying that severe injury or death was “virtually an inevitable result” of further salvage attempts. He was not alone in this view.

For 40 days in February and March 1999, the condition of the ship and the weather combined to foil attempts to salvage and then scuttle the vessel, with the response becoming a textbook example of unintended consequences. When Fred Devine Diving and Salvage’s anchor tug Salvage Chief arrived to refloat the ship on Feb. 9, less than a week after it had run aground, it had already been driven 600 feet closer to shore. The effort was soon called off as oil started to leak from the fuel tanks, threatening the bay and entire coastline. 

Top, workers attach chains to the steel section to be raised by the barge crane.

Above, pullers in the foreground. Pneumatic jacks that raise the barge on its six legs are visible to the rear.

The goal of the operation quickly changed to the prevention of a disastrous oil spill. On Feb. 10, naval demolition teams were sent in by helicopter to ignite the 400,000 gallons of fuel. On Feb. 11, the fire took hold and pictures of the ship ablaze on the beach were seen around the world. The next day, plans had to be changed again, when the ship, weakened by the inferno, broke in two.

On March 2, the 7,200-hp Crowley Maritime tug Sea Victory towed the 440-foot forward half of New Carissa 40 miles out to sea before a rising storm snapped the massive towline. The following day, the bow — still carrying an estimated 135,000 gallons of oil — drifted north and ran aground near Waldport. By now, the media had dubbed New Carissa “the ship that refused to die.”

On March 8, the tug again pulled the bow off the beach and towed it 300 miles offshore. On March 11, a U.S. Navy destroyer fired more than 100 rounds into the hulk, but failed to scuttle it. Finally, a torpedo from a nuclear submarine sank the bow in more than 10,000 feet of water.

Keys to success
Early this year, Titan’s two salvage barges were picked up by Crowley’s 7,200-hp Ocean-class tug Commander in the Dominican Republic and towed to the Panama Canal. The 5,750 hp Guardian took over for the Pacific leg. (Titan became part of Crowley Maritime in 2005.) In Coos Bay, salvage master Shelby Harris prepared the vessels and waited for calm seas to position them over the wreck. Karlissa B went first on June 4.

A mooring line was passed between the bow of the barge and the wreck while the tug held a stern line to seaward. Then a helicopter picked up a messenger line from the barge and carried it to shore. A warp was transferred to the beach and attached to a bulldozer that provided a steady third leg to align the barge east-west with the bow directly over the wreck in a minimum of 4 to 5 feet of water.

The barge legs were extended approximately 30 feet into the bottom and the deck was raised 50 feet above the water. With good footing, light current and fair weather, the legs can function to a maximum depth of 200 feet. Karlissa A was then moved into position on June 17 on a north-south axis. The two barges were close enough for a short gangplank to connect them.

To reach the wreck without using the beach, which was off limits to the salvors, Titan erected an aerial tramway for its crews. The erection and use of the tram represented a first for a salvage operation.

In the planning stage, Titan had been confident it could establish a secure working platform, but transportation to the site still presented a problem. The short weather window meant work had to proceed seven days a week, and success hinged on fast, reliable transit. But the state would not allow a pier to be built, helicopters would be grounded by frequent low visibility and high winds, and the surf conditions made the use of watercraft impractical.

Harris and Phil Reed, director of engineering for Titan, decided the only remaining option was an aerial tramway — the first ever used in a salvage operation. They studied cable cars used for ski lifts and logging camps, then designed and built a system that could carry the entire crew on a tensioned 1,000-foot-long wire. It is self-propelled with a hydraulic power pack above the carriage. A local contractor erected a tower with a deep anchor inside the company’s compound above the beach, and the wire was connected to the center leg of Karlissa A. The aerial transporter has performed beyond expectations in all weather.

While New Carissa demanded radical thinking, Titan often uses unusual methods. Karlissa A is routinely reconfigured to suit a particular project by adding extra generators and pumps and by welding bollards and hydraulic pullers to the deck. In Coos Bay, a 90 ton mobile track crane was hired and driven onto the barge specifically to move men to the wreck.

Long hours, short summer

U.S. Coast Guard findings on the grounding

A U.S. Coast Guard inquiry established that New Carissa had arrived in ballast off the entrance to Coos Bay in a strong offshore wind with 21-foot breaking waves on the harbor bar. The bay pilots radioed the captain to wait to proceed until daybreak, when they would send out a pilot boat.

The captain decided to ride out the night on the port anchor 1.7 miles off the North Spit in 95 feet of water, a location recommended by the Coast Pilot but exposed to the full force of the swells.

During the night, the wind picked up as forecasted and the wave height increased to 25 feet. In the morning, the Filipino crew readied the 48,979-ton deadweight ship for loading, unaware that the anchor was dragging.

At 0730, the captain was informed. He ordered the engine started and the anchor raised. The drag of the chain, the windage of the hull and the loss of power as the stern lifted forced New Carissa to fall off its heading and begin moving slowly north, unable to break out of the wave trough.

The ship ran aground at low tide at 0830 about 2 1/2 miles north of the bay entrance. The report faulted the captain for choosing to anchor instead of maintaining a safe offing, for using only one anchor, and for not laying out more chain when he learned the anchor was dragging. It also faulted the watch officers for using only one reference point to monitor the ship’s position.

Peter Marsh

Members of Titan’s international crew all have many years of salvage experience. Most are trained divers, proficient in underwater welding and cutting, and have proven their ability to work safely for long hours in demanding environments. For New Carissa, the cutting crew took a climbing safety course to learn how to use harnesses and ropes to belay themselves while working on steep surfaces.

Each day begins with a two-mile drive through the dunes in a four-wheel-drive van, then a ride on the transporter. With a team of four to six workers on the wreck and about a dozen on the barges operating the cranes, flat-stacking scrap and supporting the cutters, the work proceeds 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, with the single shift getting only occasional rest days.

By the middle of July, the ship’s main deck, two lower decks and bulkheads and the port topside had been removed, exposing the engine room. The transom was retained to provide some protection. On a rare calm day, a local tug brought a deck barge out to the site and a full load of scrap — about 300 tons — was taken away.

In the following week, the total weight of the scrap removed reached 600 tons, and the effort turned to identifying strong points on the wreck where holes could be cut to pass a massive 3-inch anchor chain with 100-pound links. The holes were reinforced with welded stiffeners and by July 29 the rigging was complete.

Before the pullers were activated, Harris ordered everyone off Karlissa A and the transporter was sent to shore in case the barge began to list. With the four pullers exerting more than 1,200 tons of tension on the chains, neither the wreck nor the barge moved noticeably, and the crew went back to shore for the night as a summer gale blew in.

The next day, the crew rigged a 24-inch “air lift” system that blew compressed air into the bottom of the stern section through a steel tube, blasting sand and mud out in a brown geyser next to the wreck. The rudder was buried more than 20 feet deep and there was no way of telling how much sand was inside the engine room.

Titan added two more pullers and the big crane to the effort, for a total of more than 2,000 tons of pulling power. After a week of constant tension on the chains and air blasting, New Carissa broke free. The stern rose 12 to 14 feet and a twisted propeller blade broke the surface. The cutting team went back to work burning through decks now angled at 70°, requiring them to depend entirely on their climbzing ropes.

By Aug. 7 the transom had been removed, and more of the topside quickly followed. Titan was well within its schedule, but the dismantling of the ship was becoming increasingly complex. Before the next gale rolled in the crew needed to adjust Karlissa A’ s legs, which had dug deeper into the sand under the strain, Harris said. The adjustment would allow the crew to reposition the chains lower and provide access to heavy items like the 70-ton rudder and the 60-ton propeller and shaft. They may also attempt to remove the cylinder head of the 250-ton Mitsubishi Sulzer engine.

On completion of the project, Titan will receive the fee of $16.4 million it negotiated with the state.

By Professional Mariner Staff