Tag Archives: maritime

SS United States Might Be Headed For Scrap

SS United States at sea, 1950s (Public Domain)

The old SS United States is facing a most undesirable future. Built in 1952 to be the fastest passenger luxury ship under the U.S. flag (and in fact subsidized by the federal government)she garnered impressive speed records and the Blue Riband in 1952. But transatlantic ship travel dwindled as more people flew rather than take a ship. And so it languished bouncing around from owners and occasional thoughts of using her again for this and that. Most of the fittings and furniture were sold in 1984. Norwegian Cruise Lines did consider using it but never did and ultimately the SS United States Conservancy (a non-profit group)got title to the ship.

But as you can guess, having a ship docked at a working pier (pier 82 in Philadelphia)is not cheap. Ultimately the goal is to move the ship to an area easily accessed by the general public and like the Queen Mary, make it a stationary attraction. The conservancy board of directors has decided, if it cannot raise the funds necessary to sell it to a recycler.

From their official release:

After much deliberation and consultation, the SS United States Conservancy’s Board of Directors has decided to retain a broker to explore the potential sale of America’s Flagship, the SS United States to a responsible, U.S.-based metals recycler. We have achieved an extraordinary amount of progress in support of the SS United States‘ potential redevelopment in recent months, including detailed plans, financial models, renderings, and engineering approaches with support from a number of major firms. In so many ways, we’ve never been closer to saving America’s Flagship, but we have also never been closer to losing this irreplaceable piece of our history.

The Conservancy has been very clear in its communications to its supporters and the media that the carrying costs for the vessel total more than $60,000 per month. While our fundraising effortshave enabled us to meet those continuing obligations to date, thanks to the steadfast support of donors from across the nation and around the world, the financial burdens imposed bythe ship’s ongoing expenses have become unsustainable. The Conservancy continues to do everything within its power to advance an outcome that protects the vessel, preserves her historical legacy, and secures a viable redevelopment program. As we have announced previously, redevelopment negotiations are ongoing. We have identified two potential locations that can accommodate the ship, and we are continuing complex talks with various entities regarding these sites. These ongoing discussions remain subject to confidentiality agreements signed by both parties.

Despite this progress in our redevelopment negotiations, the timing of additional financial support from our partners may come too late, in the absence of another party willing to support the Conservancy or assume responsibility for the vessel at this time.

If donors or investors step forward by the end of the month who are ready, willing, and able to help the Conservancy, America’s Flagship could still be saved. However, if progress toward a new sales option or an infusion of funds does not occur by October 31, 2015, we will have no choice but to negotiate the sale of the ship to a responsible U.S.-based recycler.

Hopefully enough money will be raised so the ship will be saved. But it looks dicey. Sad to see a great piece of American history heading toward being torn up for scrap.

1.SS United States May Only Have Weeks Left Afloat(7 Oct 2015,Newsmax)
2.SS United States Conservancy (website)

Titanic of The Golden Gate Revealed

City of Rio de Janeiro, 1898 Photo: public domain
City of Rio de Janeiro, 1898
Photo: public domain

On 22 February 1901, the SS City of Rio de Janeiro, inbound from Hong Kong in thick morning fog, struck rocks near Fort Point-close to where the now famous Golden Gate Bridge is located-and sank taking with her 128 of the 210 passengers and crew aboard.  The sinking was so sudden (due to the catastrophic nature of the damage on the underside) that a nearby lifesaving station was unaware of it for 2 hours. Fortunately fisherman rescued survivors but the captain, William Ward, went down with the ship. Most of the passengers were Chinese and Japanese immigrants but one notable passenger was  Rounsevelle Wildman, who was the US Consul General at Hong Kong enroute with his family to Washington D.C. for the innaguration of President William McKinley. He and his family were lost in the sinking. Due to the depth, it was impossible at the time to dive to the wreck. Rumors of gold or silver have persisted despite the cargo manifest showing 2,423 slabs of tin aboard. Bodies of the dead would wash up on the nearby shore for a few years including that of Captain Ward.

Credit: Coda Octopus/NOAA
Credit: Coda Octopus/NOAA

Most attempts to locate the wreck failed. One notable claim from 1931 was that it was located via submarine but the person making the claim later disappeared. In 1987 it was announced that it was found and a consortium named Seagamb Inc. would go down, look around, and see if the could find the rumored cargo of silver. While they initially got a permit it was revoked in 1990 because they did not live up to the terms specified. Another problem emerged more recently when another expedition sponsored the National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program (part of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration or known simply as NOAA)to document shipwrecks around San Francisco Bay found a discrepancy in the wreck’s location. The 1980 coordinates differed from U.S. government sonar scans of the area. At any at the problem has been cleared up. And with newer technology much clearer scans of the wreck along with three dimensional images allow us to see this wreck as never before.

1. First Images Of ‘Titanic Of The Golden Gate’ Revealed(11 Dec 2014,CNN)
2. Revealing the Secrets of “San Francisco’s Titanic” (NOAA)

Science Friday: Why Do Metal Ships Float?

Oasis of The Seas, one of the largest cruise ships afloat today(Photo 2010) Image:Baldwin040(Wikipedia)
Oasis of The Seas, one of the largest cruise ships afloat today(Photo 2010)

Back in the days when ships were made of wood (or other similar materials), most knew a ship or boat would float since wood floats on water. Sounds simple enough but it gets a bit more complicated when you add weight (or mass) to it. Then you have to think about how to do it to make sure its mass does not sink it. This is where two important principles come into play: buoyancy and the Archimedes principle. The Archimedes principle is that an object in a fluid encounters an upward force equal to that of the weight of the fluid displaced around the object. A ship floats when it displaces a lot of water and that water wants to return to where it was. This creates a force that pushes the ship upwards creating what is called the buoyancy force. A ship that displaces water equal to its own weight will float, while a ship that displaces water greater than its own weight will sink.

Ships and boats then have to be shaped in a way that allows for this displacement to occur so it does not sink. And it allows for a lot of air to be inside as well. Ships are not like solid blocks of steel, which have no air inside. Stability becomes a major issue as well. You want the center of gravity to be stable so it does not tip over easy. In small boats you can see how this works out. A person moving from one side to the other causes the center of gravity to change. Equipment has to be balanced and gear brought aboard has to be kept low and near the center of the boat. That is why it is unwise in small boats to sit on the sides as it will cause tipping. The same principle is true on larger boats and ships. Weight must be distributed so that no one part of the ship is heavier than any other. If the center of gravity on a ship becomes too high due to highly stacked cargo or other things, buoyancy becomes unstable and it will capsize.

Here is a YouTube video that explains how ships float.

1. Buoyancy and how ships float (IMDO Ireland, Marine Institute)
2. Why can boats made of steel float on water when a bar of steel sinks (HowStuffWorks.com)
3. Why can heavy steel ships float? (Science Niblets)
4. Why Do Ships Float Infographic(Bolsover Cruise Club)
5. Buoyancy(hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/)

Revision History:
5 June 2015-Added 2 new sources (Bolsover and Hyperphysics)


Titanic Musings-Binoculars

Photo: Public Domain
Photo: Public Domain

Question: Would Titanic lookouts having binoculars made a difference?

Short answer
Likely the same outcome.

Long answer
The question of binoculars has always been an issue. Binoculars work best in lighted and semi lighted environments. However on dark moonless nights where there is dead calm on the ocean, they would be least effective. Remember that binoculars limit your view to just what you are looking at rather than a wide area. Lightoller stated the purpose of the lookouts was not to identify but to alert the bridge, which they did by ringing bells. One gong meant look port, two gongs look starboard, and three gongs right ahead. The senior officer on the bridge usually had binoculars (Murdoch did) so they could look at what the lookouts were warning about, if not already aware of the issue.

White Star was unique in that employed men for just lookout positions. Other lines usually assigned men on an ad hoc basis (meaning they were on duty at the time). Lightoller told the US inquiry that he preferred those who had experience in such duties, especially on other ships he had been on. And he points out they became experts at detecting things on the horizon.

For a more through examination of the binocular issue, see Art Braunschweiger’s article
‘We have no look-out glasses in the crow’s nest” on Encyclopedia Titanica.

Raise The Titanic!

Duke of Lancaster beached near Mostyn, North Wales, UK (2010) Photo:Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK(via Wikipedia)
Duke of Lancaster beached near Mostyn, North Wales, UK (2010)
Photo:Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK(via Wikipedia)

Douglas Wooley, who claims to own Titanic, long has had plans to bring Titanic to Liverpool and partially restore it as tourist attraction. Now according News North Wales, he has found a ship to assist in this endeavor: TSS Duke of Lancaster. The Lancaster, built in 1956, has been beached near Mostyn, Wales since 1979. Originally built as passenger steamer for British Railways by Harland & Wolff, Belfast, it was converted to a car ferry in the 1960’s. In 1979 the ship was sold to Empirewise Ltd, who according to Wikipedia would use the ship as “static leisure centre and market.” It became known as the “Fun Ship” but later was used as a warehouse. Despite its weathered appearance apparently the inside is in good condition. Right now it sits awaiting either to be scrapped or possibly used as an open art gallery to display graffiti.

And now Wooley thinks this will be a fine ship to aid in bringing up Titanic. The ship’s co-owner John Rowley, doubts the plan and adds “I have no comment on the idea,” he said. “I would be amazed if Mr Woolley is able to keep a straight face through it all. I obviously do not share the same sense of humour as this budding salvage man, but each to their own.”

You have to admire Douglas. He has never given up on the idea of raising Titanic. He claims (and likely does own) the actual wreck. Even if he could put all the pieces together to bring up just a portion, it would run into all kinds of practical and legal obstacles. Clive Palmer’s project to build Titanic II has more probability of being done than raising a part of Titanic from its watery grave.

1 My Dream To ‘Raise The Titanic Using Funship’(22 April 2014,News North Wales)
2.Is Douglas Woolley the Real Owner of the Titanic?(Dummies.com)
3. TSS Duke of Lancaster (1956) (Wikipedia)