UK — Specialist MOD team recovers damaged ships from round the world

The MOD’S Sal­vage and Marine Oper­a­tions (SALMO) Project Team pro­vides sal­vage and recov­ery assis­tance to Roy­al Navy and Roy­al Fleet Aux­il­iary ves­sels around the world. The spe­cial­ist team of Defence Equip­ment & Sup­port civ­il ser­vants is almost a real life ver­sion of Ger­ry Anderson’s Thun­der­birds. Report by Ian Carr.

Ear­ly one evening in 2008, with just eight shop­ping days left to Christ­mas, phones rang in the homes of mem­bers of the MOD Sal­vage and Marine Oper­a­tions (SALMO) Project Team. 

The demand was urgent: 

“The Duty Fleet Con­troller advis­es that HMS Endurance has a major flood­ing prob­lem and is drift­ing with­out pow­er off South Amer­i­ca. Please could you come into the office?” 

With­in 24 hours, a team of 13 sal­vage experts were Falk­lands bound to save the strick­en ice patrol ship. 

Remark­able things like that hap­pen to SALMO

If a war­ship has been holed and needs tow­ing to safe­ty, or if a decom­mis­sioned nuclear pow­ered Russ­ian sub­ma­rine needs trans­port­ing, that’s when SALMO are go. 

If a mil­i­tary, or occa­sion­al­ly, a civil­ian heli­copter ditch­es, the unit is called in. Nigel Hills, who joined the team in 2004 as a naval archi­tect said: 

“This can include the recov­ery of human remains. This is the sad part of the job.” 

But when there are no fatal­i­ties, deal­ing with air­craft is an inter­est­ing chal­lenge he added: 

“We are told what we need to recov­er. It may be a black box, but it could be a part of the air­craft which is armed.” 

Oper­a­tions such as these require per­son­nel with very spe­cial skills: 

“We tend to recruit welders, mechan­ics or elec­tri­cians from indus­try, and then train them to dive,” said Nigel. 

The 56-strong team is divid­ed into units based in Greenock and Devon­port, with an HQ in Fox­hill, Bath. They form an eclec­tic mix of divers, mechan­ics, elec­tri­cians, engi­neers, mas­ter mariners, naval archi­tects, logis­ti­cians, sup­port­ed by ded­i­cat­ed busi­ness, com­mer­cial and finance officers: 

“The ini­tial call for assis­tance goes through to one of the senior offi­cers in the team. They assess the sit­u­a­tion, decide how to deal with it, then shape the team. If kit is need­ed, it is mobilised or we look at the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hir­ing it local­ly,” said Nigel. 

The team’s exper­tise may also be called on to pre­vent dis­as­ter. SALMO marine war­ran­ty sur­vey­ors are on hand when sec­tions of new ships are moved to the assem­bly yard. 

And they were involved in the trans­port of decom­mis­sioned Russ­ian nuclear sub­marines (under the Arc­tic Mil­i­tary Envi­ron­men­tal Coop­er­a­tion) to their dis­pos­al ports. 

Nigel was aboard the MV Transshelf in 2006 mov­ing a Novem­ber Class sub­ma­rine. His col­league Emmanuel Ofo­su-Apeasah trumped that with the move of two Vic­tor Class subs in the Russ­ian Far East. 

Some of the more major inci­dents the team have been involved in include the 2002 ground­ing of HMS Not­ting­ham near Lord Howe Island, 200 miles (322km) off the coast of Aus­tralia. The ship was severe­ly dam­aged, with sev­er­al com­part­ments (includ­ing mag­a­zines) open to the sea. Divers assessed the damage. 

The sal­vage and recov­ery effort required the instal­la­tion of inter­nal rein­force­ment, rig­ging the ves­sel for an open ocean tow, de-water­ing of flood­ed com­part­ments, removal and safe dis­pos­al of Sea Dart mis­siles, and, ulti­mate­ly, repa­tri­a­tion to the UK, which involved giv­ing Not­ting­ham a pig­gy back ride on a huge semi-sub­mersible heavy lift ship. Nigel Hills project man­aged the repa­tri­a­tion phase. 

And in 1995, SALMO was tasked to remove 2,000 tonnes of fuel oil from the wreck of HMS Roy­al Oak. The ship had been sunk in 1939 in Scapa Flow by a Ger­man U‑boat.

The com­plex oper­a­tion is ongo­ing, but has, so far, been a great engi­neer­ing and envi­ron­men­tal suc­cess. The team is involved in man­age­ment of the wreck, and liais­es very close­ly with oth­er gov­ern­ment depart­ments such as the Depart­ment of Transport. 

Team mem­ber Andy Lid­dell is now work­ing on an oper­a­tion to sur­vey the wreck of the Dark­dale, an RFA ves­sel that was tor­pe­doed by a U‑boat in 1944 off the island of St Hele­na, as its fuel oil is now threat­en­ing the environment. 

In 2002, SALMO led the recov­ery of a Lynx heli­copter from HMS Rich­mond, that crashed in the North Atlantic. 

At a depth of 4,000m, it was the deep­est ever recov­ery of a crashed air­craft and allow­ing the acci­dent invesit­ga­tors to iden­ti­fy a poten­tial­ly seri­ous defect and fix the prob­lem imme­di­ate­ly through­out the rest of the Lynx heli­copter fleet. 

SALMO experts also retrieved the bod­ies of the air­crew from HMS Portland’s Lynx heli­copter, which crashed in dark­ness, in 2004, while respond­ing to a pos­si­ble man over­board alert from HMS Montrose. 

And, in 2009 they con­duct­ed a seabed search off Aberdeen for vic­tims of the North Sea heli­copter crash, and recov­ered them. 

When HMS Endurance flood­ed and began to drift with­out pow­er in the South Atlantic, the oper­a­tion to recov­er her was anoth­er good exam­ple of a major SALMO mobilisation. 

A team of 13, along with a naval team and engi­neers from the ship project team at Abbey Wood, flew to the Falk­land Islands, from where a RAF Her­cules imme­di­ate­ly took them to Pun­ta Are­nas in south­ern Chile. 

Back in the UK, col­leagues liaised with the Navy and char­tered tugs to tow Endurance from the mid­dle of the Mag­el­lan Straits to a berth in Pun­ta Arenas. 

After inspect­ing the dam­age, a sal­vage plan was put into action and the ship was towed on to the Falklands. 

There, she was pre­pared for recov­ery to the UK, aboard the MV Target. 

This arti­cle is tak­en from the Novem­ber 2010 issue of Defence Focus — the mag­a­zine for every­one in Defence. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →