Spiegel Grove

About the sinking!

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May 17, 2002

Hello Everyone,

I wrote the comments below Saturday morning!  The latest news is that a salvage company has been hired by the KL Chamber of Commerce sinking committee to right the Spiegel Grove onto its side or upright!  check out

Commentary by Glenn Patton - Safety - Oversight Officer during the sinking operations.

It seems there was one too many holes in the wrong place resulting in the unexpected sinking of the Spiegel Grove.

Everything was going smoothly early in the morning, Friday, May 17.  The work crews were on board the ship by 0800.  The water was barely coming up on to the well deck.

A morning briefing was held to define the day's mission.  Safety procedure were reiterated.  All personnel were directed to stay on the main deck or above because all the main deck hatches were to be welded shut.  As the Safety Oversight Officer I assigned a person to make sure no one was below deck as the main deck hatches were welded closed.  It would be very difficult for someone to be trapped even with some hatches welded closed because a person could go horizontally on the same deck and emerge from the next hatch.

At 0830,  everyone was hustling to get all the equipment off the ship. The equipment was raised out of the well deck by rope and staged on the top of the port side wing wall waiting to be lower to vessels along side the port side.  The first stuff offload\ed to the waiting boats was trash because it was already on the top of the wing wall.

After the morning brief crews were cutting numerous small holes into the both sides of the wing walls on the well deck.  The holes varied from just above on the deck to 10 feet above the well deck.  By 0900 the stern of the ship began to settle down.  No one was immediately concerned because the flooding engineers wanted water in the well deck and stated numerous times the ship would not sink even if the well deck had several feet of water in it. 

Well deck @ 0900

At about 0945 when the water was almost amidships and rising quickly, I approached Command and the Flooding Advisor to discuss my concerns that the ship was sinking.  I was ready to implement the emergency action plan with the air horn by sounding the 5 emergency warning blasts.  At first the Flooding Advisor insisted that the ship would not sink and was designed to stay afloat with a lot of water in the well deck.  At this point, Project Manager Rob Bleser in charge of Command Post did not seemed convinced the ship would stay afloat.  A decision was made to evacuate all non-essential personnel.  They started moving in an orderly manner to port side with as much equipment as they could carry.

At this point the situation started to change rapidly.  About two minutes later the Rob Bleser picked up the air horn and sounded the 5 emergency blasts implementing the emergency action plan.  Everyone started moving faster and were told to abandon the equipment and get off the ship. 

Everyone got off the ship in about 15 minutes.  In another 15 to 20 minutes the the ship went down stern first, rolled over on it's side and then went upside down.  Accountability was difficult however everyone was accounted for.


It was obvious the flooding plan went wrong.  There were a few too many holes in the ship in the wrong place.  However, the entire operations plan emphasized that the operation was risky and dangerous!  Even as late as the operation meeting Friday, May 10 the Flooding Advisors stated according to the local newspaper, "THE REPORTER" that;

"As the Spiegel Grove goes from a positively buoyant ship to a negatively buoyant artificial reef, there is a small window of time where the ship will be neutrally buoyant.  We all know that when we are neutral in the water, we are basically floating and weightless – and that’s the problem. At this point, depending on the wind, waves, and current, the ship could easily turn on its side or even upside down while in its neutral state."

For my two cents which isn't worth two cent, I was surprised the ship was not oriented into the current.  A "Scientific" 100 Year Storm Advisory study call for the Spiegel Grove to be perpendicular to the current facing the Southeast which I think was a significant miscalculation.   Also, It seems that the entire process would have been more controlled with extensive use of internal explosive charges that would blow all the ballast tanks and then the hull in a sequence that would result in a stern to bow flooding all at once.  The actual plan was very similar except the permit called for minimal use of explosives and a stern to bow flooding that would be more progressive.  Unfortunately, explosives were not used to blow the forward ballast areas as the original plan called for.  
Everyone has an opinion on how the ship should have been sunk.  No one will ever know what the right plan would have been or if it could have been executed properly.
There is going to be a lot of finger pointing and Monday morning quarterbacking.  None of which is worth the two cents they offer.  People who may run around playing the blame game or saying "I could have done it the right way"  will only discredit themselves.  No one will ever know what would have sunk the Spiegel Grove upright or on it's side. 
With the Spiegel Grove upside down on the bottom there is still a HERO in this project and that is ROB BLESER.  He put his heart and soul into this project !  Rob Bleser did everything he possibly could to get it right given the limitation that were placed on the project.  He got the best possible advise that was available given the circumstances.  He does not deserve any blame at all even if the Spiegel Grove is upside down. 
The other HEROES of the sinking of the Spiegel Grove are all the volunteers who worked their butts off trying to make this happen the right way. 

It will be interesting to see how the next chapter of the Spiegel Groves history will be written !!!
Best Regards,
Glenn Patton