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THE AL KUWAIT OPERATION Salvage operations often pose unpredictable challenges and each operation requires individual planning. Technical skills, creative thinking and innovative solutions are all in play. The vessel AL KUWAIT, which sank in the port of Kuwait in 1964, is an example of an operation in which unusual methods were used to meet the success criteria – rescuing the vessel and minimizing environmental impact. The 100 metres long vessel weighing 4,000 tons was specially built for shipping livestock. On 14th September 1964 she had just berthed in Kuwait and started to unload 5,500 sheep. When just 500 sheep were safe on land the vessel started to list to port and within minutes had capsized in 14 metres of water. Some 5,000 sheep drowned. The Kuwaiti authorities wanted the vessel removed as quickly as possible, not least due to the environmental impact of the dead livestock. A salvage solution was needed which would minimize both the risk of sheep fl oating out of the vessel and structural damage to the almost new vessel. Using air pressure for re-fl oatation risked tearing the vessel apart and there was not enough space to place lifting pontoons alongside the vessel. A month later the authorities lost patience and gave the insurance company an ultimatum – if the wreck were not removed within a relatively short time they would arrange removal on behalf of the shipowner. The urgency led the insurance company to seek new ways. The Danish inventor Karl Krøyer was asked to fi nd a solution that would satisfy all parties. Two weeks later he presented his solution. Krøyer proposed pumping small air fi lled polystyrene balls into the vessel to re-fl oat it. The method proved successful in a test and 50 tons of polystyrene, pumps and further equipment were transported to Kuwait. SVITZER supplied divers for the operation. The divers had to volunteer to do the job because of the health risk constituted by a wreck holding 5,000 putrefying sheep. Before the divers went to Kuwait they inspected the sister of the AL KUWAIT to familiarize themselves with the vessel’s lay out. Two months had passed and the stench of the dead sheep was by now hanging over Kuwait City as a constant reminder of the accident. The salvage operation could now begin. The vessel would be brought to an upright position by welding cantilevers onto its side and using sand bags in steel nets adding up to 100 tons to create turning momentum. The lower decks were then closed off by a diver wearing a heavy diving suit. A few days later the vessel was watertight and heavy objects were lifted off by crane. It was now time for Krøyer’s invention to prove its merits. The polystyrene would re-fl oat the vessel and the sand bags force her into an upright position. High water was important for the mission to succeed and the salvors worked hard to be ready for the spring tide due in late December. However, the tide was not as high as expected due to a strong north-westerly wind. On the night of the New Year the vessel still had a 20 degrees list but was fl oating. More polystyrene balls were pumped into the lower decks and the tanks were emptied by the divers using air pressure. When 65 tons of polystyrene balls had been pumped into the vessel she was upright and re-fl oated. Now all that remained was to clear away the STORIES SVITZER 50 S V I T Z E R – S A F E T Y A N D S U P P O R T AT S E A


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