How to save the biggest freighters in the world

Then there were the giant snorkels. To evacuate the water from the ship, Sloane and his team placed large pumps underwater at the bottom of one of the cargo holds. They also removed the upper deck hatches and welded huge rectangular tubes, or snorkels, into them before putting them back in place. The snorkels were now hanging in the belly of the ship. Finally, a team of divers connected the pumps below to two sets of pipes that ran vertically through the snorkels.

The pumps ran full blast, Sloane recalls, to keep water from filling the engine room, which contains the most expensive and sensitive machinery.

Eventually, after removing huge volumes of water from the hold, the salvage team was able to fill some of the ship’s ballast tanks with air in order to refloat it. Had they tried to do it sooner, the tanks could have ruptured, Sloane explains: “When you go below 10m (33ft), you have to be very careful about the pressure you introduce.”

Thanks to all this complicated work, and despite not one but two typhoons, the second of which was particularly violent, Kota Kado was saved and finally towed to shipyard for repair. It still sails today, but under a different name.

When ships end up in places they weren’t really designed for, like stuck in mud or stuck against rocks, the forces of nature can tear them apart. This is why heavy storms posed such a great threat to Kota Kado.

“Like a paperclip, the more you bend it, the more it ends up breaking,” says Rosalind Blazejczyk, managing partner and naval architect at Solis Marine Consultants. She explains how problematic it is when a stranded ship is lifted or twisted by successive waves. They can crash there for hours in a swell or at high tide, pushing one end of the ship upside down and flipping it over again. Suddenly, steel doesn’t feel so strong in these situations. Sloane mentions how his team sometimes welds huge beams onto a ship’s deck just to hold it together.

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