Swire Seabed has earned an unrivalled reputation for being specialists in undertaking the most challenging subsea recovery and incident response operations.
Over the past 30 years, our team of highly experienced personnel, both onshore and offshore, has pioneered new levels of deep water expertise in areas that include, but are not limited to, deep water survey and salvage operations.
We take great pride in the operational planning to accommodate every customer and their specific needs and requirements. In recent years, we have successfully completed a wide range of deep water recovery and incident response operations. Our most notable projects are detailed below.
Recovery of the Long Lost Engines from NASA APOLLO 11 Space Program
Seabed Worker performed the recovery of the Apollo 11 Engine at 4,200m deep in the Atlantic.
More information on this case can be found on the client, Amazon CEO and Chairman, Jeff Bezos’s ‘Expeditions’ website: bezosexpeditions.com, where subsea footage of the ROVs in operation can be viewed.
Jeff Bezos: “This truly is a first class ship in every way, and we appreciate everything you did to make this mission successful.”
On 9th February, Seabed Worker departed from a frozen Byfjorden to recover the F-1 engines launched during the Apollo 11 missions as part of an expedition led by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. The 32 million horsepower engines had crashed into the sea, offshore Cape Canaveral, USA, after carrying their loads into space and re-entering the earth’s atmosphere at over 5000mph. The rockets then sunk three miles deep in the Atlantic, where they have rested for over 30 years, until being located by state-of-the-art deep sea sonar last year and now salvaged using Seabed Worker.
The whole operation was controlled from Seabed Worker, which acted as the platform for a highly sophisticated spread of subsea equipment. Two modern Schilling work class Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) with a depth capacity of 5,000m were flown by Swire Seabed pilots, whom, from their control rooms onboard, skillfully maneuvered the manipulators to rig slings around the artefacts. Complex technology lies behind the ROV systems; fibre optic cables relay data from the sea-floor to the vessel, whilst electric cables transfer high voltages to the vehicle. The rocket engines were then retrieved from the seabed in baskets using a lightweight, fibre rope, fed through a customised winch and tower system on Seabed Worker’s back deck.
Not only did the ROVs use high-definition cameras to video the remains of the engines on the seabed, but they also brought back a number of good quality pieces, including two flown F1 engines. The expedition team hopes these will be displayed in one of the Smithsonian institutions or Museum of Flight in Seattle. Bezos spent three weeks onboard with family members and intends for the adventure to inspire a spirit of exploration and invention amongst young people.
Between July and September, Seabed Worker achieved the heaviest and deepest recovery of precious metals from a shipwreck known to date. The vessel, which is owned and operated by Swire Seabed AS, was on charter to Odyssey Marine Exploration, and completed the successful salvage of over 50 tonnes of silver, from the SS Gairsoppa, at a depth of 4,700 metres. This ultra-deep water salvage operation has involved leading edge and customised ROV technology as well as advanced operational experience, developed through projects such as the Air France black box search. For this operation, Seabed Worker deployed Schilling HD 5000m and Perry Slingsby XLX 4000m ROV systems. Large hydraulic shears and grabs as well as hydraulic saws and dredging tools were also operated from the 88.8m vessel.
Prior to the acquisition of Seabed AS by Swire Pacific Offshore in February 2012, Seabed AS, was awarded a contract by Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) to support the search and recovery of the AF447 aircraft.
Desktop Study Seabed AS worked with BEA during the desktop study investigation phase. The appropriate available data, maps and images were gathered and examined to assess the exact location of the target.
The Spread & Mobilisation Phase Seabed AS mobilised a fibre rope wreckage recovery solution, deployed from the 30 tonne winch and operated over a customised tower from Seabed Worker’s deck. The vessel then sailed from Bergen to Cape Verde where project personnel were placed onboard. Thereafter, Seabed Worker transited to Recife in Brazil, where three unique ultra-deepwater Remus autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) were fitted onboard. This equipment was sourced from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Geomar, with the capability of pinpointing wreckage at depths down to 6,000m. Three vehicles were chartered due to the added efficiency this provided, the need for which was driven by the large surface area that had to be surveyed.
Swire Seabed’s Triton XLX ROV was maintained onboard and was to be utilised in case the search continued into recovery phase. A deep-towed side scan sonar array was then mobilised onto a third party vessel, meaning the two vessel spread was prepared to cover all phases of the operation: towed side scan sonar for trawling a vast space at good speed during the search phase; AUVs for pinpointing the location of the wreck; and ROVs to take close-up video footage and then to position slings around specific parts of the sunken plane prior to lift and recovery using the fibre rope. Seabed AS was instrumental in defining and project managing the spread required for the search operation.
The Search Seabed Worker undertook the search phase at or close to maximum accommodation capacity throughout the operation. The vessel’s 66 berths were occupied by regular ROV and marine crews as well as specialist project personnel, client representatives, French naval personnel and various other stakeholders. The vessel undertook AUV operations for a period of 60 days, with the greatest challenges being the undulating seafloor terrain, significant operating depths down to 6,000m and the logistical complications of coordinating a wide range of parties in a foreign environment. The AUVs generally functioned smoothly throughout and there were no major breakdowns, which was impressive in the context of the large number of dives undertaken.
Although Seabed Worker did not locate and recover the AF447 wreckage or black box due to commercial and budgeting constraints, Seabed AS’s project team contributed successfully through eliminating vast swathes of seabed for the search and defined a project spread which could be deployed successfully on this type of operation.