Salvage Part 3: ROVs and Salvage

Salvage Part 3: ROVs and Salvage

Ask anyone in the know who found the wreck of the Titanic and they will say, Dr. Robert Ballard.

Well, guess what? As a matter of fact, it was an ROV named Argo that was the first to set eyes on the most famous ship in history in more than 70 years.

Without ROVs, many of the salvage operations that the industry undertakes each year simply would not be possible, or at least, cost effective.

In the third part of our underwater salvage series, we are going to take a look at these unsung heroes to see how they do those jobs that would put divers in danger to do so.

ROVs: What Are ROVs And How Do They Work

ROV stands for ‘Remotely Operated Vehicle’.

An ROV is any form of underwater device that operates underwater via remote control.

ROVs come in all shapes and sizes. The reason for this is that they have a wide range of different jobs that they are tasked to perform.

How ROVs Are Used In Salvage Work:

All ROVs are attached to a mother ship by a tether. But the types of ROVs varies as much as the different jobs they perform.

Simple ROVs

The simplest designs are just towed behind by this tether to either film underwater environments using a camera or, more usually, to use onboard sonar equipment to scan the underwater environment for missing objects.

Argo: A Timeless Machine

Argo was this type of sled design ROV.

It had a number of cameras that gave it a comprehensive view of the underwater world.

Argo also featured lighting cameras to help light up the ocean floor as well as zoom to allow it to focus on objects up to 100 feet below.

The sled type ROV is most widely used for search operations.

Argo was to go on to find a legendary WW2 battleship, The Bismark.

Similar ROVs have been used in recent searches for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and the USS Indianapolis.

Complex ROVs For Tougher Jobs

Today’s ROVs are required to undertake complex tasks that often require them to clear salvage sites, adjust valve settings, and even launch their own onboard mini-ROVs into wrecks or areas that require smaller machines.

The “Heavy-Weight” ROV

Most ‘Heavy Workclass’ ROVs feature arms or manipulators that allow the ROV to hold and grab objects.

Typically, this class of ROV has a maximum operating depth of 3500m.

For deeper depths, operators must use a Trenching & Burial class ROV, which can reach depths of 6000m.

Treasure Hunting With ROVs

Some modern ROVs are used for finding ships with sunken treasure. These kind of salvage jobs require machines that are fitted with metal detectors and sophisticated cameras that allow salvage operators to actually locate gold, silver, and other treasures under the ocean floor without needing to disturb it.

A heavy work class ROV was used to locate the wreck of the Spanish ship La Capitana Jesus Marina, which was lost in 1624.

Other examples of salvage using ROVs include recovering underwater objects such as engines, recovering potentially environmentally damaging substances like oil from sunken vessels, and decommissioning offshore platforms such as oil rigs.

An ROV is any form of underwater device that operates underwater via remote control.

ROV or Commercial Diver

You might be wondering why operators don’t just throw a few commercial divers in the water to do the more complex salvage jobs themselves?

The reasons are simple: ROVs keep divers out of danger by removing the need for them to explore potentially dangerous underwater environments.

Saving Lives: ROVs To The Rescue

ROVs have been used for some particularly life-threatening situations.

They have been used to survey Navy wrecks that have nuclear material onboard.

ROVs were also used to inspect the underwater disaster zone of the BP rig Deepwater Horizon after it exploded in 2010.

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Stumberg

With pressurized oil rushing to the surface where it was fueling a fireball that was slowly destroying the oil platform above, divers would have been in great danger had they had to undertake the work that was successfully completed by the ROVs.

Saving Money: A more Economical Tactic

Finally, ROVs also help operators keep costs down.  

Since the average ROV can operate at significant depths for up to 8-hours at a time, they are far more cost effective than divers when performing tasks such as surveys etc.

While it is not likely that ROVs will completely replace the need for commercial divers, they are an invaluable tool in helping commercial divers do their job better and more safely.

Aran Davis, Writer for Water Welders

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