“TALES OF THE DEEP“
These are memories from Michael Smith, who started his sea-going career as 6th Engineer on the M.V. TEAKBANK.
He later served in other interesting vessels, including a suction dredger – as related below.
I would like to, if I may, share some of my adventures on board the M.V. Geopotis. A Single Trailing Suction Dredger which operated in the area of Chilichup in Indonesia for about 6 months. The vessel had been tasked with ‘deepening’ part of the harbour so that ships, mainly Tankers, with a deeper draft could enter and discharge various cargoes at Chilichup. The vessel was powered by Two Twin Bank Mirrlees-Blackstone Diesels. A single Turbo-Charger was fitted to each engine. Normal running revs were around 900rpm. The single propeller shaft was also ‘attached’ through a separate gearbox, to the ‘suction pump’ which ‘sucked’ in vast quantities of sea water and silt (and anything else that happened to be lying on sea bed) from the sea bed and pumped this into a large holding tank. The sea water would drain off from this tank, leaving the silt and other ‘objects’ in the tank. When the tank was ‘full’ we moved further out to sea, and by means of hydraulic operated bottom doors ‘dumped the cargo’ into a deeper part of the surrounding area. The vessel operated 24 hours, 6 days a week. Watches were 12 hours stints.
It was about a month after the ‘run job’ to Singapore on the M. V.Lake Barine, that I got a call from the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers in Sydney, inquiring whether I would be interested in doing a stint on the Geopotis. The vessel at that stage was in dry dock at Sembawang in Singapore, going through a refit in preparation for dredging at Chilichup. I was pleased to find that some of the guys I had done my 2nd’s ticket with in Melbourne, were on the same flight to Singapore, as was The Chief Engineer Bill Hoskins who hailed from Invercargil in New Zealand and Phil Parker, the Electrician, from Perth in Western Australia. One of them was Louie Salvagno, who at that stage lived in Melbourne. Both Louie and I were to be the Senior 2nd’s on the Geopotis. Two Junior engineers completed the engine room crew. After a nine hour flight we arrived in Singapore and were housed at The Cockpit Hotel which was a very pleasant hotel to stay at. Our working day started at 09.00hrs and finished at 16.00hrs. We were driven to and from the hotel each day, 6 days a week. We were at the drydock for about a week. My memory of these events and times are a bit hazy. Other than basic tasks of packing glands on various valves, checking/testing correct functioning of equipment and assisting Singaporean shore-side marine fitters to complete various tasks, it was not a demanding 7 hours a day. It was however the height of summer in Singapore, and thus the engine room temperature tended to be over 40 degrees most days. The humidity did not help!!
Coming out of dry-dock we anchored at Singapore Roads for about 2 days and then finally left and headed for Chilichup. The voyage to Chilichup was more ot less uneventful and the Mirrlees ran smoothly. We were cautioned to check the lube oil level on the two Mirrlees every 2 hours. The reason behind this was; the diesel fuel pumps were actually ‘positioned inside’ the crankcase, the injectors were as per normal, placed outside in middle of each cylinder. Any fuel leakage from the fuel pumps would result in the crankcase filling up with a mixture of lube oil and diesel. I seem to remember being told that the crankshaft on both of them had been replaced some months prior, when a fuel pump had leaked, and diesel had filled the crankcase. During the 4 months I served on the vessel this never occurred.
We finally started to dredge. It basically consisted of lowering a large long pipe/cylinder which had ‘drag head’ (weighing about 10 tons) at/on the end of it that looked very similar to a household ‘vacuum cleaner’ head. This head was lowered to the sea bed and the vacuum pump started, the main engines were engaged and the vessel moved (slowly—4 to 5 knots) dragging the head along the bottom and sucking up anything in its path. At the end of a preorganised ‘path’ the vessel turned around and took another suck of the sea bed. I seem to remember that during any 12 hour watch we did 3 to 4 trips to the ‘dump site’ further out to sea.
What amazed me no end was ‘what was actually dredged’ up from the sea bed. Being an area which experienced a whole lot of action during WW2 one can only imagine what ended up in the holding tank!! Previous dredging crews had seen bits and pieces of what turned out to be a Japanese Zero, and other bits of aircraft which no one could identify. Munitions of various types, rifles, parts of machine guns…cars, many motorcycles, etc, most of them not easily recognisable, and the list goes on.
Some of the crew decided to ‘salvage’ some of the munitions as keepsakes, until some senior person from the Army informed them that the munitions could very well be alive!! This put a stop to ‘salvaging’!! (I think!!) As always there were ‘tales and stories’ of what had been collected in the past trips. Herewith a few of them: Huge number of 2” gold coins made in Spain (apparently). Gold bars with unknown stamps on them. A smallish treasure chest containing jewels, diamonds and other valuable ‘stuff’. The story goes that the key was still in the lock, (?) and so, no issues were experienced when trying to open the chest!! No one telling these stories seemed to know what actually happened to all this wealth.
To be continued: