Category Archives: Where’d it come from?

American marine salvage: from The Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corp. to TITAN Salvage

A few weeks ago the US Navy awarded TITAN Salvage the contract to serve as the commercial marine salvage and engineering support contractor for the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the division of the US Navy responsible for engineering, building, buying and maintaining Navy vessels and their combat systems. According to a company press release, TITAN will “provide the Navy with marine salvage, salvage-related towing, harbor clearance, ocean engineering and point-to-point towing services in the event of an emergency or incident.”

The Crowley Maritime Group, which owns TITAN, had held the contract more-or-less continuously since 1976. As TITAN’s vice president Rich Habib stated:

We are pleased that the U.S. Navy has entrusted TITAN with this contract and look forward to providing the Navy the same high level of service that Crowley has provided for the last 34 years. As a salvage industry leader, TITAN is well positioned to take on this contract. TITAN’s long record of global salvage, wreck removal and response to natural disasters prepares us well should the Navy call.

Not many firms have held this contract. The first was the Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corporation, which I’ve been researching for the dissertation. Most of that work has been on one of the firm’s founders, Captain T.A. Scott of New London, Connecticut. But in the course of things I’ve traced the rise and fall of the entire company, the nation’s first major salvage outfit. The firm fell apart during the 1960s and its salvage equipment was bought out by Murphy Pacific, who also took over the naval salvage contract. Murphy held the contract into the 1970s, it being the firm that removed ten large vessels scuttled in the Suez Canal during the Six-Days War. [Click here to read the fascinating official report about this seven-month operation]. My knowledge of the mid-70s salvage business is lacking — can anyone out there fill it in for us? (Anything beyond what’s already available in the Crowley company history, available for download here)

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Filed under Dissertation Digest, Shipwreck culture, Where'd it come from?

So what’s that banner pic about?

You can imagine my surprise yesterday morning when, mired in 1830’s marine salvage research, I found out the day’s post had been Freshly Pressed. Sweet — over the next hour this blog had more hits than it has in an average week! In fact, it would be impossible to exaggerate how much being Freshly Pressed has bumped up my stats. It’s actually absurd — check out this graph of ‘daily clicks’ and you’ll get the picture:

So I want to truly thank everyone who took a few seconds to click, a minute or two to read, or five to comment on yesterday’s post. I hope you check back from time to time. All this traffic has its benefits–I’ve found dozens of new blogs from everyone who has left a comment or liked a post. It’s inspiring to see so many fantastic blogs out there.

But on to today’s post. A friend recently asked me about the banner pic heading this blog. Here’s the story:

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Filed under Shipwreck culture, Source of the Week, Where'd it come from?

Ireland’s shipwreck landscape

Some places just ooze shipwrecks. Take the west coast of Ireland, a wreck trap for centuries. Blogger Mary Bermingham’s lyric description (recently posted here) wonderfully captures its shipwreck landscape:

There are high winds and a strange, warm, misty rain like the end of the world. It is shipwreck weather, with two Danish sailors rescued off the coast of Cork in gale force winds and a haul of silver worth 127 million found lately off the coast of Galway. We have been cowering inside by the fire most of the week.

Bermingham, however, does not cower by her fire. She used last week’s inclement weather as an excuse to train her three-year old Connemara cros, a shipwreck breed, if you will. As Bermingham explains:

The quality and athleticism of the Connemara pony originates from Spanish bloodlines. When the Armada was wrecked off the rocky Irish shore in 1588, the white Spanish horses (something like today’s Lipizzaners) swam in and bred with the tough little native ponies.

Bermingham met with some success, but in the end she concluded: “Maybe trying to join up with the whole world collapsing around us in a hurricane was a bit ambitious; I am trying not to take it personally…” I wouldn’t–many thanks for the fantastic post (and good luck with your pony)!

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Filed under Where'd it come from?, Wrecks in the News

Shipwreck symbols – where’d they come from?

Whoever designed this symbol for “wreck showing any portion of hull or superstructure at level of chart datum” was a genius. It’s not the only symbol for a shipwreck used on American nautical charts, but it’s my favorite (NOAA lists at least dozen shipwreck symbols). I’m such a fan that I made it my twitter and wordpress picture. It does everything a good symbol should do–it’s easily recognizable, memorable, and just plain works. Better yet, it captures the complexity of a shipwreck as an event, process, and place.

So who designed it? When did they do it? Wish I knew. An quick internet search turned up nothing. So I looked at a couple of historic charts on the NOAA website and found two charts depicting the region around the port of New York which help… a bit. The oldest, “New York Bay and Harbor and the Environs,” was printed in 1845 and shows a wreck just northwest of Sandy Hook light. (Hard to see, but look near the top left between mud and the 30). On this chart “X” marks the spot.

1845 chart

Jump ahead a century to the 1944 chart titled “Approaches to New York.” See the unidentified wreck southeast of Barnegat Inlet? Pretty close to the current design, but not quite (and definitely not as effective). There’s also a “Dangerous wreck, depth unknown”–the football-looking symbol–between Barnegat and Inlet.

1944 chart

That’s all I know at this point. I’m putting off skimming the annual reports of the Coast Survey or spending any more time looking at old charts than I already do with the hope that someone out there might know the story of the shipwreck symbol. Can you help me track down its design history? If you can, many thanks! If not, check back to see how it goes.

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Filed under Where'd it come from?