Tin Salvage, Straits of Taiwan, 1985 ( a deepsea yarn...)

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DeepSeaDan

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I posted this over on Treasurenet, but I though y'all might enjoy the tale...

Ask any Deepsea Oilfield Diver where he stayed while hanging in Singapore looking for work & he will probably say the "Mitre Hotel."

The Mitre was a run-down shanty of a lodging house ( possibly, it’s still operating to this day ), sitting on some very prime real estate in central Singapore. During my time there the hotel was run by an endearing Chinese family, headed by the ubiquitous "Mr. Lim". Gracious & friendly, he would take care of your daily needs, which mainly involved serving ice cold beer in the hotel's main lobby. It was at this bar that an eclectic assortment of sea dogs, scurvy divers, aging hippies, struggling jazz musicians & any number of other intrepid wanderers would gather to tell stories & debate the issues of the day.

One afternoon, a "Sheila" ( meaning "lovely lady" in Aussie-land ) was arguing the merits of Australian beer with some newly landed British musicians when she was interrupted by the bone-rattling jangle of the hotel lobby phone. Mr. Lim shuffled his way over, spoke briefly, covered the phone's mouthpiece & stated: "Man wants to know if any diveahs wanting wook?”



I took the call.

Ten days later myself & some Mates were jetting to Hong Kong to rendezvous with the balance of the diving crew & together we would join the ship’s crew down at the harbour. Many of the divers we were to work with had been part of a fabulously successful salvage effort in Indonesia about a year earlier. Having put to sea after a long wait for a typhoon to pass through, the expedition stumbled upon the perfectly preserved cargo of a Chinese junk, while towing divers on planer boards, in the gin clear waters. The typhoon had removed about 30' of sand overburden, exposing blue Ming porcelain, much of it still wrapped in the original packing! Though not the target they had set out to find, after much debate they decided to stay & recover the treasure; okay, there was actually no debate, just a lot of whopping, dancing & celebrating, but I digress...

We were going after tin. Actually, 70 lb. ingots of high-grade Malaysian tin that was part of the cargo aboard a Japanese passenger-freighter sunk by a U.S. submarine near the end of the war in the Pacific. The wreck was located in the Straits of Taiwan, a hotly disputed area of the South China Sea. It has long been known that China & Taiwan do not exchange Christmas cards & both claim the waters of the Strait. The salvage operator had worked a contract with the Taiwanese government, as international coastal law put the wreck's location within Taiwan's territorial limits. At least that’s what the contract said.

For 5 days we readied the vessel for salvage. The ship had to be moored well out into the harbour as it carried a large amount of dynamite on board. We needed the explosives to open the deck plating over the cargo holds so the ship's peel grab could be lowered inside the holds to remove the tin. Each day we'd take a small boat out for the hours ride to the salvage vessel, work 12-14 hours, then ride back in for yet another night in the wilds of Hong Kong & Kowloon. When all was ready ,we set sail for Taipei for a 24 hr. lay-over, before heading for the wreck. As this was to be our last night in port for some time, we of course had to socialize. We found a nightclub near the harbour area & all of a sudden it is no longer 1985, its 1971! We thought we'd been time-warped back to the early seventies as we entered this place; black lighting, pounding Jim Morrison, waist-length hair & elevator shoes...absolutely freaky! Alright, so there a bit behind the times - we raised the roof with them & had a night to remember, though I can’t remember much of it!

With the rising sun we sailed for the wreck, each man mentally calculating his cut of the haul & making plans to spend his fortune. In 10 hrs. we were on station. As the marine crew laid the anchors we prepared to dive. I was to make the first dive with "Micky," one of two men running the salvage operation. I knew that Mick had been to this wreck the year before with another crew & they were successful in opening up the #1 hold. What I didn't know was that the events of the previous year which put an early end to that expedition would soon return to haunt us.

The Straits of Taiwan, in the middle of March, is not idyllic in terms of diving. With an average 2'- 4' chop, unpredictable currents, 42 degree water temp. & poor visibility, the diving would be tough. Compounding the elements were the many fishing nets snagged on the wreck. We were using a large steel cage as an elevator to the bottom. The plan was to do a quick survey of the wreck & locate the #1 hold, we would then guide the peel grab to the entrance of the hold & then surface. The best laid plans...

When Mick & I reached bottom @ 201' the current was howling & the cage was being blown about like a toy in the wind. Fish netting was wafting over & around the cage & I worried we'd get fouled in it. Since we had little means of altering our decent site at this anchorage it was decided to abort the dive. As Mick & I sat in the deck chamber decompressing, the salvage master decided to run the grab down blind & try to locate the #1 cargo hold. As I exited the chamber, I surveyed the fruits of his first few attempts. The loads were dropped on the deck & hosed down with fire hoses. Piping, wiring & what appeared to be machine shop tools were separated & inspected. I noticed something odd under some torn deck plating & pulled it free; what I'd found was a 45 caliber pistol, still in the leather holster! All the wooden parts had been eaten away but the frame remained as did a dozen or so bullets still in their keepers. I cleaned er' up, strapped er' on & now I was the sheriff of this here ex-pee-dition! With the addition of my Texan mate's 10 gallon hat, I was ready to keep law n' order on the high seas!

Engineering drawings of the wreck showed the machine shop to be just forward of the 1st cargo hold, so the grab's boom was repositioned & soon the fire hoses revealed the first tin ingots amidst the debris! Further diving was halted as we worked the 1st hold all that day & night, storing the tin on pallets, which we covered with tarp. With dawn came the first fishing junks. We watched as they slowly circled our vessel. By 0900 there were about 30 fishing boats, by 1100 that number had increased to almost one hundred! I gathered they were unhappy with our presence as they continuously yelled, shook their fists & brandished clubs & machetes. I subconsciously patted the trusty 45 at my side...together we would repel all boarders. We used our vessels water cannon to keep them at bay, but one boat managed to slip alongside & a very agile, very upset young man leaped over our port rail & wrapped his arms & legs around some large diameter deck piping. It took two men to pry him off; he was then unceremoniously tossed back into the arms of his fellow fishermen. Despite all this, the grab continued its' work & the pile of tin continued to grow. With the coming of dusk the fishing boats began to leave & by dark the sea around us was empty once more.

By 0900 the following morning all was clear save one boat off in the distance that was definitely not a fishing junk. The smell reached us before the boat did, the smell of unwashed bodies & rotting food. As they came alongside we realized these were Vietnamese refugees, some of the infamous "boat people" that were fleeing communist rule in Nam. They were a pitiful sight. We quickly gathered up fuel, fresh food, water, medicines, clothing & candy for the kids. More grateful people I shall never see again. They sailed away & we hoped they'd find their freedom.

The work continued. By first light of the following day we had 25 tons of tin recovered & were preparing to dive again when ( I was beginning to really dislike mornings ) over the horizon came navy vessels - three Chinese naval gunships, to be precise. Two stood off while a third vessel radioed they were coming alongside, to board our vessel. We watched as their lines were made fast to our cleats. In my 10 gallon hat & sidearm, I struck my best Eastwood-esque squint. A gangway was run & a dozen Marines hustled smartly aboard, six per side of the gangway. They stared straight ahead, weapons at the ready, as a contingent of naval brass strutted aboard & on up into our wheelhouse to confer with the Salvage Master. On deck, nobody moved. I shifted my hat & hiked up my sidearm, noticing that a few of the marines were stealing the occasional glance my way. It was the final scene in the "Good, Bad & the Ugly". My draw hand twitched just above my 45. And then I drew. Unfortunately, my trusty/rusty gun barrel got caught up in my holster & by the time I struggled it out, the barrel was bent to 90 degrees! I looked up to see that most of the Marines were doing their best not to laugh & for the first time that day I started to relax. I ran down to my cabin & opened the port; some of the gunship's deck crew noticed me waving at them & cautiously came over. I stuck that month's playboy centerfold out the port to the excited appreciation of the Chinese sailors. I was in the midst of sharing other anatomical tomes when one of my mates burst into the room & snatched the mag. from my grasp. "Hey, give that back, you can't even read!" I quipped. "Doofus, that form of instructional anatomy is strictly forbidden in China; if they catch you showin' this stuff, we'll be hauled off to the hoosegow!"



Ooops.

Thirty minutes after arrival, the gunship was casting off & heading away. Our salvage master insisted any dispute over our legal right to be there had to be handled by our lawyers & the Chinese government. The skipper of the gunship reluctantly agreed & said a decision would be forthcoming in 24 hrs.

Those 24 hrs. went by in a blur. We knew they'd be back & this time they'd probably search the ship ,so we emptied our lower hold of spare anchor & chain & laid in the tin.
We then replaced the anchor & chain over the tin to provide an effective cover. We left all the scrap steel, machine shop tools, a spare bronze propeller blade we’d hauled up, even my beloved sidearm, was left on the deck for them to find. Being of Dutch registry, our vessel carried copious amounts of Heiniken beer in stores. Out it came! Some of the netting we hauled up had tasty blue crabs inside, so our Indonesian mates cooked us up what I gently referred to as "Hellfire Crab Casserole"...a deliciously toxic, thermonuclear stew that made itself known for days afterward.

You guessed it, with dawn's early light they returned, but they didn't search us. They arrested us! With two guards & a harbour pilot on board they escorted us on a six-hour sail to an unnamed Chinese military port. Rumors ran rampant as to our fate. Torture? Imprisonment? Will they confiscate our beer?? The following day, they searched our ship from stem to stern & took all our deck trash...but they didn't find the tin!! For two days we drank Hienies & danced on the afterdeck, trusting fate to set us free. A guard remained on board around the clock, but he was no trouble, he happily devoured all the anatomy periodicals on board!

After 3 days of captivity we were escorted out to sea & sternly told to leave & not return. Fine by me, we were living on borrowed time anyway. We returned to Hong Kong & got paid off. After a couple of days onshore we decided to take our money & blow it on a 5 day run through the Philippines, but that’s another story for another day.

Hope y'all enjoyed the yarn!

DeepSeaDan
 

hemihampton

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Interesting. During WW11 I'm pretty sure the use of Tin was Restricted for use in all Industries for the War Effort thanks to Order M81 that restricted many Metals & other Items. What was a 70 pound Ingot worth in 1985? LEON.
 

DeepSeaDan

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Interesting. During WW11 I'm pretty sure the use of Tin was Restricted for use in all Industries for the War Effort thanks to Order M81 that restricted many Metals & other Items. What was a 70 pound Ingot worth in 1985? LEON.
Not sure of the value back in that time, but I do recall the salvage master stating Malaysian tin ore was very pure & highly sought after. There was other cargo aboard the wreck, including large bundles of rubber mats. I never saw one up close because the fishing junk crews would haul them out of the water as fast as they'd pop to the surface! There has been several amazing salvage operations in that area of the world, where a lot of beautiful Ming porcelain and other treasures have been recovered. The main player was ( and perhaps still is ) 'Mike Hatcher' ( the guys I spoke of on my job had worked for Hatcher on the previous year's expedition ). I know he has had several running battles with some of the local governments in the area and has spent a lot of time in court. I believe one of his first big salvage ventures netted over 30 million dollars. It's interesting reading should you google his name.
 

willong

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I thought you might like that! I have penned several others and will post them if folks would like to read them. One of my favourites is "Up to my !@#$ in Chicken Guts!" A fowl tale, to be sure!
I see that I am not the only forum member fond of the low form--some say the lowest--of humor.

I participate on the HuntTalk forum under the handle "shines@times" and believe most of the other members probably think it derives from an Internet address. It's actually a pun based upon lingo reputedly used by the early 19th century mountain men. Making one esoteric elevates the status of a pun don't you know.
 
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DeepSeaDan

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I see that I am not the only forum member fond of the low form--some say the lowest--of humor.

I participate on the HuntTalk forum under the handle "shines@times" and believe most of the other members probably think it derives from an Internet address. It's actually a pun based upon lingo reputedly used by the early 19th century mountain men. Making one esoteric elevates the status of a pun don't you know.
I'm so low I play handball against the curb...;)
 

Len

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I posted this over on Treasurenet, but I though y'all might enjoy the tale...

Ask any Deepsea Oilfield Diver where he stayed while hanging in Singapore looking for work & he will probably say the "Mitre Hotel."

The Mitre was a run-down shanty of a lodging house ( possibly, it’s still operating to this day ), sitting on some very prime real estate in central Singapore. During my time there the hotel was run by an endearing Chinese family, headed by the ubiquitous "Mr. Lim". Gracious & friendly, he would take care of your daily needs, which mainly involved serving ice cold beer in the hotel's main lobby. It was at this bar that an eclectic assortment of sea dogs, scurvy divers, aging hippies, struggling jazz musicians & any number of other intrepid wanderers would gather to tell stories & debate the issues of the day.

One afternoon, a "Sheila" ( meaning "lovely lady" in Aussie-land ) was arguing the merits of Australian beer with some newly landed British musicians when she was interrupted by the bone-rattling jangle of the hotel lobby phone. Mr. Lim shuffled his way over, spoke briefly, covered the phone's mouthpiece & stated: "Man wants to know if any diveahs wanting wook?”



I took the call.

Ten days later myself & some Mates were jetting to Hong Kong to rendezvous with the balance of the diving crew & together we would join the ship’s crew down at the harbour. Many of the divers we were to work with had been part of a fabulously successful salvage effort in Indonesia about a year earlier. Having put to sea after a long wait for a typhoon to pass through, the expedition stumbled upon the perfectly preserved cargo of a Chinese junk, while towing divers on planer boards, in the gin clear waters. The typhoon had removed about 30' of sand overburden, exposing blue Ming porcelain, much of it still wrapped in the original packing! Though not the target they had set out to find, after much debate they decided to stay & recover the treasure; okay, there was actually no debate, just a lot of whopping, dancing & celebrating, but I digress...

We were going after tin. Actually, 70 lb. ingots of high-grade Malaysian tin that was part of the cargo aboard a Japanese passenger-freighter sunk by a U.S. submarine near the end of the war in the Pacific. The wreck was located in the Straits of Taiwan, a hotly disputed area of the South China Sea. It has long been known that China & Taiwan do not exchange Christmas cards & both claim the waters of the Strait. The salvage operator had worked a contract with the Taiwanese government, as international coastal law put the wreck's location within Taiwan's territorial limits. At least that’s what the contract said.

For 5 days we readied the vessel for salvage. The ship had to be moored well out into the harbour as it carried a large amount of dynamite on board. We needed the explosives to open the deck plating over the cargo holds so the ship's peel grab could be lowered inside the holds to remove the tin. Each day we'd take a small boat out for the hours ride to the salvage vessel, work 12-14 hours, then ride back in for yet another night in the wilds of Hong Kong & Kowloon. When all was ready ,we set sail for Taipei for a 24 hr. lay-over, before heading for the wreck. As this was to be our last night in port for some time, we of course had to socialize. We found a nightclub near the harbour area & all of a sudden it is no longer 1985, its 1971! We thought we'd been time-warped back to the early seventies as we entered this place; black lighting, pounding Jim Morrison, waist-length hair & elevator shoes...absolutely freaky! Alright, so there a bit behind the times - we raised the roof with them & had a night to remember, though I can’t remember much of it!

With the rising sun we sailed for the wreck, each man mentally calculating his cut of the haul & making plans to spend his fortune. In 10 hrs. we were on station. As the marine crew laid the anchors we prepared to dive. I was to make the first dive with "Micky," one of two men running the salvage operation. I knew that Mick had been to this wreck the year before with another crew & they were successful in opening up the #1 hold. What I didn't know was that the events of the previous year which put an early end to that expedition would soon return to haunt us.

The Straits of Taiwan, in the middle of March, is not idyllic in terms of diving. With an average 2'- 4' chop, unpredictable currents, 42 degree water temp. & poor visibility, the diving would be tough. Compounding the elements were the many fishing nets snagged on the wreck. We were using a large steel cage as an elevator to the bottom. The plan was to do a quick survey of the wreck & locate the #1 hold, we would then guide the peel grab to the entrance of the hold & then surface. The best laid plans...

When Mick & I reached bottom @ 201' the current was howling & the cage was being blown about like a toy in the wind. Fish netting was wafting over & around the cage & I worried we'd get fouled in it. Since we had little means of altering our decent site at this anchorage it was decided to abort the dive. As Mick & I sat in the deck chamber decompressing, the salvage master decided to run the grab down blind & try to locate the #1 cargo hold. As I exited the chamber, I surveyed the fruits of his first few attempts. The loads were dropped on the deck & hosed down with fire hoses. Piping, wiring & what appeared to be machine shop tools were separated & inspected. I noticed something odd under some torn deck plating & pulled it free; what I'd found was a 45 caliber pistol, still in the leather holster! All the wooden parts had been eaten away but the frame remained as did a dozen or so bullets still in their keepers. I cleaned er' up, strapped er' on & now I was the sheriff of this here ex-pee-dition! With the addition of my Texan mate's 10 gallon hat, I was ready to keep law n' order on the high seas!

Engineering drawings of the wreck showed the machine shop to be just forward of the 1st cargo hold, so the grab's boom was repositioned & soon the fire hoses revealed the first tin ingots amidst the debris! Further diving was halted as we worked the 1st hold all that day & night, storing the tin on pallets, which we covered with tarp. With dawn came the first fishing junks. We watched as they slowly circled our vessel. By 0900 there were about 30 fishing boats, by 1100 that number had increased to almost one hundred! I gathered they were unhappy with our presence as they continuously yelled, shook their fists & brandished clubs & machetes. I subconsciously patted the trusty 45 at my side...together we would repel all boarders. We used our vessels water cannon to keep them at bay, but one boat managed to slip alongside & a very agile, very upset young man leaped over our port rail & wrapped his arms & legs around some large diameter deck piping. It took two men to pry him off; he was then unceremoniously tossed back into the arms of his fellow fishermen. Despite all this, the grab continued its' work & the pile of tin continued to grow. With the coming of dusk the fishing boats began to leave & by dark the sea around us was empty once more.

By 0900 the following morning all was clear save one boat off in the distance that was definitely not a fishing junk. The smell reached us before the boat did, the smell of unwashed bodies & rotting food. As they came alongside we realized these were Vietnamese refugees, some of the infamous "boat people" that were fleeing communist rule in Nam. They were a pitiful sight. We quickly gathered up fuel, fresh food, water, medicines, clothing & candy for the kids. More grateful people I shall never see again. They sailed away & we hoped they'd find their freedom.

The work continued. By first light of the following day we had 25 tons of tin recovered & were preparing to dive again when ( I was beginning to really dislike mornings ) over the horizon came navy vessels - three Chinese naval gunships, to be precise. Two stood off while a third vessel radioed they were coming alongside, to board our vessel. We watched as their lines were made fast to our cleats. In my 10 gallon hat & sidearm, I struck my best Eastwood-esque squint. A gangway was run & a dozen Marines hustled smartly aboard, six per side of the gangway. They stared straight ahead, weapons at the ready, as a contingent of naval brass strutted aboard & on up into our wheelhouse to confer with the Salvage Master. On deck, nobody moved. I shifted my hat & hiked up my sidearm, noticing that a few of the marines were stealing the occasional glance my way. It was the final scene in the "Good, Bad & the Ugly". My draw hand twitched just above my 45. And then I drew. Unfortunately, my trusty/rusty gun barrel got caught up in my holster & by the time I struggled it out, the barrel was bent to 90 degrees! I looked up to see that most of the Marines were doing their best not to laugh & for the first time that day I started to relax. I ran down to my cabin & opened the port; some of the gunship's deck crew noticed me waving at them & cautiously came over. I stuck that month's playboy centerfold out the port to the excited appreciation of the Chinese sailors. I was in the midst of sharing other anatomical tomes when one of my mates burst into the room & snatched the mag. from my grasp. "Hey, give that back, you can't even read!" I quipped. "Doofus, that form of instructional anatomy is strictly forbidden in China; if they catch you showin' this stuff, we'll be hauled off to the hoosegow!"



Ooops.

Thirty minutes after arrival, the gunship was casting off & heading away. Our salvage master insisted any dispute over our legal right to be there had to be handled by our lawyers & the Chinese government. The skipper of the gunship reluctantly agreed & said a decision would be forthcoming in 24 hrs.

Those 24 hrs. went by in a blur. We knew they'd be back & this time they'd probably search the ship ,so we emptied our lower hold of spare anchor & chain & laid in the tin.
We then replaced the anchor & chain over the tin to provide an effective cover. We left all the scrap steel, machine shop tools, a spare bronze propeller blade we’d hauled up, even my beloved sidearm, was left on the deck for them to find. Being of Dutch registry, our vessel carried copious amounts of Heiniken beer in stores. Out it came! Some of the netting we hauled up had tasty blue crabs inside, so our Indonesian mates cooked us up what I gently referred to as "Hellfire Crab Casserole"...a deliciously toxic, thermonuclear stew that made itself known for days afterward.

You guessed it, with dawn's early light they returned, but they didn't search us. They arrested us! With two guards & a harbour pilot on board they escorted us on a six-hour sail to an unnamed Chinese military port. Rumors ran rampant as to our fate. Torture? Imprisonment? Will they confiscate our beer?? The following day, they searched our ship from stem to stern & took all our deck trash...but they didn't find the tin!! For two days we drank Hienies & danced on the afterdeck, trusting fate to set us free. A guard remained on board around the clock, but he was no trouble, he happily devoured all the anatomy periodicals on board!

After 3 days of captivity we were escorted out to sea & sternly told to leave & not return. Fine by me, we were living on borrowed time anyway. We returned to Hong Kong & got paid off. After a couple of days onshore we decided to take our money & blow it on a 5 day run through the Philippines, but that’s another story for another day.

Hope y'all enjoyed the yarn!

DeepSeaDan
OMG! DeepSeaDan,

One question. WHEN YOUR BOOK COMES OUT CAN WE GET OUR COPIES AUTOGRAPHED? I thoroughly enjoyed your post. --CT Len :cool:
 

DeepSeaDan

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OMG! DeepSeaDan,

One question. WHEN YOUR BOOK COMES OUT CAN WE GET OUR COPIES AUTOGRAPHED? I thoroughly enjoyed your post. --CT Len :cool:
3 years into retirement & still catching up on the honey-do list, spending max time underwater hunting treasures - I might pen a book when I'm 90!

Glad you enjoyed the read!

DSD
 

Len

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Those Honey-Do Lists can end up wiping your memory clean. One never finishes because new ones are always being added.

If you've penned a few of these already you are about half finished on book #1. Bump Aqua Man, We've got DeepSeaDan! :cool:
 
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