Why Did The USS Spiegel Grove (LSD-32) Sink Early?
By those who were there...

This page contains information sent to me from various sources, all of whom were there and either were a part of the operation to sink the Spiegel Grove, or as witnesses to the early sinking on 17 May 2002 off Key Largo, FL....no edits or corrections were made other than to remove any names mentioned...this is it as it came in!


20 May 2002

I have been representing myself and continue to do so at this time. The following report was completed after I returned from Key Largo, Florida. The tragic roll over of the Spiegel Grove was indeed heartbreaking but most importantly no one was hurt or killed in the process. This report will list the following:

(1) The original sinking planned agreed upon in Virginia Beach, Virginia on April 23, 2002

(2) Approximate time lines associated with concrete events which occurred during the operation

(3) A brief synopsis of why this operation went wrong

The facts presented here are from my notes and explain in some detail the most important events that I was involved with and voice concern over. The report is written to the best of my recollection and knowledge of the facts.

1. On April 23, 2002 the following personnel were present at a Spiegel Grove meeting held at Bay Bridge in Virginia Beach, Virginia: ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, ----------, and ----------. This was only the second meeting that I was able to attend. I was available by phone or email at all other times and was contacted multiple times about different items of concern.

We discussed many aspects of the Spiegel Grove from cleaning it to sinking it. Each person involved had an opportunity to speak on his part of this sinking operation, what would be required and a chance to answer any questions or concerns.

I discussed my plan to direct holes to be cut for water entry and air exit. My original sinking plan had contained many things that would be covered in ----------'s over all plan so bits and pieces of my plan were extracted to make an over all guide. The actual part of the sinking was to be directed by ---------- and ----------. All plans were subject to some modification and it was agreed upon that such change could possibly be needed. This was accepted by all.

The flooding plan that was agreed upon was as follows. I wanted to keep the well deck dry and free of water. Cut 8"holes in the wing walls from frame 52 -250 every five to eight feet at the deck level to help facilitate water flow. Cut multiple holes in frame 52 well deck bulk head for water surging in at flooding time. Open every tank top through out the ship. Cut holes in the main deck to let air out as water came in from the underside. Cut holes in ballast tanks connecting them together and allowing water to free flow forward. I agreed to ballast down some internal belly tanks to help reduce the need for so much water to come in and sink the vessel. I also stated that I wanted to have holes cut along the outside skin of the ship but would wait until the sinking day to do so to prevent accidental flooding in addition to cut holes from frame 228 aft on the final day to prevent accidental flooding. I used a copy of the docking plans to explain all of this and even acquired my own personal copy to study, review and suggest changes if necessary. I said that the ship would look like Swiss Cheese after the cutting of the necessary holes on the outside and inside the well deck. I received thumbs up on this proposed plan. I answered all questions and concerns and had no doubts that we could do this safely and effectively but that preparation would be the key to success.

I inspected the anchor system again and concluded that one of the ships large winches was in the locked position because each machine had a different visual appearance.. Each winch was in a different configuration and I concluded that one anchor would not drop. I did not think that the brake alone was holding the anchors in place and that the pelican hooks should be installed for the tow. ---------- volunteered to handle the anchor process and also agreed that one winch could possibly be in the locked position. I recommended that the anchors weight be lowered onto the chain stoppers and pelican hooks to verify that the brakes were working and that the winches were not locked. I am unclear of exactly why the system was not tested but the port anchor would not drop when the brake was released and therefore resulted in a delay of the anchoring process.

2. 14 May 2002 Boarded ship by accommodation ladder on starboard side early afternoon. ---------- first aboard. Visual inspection revealed ship had good tow. Slight list to starboard. Stern gate was still secured fast with all pins in place. Pins were knocked out with not much effort. The last latch located on the port side was very tight and the steel was cut around it to help lower the gate. Gate slowly lowered half way down then slowly creeps into full open position within the hour resting on its holding bracket..

1300 Inspection of spaces below main deck. All hatches and scuttles had to be broken free of welds. All lower compartments were relatively free of water. Aft engine room had 6'' of water in bilge. Rudder room was clear.

1415 ---------- and ----------/ Tug slacks off pull. Tied tow bridle with ½ rope to remove strain. Removed bridle and let tug pop strain line and tow bridle free. Tug secures line back to ship for final movement.

---------- and ----------/ Starboard anchor chain was let off brake to hang on pelican hook. Anchor dropped approximately 3 feet in the haws pipe. Brake was resecured. Pelican hook was released with a sledge hammer when directed over GPS marked buoy by ----------. Brake was slowly released and anchor fell with control to the bottom. Brake was applied to slow chain release. Anchor locked in place with approx 300-400' of chain deployed.

1430 Port anchor would not drop due to locked windless motor. The anchor detail became very confusing and unorganized. I left the bow after to many people became involved with the process. I inspected the stern anchors to ensure the shackles were moused and safety wired.

1500 Some well deck hatches were removed and then replaced for tank inspection. All tanks appeared to be free of debris and or liquids. The after most tank in the well deck had approx 10% water. This was pumped out to a forward belly tank designated by ----------. I concurred.

1600 Supplies are delivered to the stern gate(fire hoses, pumps, tools, food, drinks, safety equipment, etc) I was informed that starboard anchor was let off brake and chain ran out to bitter end. Approx 900' of chain is now out on starboard.

1630 Removed emergency tow line from rear port closed chock.

1700 Port stern anchor was routed through the inside well deck chock. This anchor had 300-400' of cable and one shot of chain. This cable was rerouted to the port aft closed chock as planned. The stern anchor was rigged for pull out by ----------, ---------- and their crew from ------------------------------ to the tug boats bow and drug out the stern gate as planned. Tug was directed to pull anchor to the starboard side with the cable obstructing the stern gate and planned exit and entry point of the operation. (incorrect action)

1730 Starboard stern anchor was disconnected from the starboard aft bit and relocated to the port bit that was already occupied by the port anchor. This smaller anchor had approx 150' of cable and one shot of chain. (incorrect amount of cable) It was noted to the project manager by ---------- and myself that this was not the planned four point moor. This act now put the ship in a three point moor. The water was 10' below the well deck at this time. Command and Control (CC) aware of the incorrect and unplanned mooring procedures. Ship still at slight list to starboard.

1800 ---------- directs torch man to cut hole in aft ballast tank and in rear bulkhead of aftermost 940 ton tank. This was done from inside the rudder room.

1800-2130 More pumps were brought aboard and the center main tanks were pumped with sea water. One tank was at 95% and the other at 50% when we secured for the night. All operation halted at 2200. Ship has good trim and list.

15 May 2002 0800- 1900 Diver safety cutting was performed by all welders and cutters.

0830 I noted that well deck water was leaking into the aft ballast tank through the rear most well deck hatch. I replaced that tank top. I informed ----------, the pump supervisor that this hatch could sink the ship and it should be watched and guarded with extreme caution. He assured me that he would seal it with a rubber gasket. I periodically checked the rudder room for additional leakage from that hatch. The water was 7' from the well deck at this time.

0900 Informed Command and Control that 4 personnel would be performing an underwater hull inspection to check for soft patches. Inspection revealed 3 soft patches, slight oyster growth and a clear discharge for the main condenser. Divers clear fouled line from tug Portsmith's port screw after hull inspection of Spiegel Grove. CC notified of dive results.

1100 Large quantities of water are now being pumped inside various tanks directed by ---------- and ----------.

1300 ----------, ---------- and myself record draft readings of the ships freeboard from the following positions on the main deck in this order: starboard midship, starboard aft, port midship, port aft, starboard forward and port forward. ---------- lowered the plum tape, ---------- verified it was touching the water and I recorded the actual numbers on paper for ----------. After review of the numbers, I was comfortable that the ship was not in danger at this time but that the displacement was increasing every hour water was pumped in, and the pressure increasing on the existing leaks raised their flow. I handed the information back to ----------.

1500 Water is now 5' from well deck. Rear tank hatch is secured with rubber gasket and bolted lid. ---------- and ---------- direct various wing wall tanks to be flooded. I disagree because this will prevent the cutting of the well deck bulk heads at some spots and prevent water travel and air escape. I discussed this with Command and Control personnel. Multiple tank tops are still in place throughout the ship. Cutting the diver safe entry still has the priority. Water is still being pumped into the wing walls. Fill holes will not able to be cut as planned in the proper tanks. The over flow lines are draining some water over the side. Some ballast tanks are leaking into unknown spaces through out the ship. Addition tanks are directed for flooding at midship. CC is notified.

1600 ---------- informs me every two hours of the condition of the rear hatch. He clearly understands the danger of that hatch failing. I have a torch man cut two 8" holes, two feet above well deck port side at rear escape trunk,( Frame 229) to facilitate detonation cord for Friday.

1700 -Rudder room is now taking on water through the rudder post seals into the rudder room. (approx 50 gal per hour each) Tank top is still secure aft of rudder room. The water is draining below deck (where unknown.) Engine rooms are taking on water through the stern tube and out of the shaft seals. (100-200 gal per hour.) CC notified of above. Midship belly tanks are leaking into aft engine spaces and other lower spaces. CC notified. Some leaks are repaired in ballast tanks from inside the engine rooms. Forward engine room takes on water through an open valve from a ballast tank. Valve secure by ----------. No significant water in forward engine room at this time. Aft engine room continues to slowly fill. CC notified through out my routine inspections of engine rooms and rudder room. Well deck is now ballast 3' above water. Water is washing into the well deck and over the sealed hatch. ---------- reconfirms that it is sealed. I double check it from below and determine that we have a good seal. I again explain how critical and important this hatch is. I told him and his dad that this hatch would sink the ship if water were allowed to free flow inside to the rear 940 ton tank and smaller tanks aft. This tank is now starting to fill from the water that is not staying in other tanks through out the ship. This small amount of water is not impacting the draft aft at this time. Estimate rear tank has 50 tons of water inside. Capacity 940 tons. CC notified of stated conditions.

16 May 2002 0900 Wave conditions are so bad that we cannot board from the stern and must use the ladder again. The tug was surging up and down 5-10'. Very dangerous conditions. I immediately made my rounds once aboard and discovered the rudder post water intake had increased to approx 100 gal per hour each and the aft engine room was taking on approx 1" per hour. Shaft seals were leaking at approx 200-300 gal per hour. In addition to the shaft seals leaking, the ballast tanks were adding water to the aft engine room. Some of these leaks were not able to be seen or heard. Forward engine room was still in fair condition. Flooding was limited to the shaft seal only. CC was notified. ---------- confirms we are still in good condition. I feel that the ship is naturally taking on enough water, and we should evaluate and throttle back on pumping the next tanks to be flooded. ---------- disagrees. Pumps are having trouble delivering water to forward large tanks so water will be hopped from midtanks to forward.

1000 I informed ---------- that I would be instructing cutting operations through out the main deck and well deck bulk heads. He disagreed and informed the project manager. The project manager called a meeting of all supervisors to discuss a plan to finish up and stay on schedule. I stated that I needed to cut vent and fill holes as my sink plan read. I would also have a list of critical holes to be cut for Friday. I wanted to secure pump operations very soon and start offloading gear at 1200. ---------- and ---------- disagreed and said they intended to partially fill the well deck with 2' of water. I immediately voiced my concern and reminded them that I was the sinking supervisor. ---------- defended ---------- and ----------. I told everyone in the CC that if they flooded the well deck that the ship would sink itself and possibly roll over. ---------- then began to review his version of the plan. I tried to input my concern that he was making a positive block for the water and air by filling the wing wall tanks and I was shut down. I then verbally told everyone that I would not be making any decisions involving the flooding process and would place the demolition charges were directed by ---------- and ----------. Forced Flooding continued through out the day. Many people asked me for direction and I told them to see ---------- and ---------- and that I was no longer in charge of the flooding. I pulled ---------- to the side and had words with him about my disappointment and lack of concern for the approved sinking plan that had been discussed and approved. He could only offer his apology and was not willing to take my concerns as serious. ---------- broke this meeting up when a helo was inbound. I had no more to say to the CC at this time.

1330 ---------- of ------------------------------ came aboard. He briefed the CC that when they finished up pumping, cutting and welding he would take over and place the charges. He also stated that I would help determine the demo placement.

1400 Engine room tour with demo guys. Demo placement was decided. We would place ----------'s shape charges on main discharge pipes and intake valves. ---------- concurs with the demo plan. Engine rooms are still taking on water.

1430 Blanking plate is removed by ---------- and ---------- on main 36" valve to be blown.

1500 Demo placement is marked with spray paint by ---------- and ----------.

1600 ---------- and ---------- continue to make rounds forward and aft. Multiple hatches are still secured on the starboard side. Multiple hatches, scuttles and doors are secured forward. Very few vent holes are cut from frame 1 to frame 150 main deck down. Few vents holes are visible forward below main deck.

I have torch man cut small openings in well deck bulk heads in engine room escape trunks on both sides to facilitate detonation cord placement on Friday. Frame 110 port side and Frame 154 starboard side. CC notified of holes cut for detonation cord. Pumping continues. I am now finding water in multiple voids below deck that had been dry days before. Ship is sinking by itself.

1800 I depart the ship with other personnel down a rigged gang plank. Water is within a foot of the well deck. Pumping is planned to continue until 2200. Pumping is secured at 1900 as reported to me by ---------- later that night. ---------- informs me that we still have water tight integrity aft. We discuss the importance of the rear tank and hatch again.

17 May 2002 0930 -0950 I was meeting with ---------- and his crew at ------------------------------ firming up the demolition plans when we got word that the ship was sinking. We immediately left -------------------- shop and headed out. When we got in sight of the ship we could see that the stern was already low in the water. It was reported to us to have taken on 10' of draft aft in 5 minutes.

0950-1015 The bow raised up out of the water and the ship began to roll to starboard. We could see this from 3 miles away. When we finally got on station the ship had come to rest on its stern upside down and the air filled bow protruded above water.

1100 Additional holes had been cut in the wing walls at frame 230 at the deck level. This would allow water to enter the large rear tank. We relocated to the tug to formulate a demo plan to vent the bow and was informed by ---------- that ---------- and ---------- had directed him to remove the rear most well deck hatch that was already 1' underwater. He declined several times, explained that it would sink the ship and was ordered to remove it anyway because their calculations said the ship would stay afloat. The end results were exactly as predicted by the original sinking supervisor.

3.In conclusion, I feel that this roll over could have been prevented days before it ever happened. The mishap started from the rush to get the ship to Key Largo without testing the anchor system, acquiring the right lengths of cable for one stern anchor and not following the sinking plan agreed upon at the meeting.

The testing of the anchors could have prevented the chains from running out farther than needed. The port brake system was not nearly in as good shape as the starboard. It took three men to turn the brake wheel on the port. This led to the initial confusion and could have resulted in injury experimenting with the anchors out at sea when this could have clearly been done safely in the harbor while in a controlled environment.

The next incorrect procedure was the stern anchor detail. The cable was to short for the small balance fluke beach anchor on the starboard side. The port anchor was first to be rigged and was directed to be placed running across to the starboard side. This had the cable at an angle across the well deck. This anchor had one fluke, a shot of chain and the right amount of cable and could have been a very valuable holding point but was instead pulled the wrong way. The starboard anchor was then removed from the starboard side and placed on the port. Its deployment was at the right angle but its insufficient cable made it practically useless. The next day the ship had swung to port setting the bigger anchor and making the small one just an unused clump.

---------- and ---------- questioned this incorrect procedure with CC and was told that they were trying to compensate for wind and current. Their intentions were good but the bigger anchor should have been moved over to the starboard side and it would have set itself fine with the right angle of pull and also left the well deck open for easer access. This was not an after though, it was suggested on the spot. An anchor on the starboard stern could possibly have prevented the starboard side from rolling inboard causing the vessel to lay upside down. The larger anchor should have been placed starboard and was originally suggested.

The last action in question was the blatant disregard for the agreed upon sinking plan. I made my intentions very clear at the meetings and through out each working day. My recommendations were seldom met. I chose to wait until the day before flooding to have the vent holes cuts but was positively shut down. This is why I chose not to have any say so in the flooding and sinking plan as of Thursday May 16, 2002. I choose to assist the demolition guys with their permission on charge placement. My plan to cut multiple vent holes would have let air out and water in. The direct action of removing the hatch that had been deemed so critical all week was actually what made the ship sink on the spot. It flooded the rear end of the ship that was water tight holding up the back of the ship. The ship would have sank by itself probably during the weekend because of the large amount of water that was pumped in and the amount of water that was coming in on its own but proper vent holes would have let the air out. I actually thought for a moment as it was going down that it might just land on the bottom alright but when the bow rose up so high in the air it was evident that there was not enough ballast forward and no vents to let the air out in sufficient time to prevent a roll over and subsequent air entrapment.

I walked the ship everyday all day and used my eyes, ears and senses to help me make some of my decisions. My other tools of success were frequent draft readings aft where the water would be coming in first, water tight integrity checks at critical places and constant monitoring of the large amount of water that was being pumped in. This excessive amount of water pumping was not necessary due to the fact that we had permission to use explosives to cut water entry holes. I agreed to some ballasting during initial planning but at some point you will reach the straw that breaks the camels back.

I am sorry that this had to happen this way and thank GOD that no one was hurt or killed during this mishap. Equipment can be replaced, a human life would not have been. I explained and emphasized the inherent danger involved with this type of operation and made it very clear to all involved. I thought I had everyone's trust and confidence with this matter. It is my belief that this could have been prevented. We had proper planning but had poor cooperation. I would like to thank the people of Key Largo Florida and ---------- for believing so highly in me and giving me an opportunity to participate in such a valuable, worthwhile cause. I think that a salvage company will be able to make this situation right and I personally have gained a multitude of operational experience from this mishap but have to say that this is the first one that I have been involved with that has gone turtle on the surface. I express no bias opinion and have stated the facts as I have witnessed them and have drawn my own conclusions.

Good Luck and Blue Skies.