Dec 132010

Herald of Free Enterprise tragedy might have been prevented with the BMT 'balloon'

MAC does not, as matter of policy, allow many superlatives like ‘revolutionary’ that litter the dreariest of press releases to escape the slash of his scalpel. Today he makes a rare exception.

Here’s what BMT Group has to say for itself:

“Damaged vessels at risk of sinking could soon benefit from a revolutionary new system being developed by a consortium led by BMT Group Ltd, the international design, engineering and risk management consultancy.

“Using technology originally developed for submarine rescue, the research team is developing a system which can be used in a wide range of maritime applications. These include salvage, emergency sub-division of roll-on/roll-off ferry car decks, self-righting buoyancy for fishing vessels in the event of capsize and emergency buoyancy to stabilise ships with holed compartments.

“The new solution uses Kevlar reinforced balloons that can be rapidly inflated to provide extra buoyancy, expelling water and keeping the vessel afloat until repairs or other emergency measures are implemented. By preventing damaged ships from sinking, the technology could help minimise the risk of major loss of life at sea.

“The team consisting of researchers from nine companies spread throughout Europe call the system SUSY (Surfacing System for Ship Recovery) and were inspired by submarine rescue technology from ASTRIUM and ideas proposed by the German firm, BALance Technology Consulting.

Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at BMT Group, said: “While we may not be ready to raise the Titanic, the SUSY project team is developing a system which will allow us to salvage or stabilise damaged vessels more efficiently than we do today.” He continued: “The potential environmental, safety and financial benefits of SUSY are enormous, providing us with the first tools to assess and advise on the impact of using buoyancy systems to stabilise or resurface ships.”

The research team at BMT Group Ltd secured a 2.65 million Euro grant from the European Commission for the consortium to carry out the research”.


Honest Abe's ship lifter. Photo: Smithsonian

Kevlar, of course, is what bullet-resistant vests and vehicle armouring is made of.

Now, to MAC the idea of fitting inflatables to ships to increase buoyancy sounded familiar. Indeed one inventor came up with a similar idea to reduce buoyancy to enable heavily-loaded riverine ships to pass over sandbars. He even made a a scale model of it, which he was required to build in order to apply for the patent he receive on 22 May 1849, which now resides in the Smithsonian Museum.

His name, by the way was Abraham Lincoln.

Yes, that Abraham Lincoln. The only US president, perhaps to invent something other than excuses.

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