Needle in a Haystack


Picture : Chart showing the small hump about 1 -1/2 feet off the bottom which was located during one of the preliminary sweeps. It was subsequently buoyed

Being in Aden recently Mr. Eric Jordan, of Kelvin and Hughes (Marine) Ltd., heard the story of the lost pipes It ran as follows - the pipes 800 of them, three inch diameter, twenty-four feet long, and steel, were   intended to be used to carry the water supply for the new refinery at Little Aden from the wells at Sheikh Othman, a distance of four miles. This new refinery is being built by Bechtels-Wimpey for the Anglo-Iranian  Oil Company. The pipes were worth around £ 8,000, but obviously their worth for this particular site must have been considerably more to the project.

 About a month before Mr. Jordan's visit to Aden these pipes were being transported from Cory’s Wharf, Aden, across to the refinery site - a sea trip of about five miles. In order to undertake this journey the pipes were loaded on to a lighter towed by a tug, but during the journey the lighter was caught in a heavy swell and the load tipped overboard. The accident happened in the early hours of the morning and all the crew of the tug could do at the time was to drop a marker buoy to indicate  the position.

However when a diver and salvage crew arrived the buoy could not be found (it had apparently been stolen by local  fishermen). Many attempts were made to find the pipes, but not being able to pinpoint the actual spot where the mishap occurred, these met with no success. Consequently the precious pipes remained somewhere at the bottom of the sea.

 Hearing this story, and knowing that Aden Port Trust had some time previously obtained a Kelvin Hughes MS.21A echo sounder for survey purposes, Mr. Jordan approached Mr. Sheldrake, the manager of the refinery project, with the suggestion that the pipes might be located by using this echo sounder. He pointed out, of course that the search by echo sounder would have to be properly organized and success would depend upon many factors such as the nature of the sea bed, i.e. flat or rocky, and whether the pipes were lying in a sufficient heap to return a definite echo.

Mr. Sheldrake approved of the suggestion and asked Mr. Jordan to organize the attempt.

The sounder was readily loaned by the Aden Port Trust and a launch was made available by the Anglo-lranian Oil Company into which it was fitted. The first thing was to obtain as accurate an estimated position as possible in order to narrow the area of search, and accordingly the coxswain and crew of the lighter were taken out in the launch and the exact course of the tug and lighter was steered. When the Arab crew indicated the position of the mishap a marker buoy was dropped. Colonel Scrutton, resident engineer of Rendella Palmer and Tritton Ltd., was acting as surveyor and fixes were taken of this position. Runs with the echo sounder were then taken in this area and the bottom was found to be quite flat.

During these sweeps a very small hump one and a half feet off the bottom was located and the position buoyed. More runs in this particular area were completed and a definite hump of some five feet was recorded, verifying the existence of some object on the bottom.

As darkness had now fallen the area was well buoyed and the party returned to shore. Next day a diving launch returned with the party to the buoyed area-incidentally two of the four marker buoys were missing having been stolen during the night by local fishermen.

However, at 7 am, the diver went down to investigate the hump shown by the echo sounder chart and found that indeed the missing   pipes lying in a confused heap.

On the following day a crane-barge, a lighter and three divers were made available by the Port Trust and salvage operations were commenced - within a few days the entire load of 800 piles had been recovered and delivered safely to the refinery site at Little Aden.

There is little doubt that but for the accurate and sensitive recording of the Kelvin Hughes survey echo sounder these pipes, so essential to a major project, would still be lying somewhere on the ocean bed off Aden.

Accurate location of the pipes results in their recovery


Article first published in Port of Aden Annual 1953 -54