Project by Solar Energy Limited with Cameron Balloons to design hydraulically pressurised flexible structures using airship and balloon advanced technologies to contain oil spills.

Architects :- Dominic Michaelis and Gilles Bouchez

This invention relates to shipwreck covers.

It occurs frequently that ships carrying dangerous cargo, whether liquid, solid or gaseous, sink or run aground, and spill their cargo into the sea, which then carries it to nearby beaches where it can cause pollution and danger to local inhabitants and to wildlife. Oil spills have all too often resulted from oil tankers sinking, and buffeted by the seas, being badly damaged so that oil, generally lighter than water, is released from their gutted tanks, and causes environmental calamities.

According to the present invention, there is provided a shipwreck cover, made of flexible or other materials, that can be brought to the shipwreck site, and gradually lowered over the sunken ship, so that all spillages from the wreck, whether liquid, gaseous or solid can be contained, thus causing no environmental pollution.

A specific embodiment of the invention will now be described by way of example with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:-

Figure 1 shows a plan view of the cover over the sunken vessel.

Figure 2 shows a diagrammatic section through the deployed cover over the shipwreck.

Referring to Figures 1 and 2, there is provided a shipwreck cover ,which, in its folded form, can be packed compactly, and is designed as a dome like structure, the form and rigidity of which is given by a membrane 1 and pressurised tubular members, these being generally filled with water under hydraulic pressure, where the cover is being used to protect an underwater wreck, or air, where the structure is erected principally above the water line, or by both where the structure is partially immersed. The cover can rapidly be brought to the disaster scene, and in the more general case of a sunken vessel, can be deployed on the surface by a number of tugs, and allowed by winches to sink to a predetermined depth at which the tubes are pressurised with water, one secondary circumferential tube 2 being filled with air by a pump and a liquid air supply to keep its shape as the depth increases, to insure the bouyancy of the whole rigidised structure which can then be gradually lowered over the wreck, being light and easy to manoeuvre by small prehensile submarines. The cover is fitted with a skirt 7 provided at its base with a chain or heavier than water ballast that takes up the floor irregularities so acting as anchor to the overall structure which covers the wreck, any spills from which are so contained.. A number of buoyed weights 10 can also be released by a submarine in predetermined positions to further anchor down the structure if necessary.


Referring to Figure 1, there is shown a plan view illustrating the principal membrane 1 stretched between the tubular structural elements, one forming the lower outer end boundary structure, 2, and another forming the crown, 3, from which depart radial tubular elements, 4, stabilised by an intermediary circumferential tube, 5. Above the outer structure,2, is a superimposed circumferential tube,6, filled with compressed air which insures the buoyancy of the whole structure, and in particular compensates for the weighted skirt 7 below the outer structure 2 . Figure 1 also illustrates the optional outer tensed membrane 8, stretched between cables 9, and the principal membrane, these cables being attached to weights 10 to locate the cover over the shipwreck ship 11 or leaking fragments thereof. The crown ring 3 acts as housing for an upper valve 12, through which any lighter than water fluid can be pumped, and for pumps and pressurising devices 13, necessary for the rigidising of the structure. It can also contain the liquified air supply necessary for the buoyancy ring 6. Referring to figure 2, an underwater section is taken through the cover showing the membrane 1 stretched between the pressurised tubes 2,3 4, and 5, which give shape and rigidity to the overall structure. The whole structure is held down by the weighted skirt 7 which adapts to the contours of the ocean bed. Additionally, the section shows the weights 10 lightened by buoys 17 for manoeuvreability during installation, but freed afterwards, attached to cables 9 and outer tensed membrane 8, providing optional firmer location to the overall structure. Figure 2 also shows the crown tubular section 3 acting as support for the central valve 12 through which oil or other lighter than water fluids can be recovered, having formed a pocket 15 below the crown of the cover, which houses also pumps and pressurising equipment 13, and liquified air required for the buoyancy tube 6 running above the circumferential tube 2 .

Cables from the sea surface would connect to the crown, which would be designed to be serviced by “prehensile” mini-submarines. A hatch 16 is provided in the skirt 7 to allow for the passage of divers or mini-submarines that may need to access the wreck. In this arrangement, the tubular structure is not exposed to the spilt substance, and only the membrane itself 1 and the skirt 7 need to be treated on the inside to be resistant to possible chemical attack. The cover can be used when the ship or part of the ship is either completely underwater 20, or in low waters when the water level is between the crown and the base 21, or even when the ship is floating, but leaking liquid or gaseous chemicals that need to be contained 22. Because the tubular members and the membranes can be folded, much as a hot air balloon, the shipwreck cover can be compactly folded and stored on board specialised ships that can rapidly intervene when a carrier ship is in difficulty. As the cover is unfolded, air is trapped between the weighted skirt and the membrane, insuring that it can be unfolded and spread out, without sinking, before the base tube 2 is filled and pressurised, the whole then gradually sinking, witheld by winches, the air being released by the remotely controlled valve 12. After salvage operations are completed, and pollution risks removed, the cover can be released and winched back to the surface, where it can be repaired as necessary, cleaned, and packed ready for further use. The pollution barrier that the shipwreck cover affords can be invaluable, and its cost is a negligeable amount compared to the immense cost of clean up operations.


Patent Applied for.