The capsizing and sinking of eight offshore supply vessels in the Gulf of Mexico between 1956 and 1963

This is from the stability thread, anyone have more info on this?

the capsizing and sinking of eight offshore supply vessels in the Gulf of Mexico between 1956 and 1963

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the mud tanks were on the main deck. Usually just aft the house there were usually 2-1000 cubic ft tanks. They’d normally keep the fwd tank for cement and the aft for bulk mud. With a deck load of drill collar and drill pipe on these 150’ to 165’ mudboats, things could get a little “iffy”.
The first mudboats I sailed had the tanks on deck. There were many times the capt and tool pusher would argue over the cargo discharge. Main priority to clear the deck cargo before transferring fuel and drill water. From about '70 on, the new builds had the bulk tanks below deck. Much safer. Another problem if the drill pipe or casing were not properly secured and shifting on deck.

This was also when the drilling activity was moving from the protected bays further into the Gulf. Deep water drilling at that time was 50’.


Folks not complying to the requirements stated in the stability letter. . . .

A problem with this type of ship is the large deck area, affectionately called the bathtub by the crew, that can result in large amounts of water being trapped and flowing freely on the deck. With this ship you can take on, if fully filled, as much 691 tons of seawater and that on a relative small ship.

By the start in 1964 Smit-Lloyd sent four captains to the GoM for training. In 1965 there were such problem due to the slang language used by the Americans on the oil rigs that they hired a “coonass skipper” from the GoM to translate and teach them that lingo.

None of the Smit-Lloyd vessel capsized, the Smit-Loyd 102 was lost off the East African coast due to a freak wave.

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My first involvement with the offshore industry was in 1970 on this type of “mud boats”. My first job was on a boat very much as you describe; Built by Burton in 1965, 165 ft.LOA,198 GRT, 1500 Hp.

Two portable mud tanks and a compressor was situated just aft of the towing winch, which was also “portable” of sort. Compound driven by a V-71 diesel and the Chief Eng. seated on a little “tractor seat” straddling the engine with the drum right beside him.

I had no experience with towing at the time, but was a bit surprised that the deck was full of casings and drill pipes when we were going to be one of three boats towing a rig from Singapore to Thailand. But my job was as a Navigator only and I had nothing to do with the towing operation, so not my problem.

When we rigged up tow the Capt. welded the shackles “for safety” and, since he had the welding gear out, he did some small repairs around the deck, all without proper welding mask/goggles.

While getting the the rig out from the shipyard he managed to get the tow wire over the rails and buckled the watertight doors to the engine room, (which was open of course) so they could not be closed.

Next we broke the stretcher and got it in the propeller. After anchoring he decided to jump in and cut loose the rope himself, but failed. This resulted in his eyes getting sore and watery until he could hardly see anything. (Welding without protection and salt water is obviously not a good match)
After putting him to bed with an ice pack we called the office to arrange divers to clear the propeller.

We managed to catch up with the rig while still in Singapore Strait and I got my first experience in boat handling with twin screws. We eventually got the tow line hooked up again and the self-proclaimed “best boat handler in the world” also eventually regained his sight.

A good introduction to Coonass safety culture??


I believe quite a few of the GoM-type boats capsized in the North Sea because they did not use caps to close off the ends of casings and no dunnage to ensure proper drainage? (Second/third hand information, I was not there)

What we have here is a Tidex self contained suitcase winch. All tidewater mudboats from the late '50s into the '80s have winch base plates. The winches were designed to be loaded onto a truck and shipped anywhere on the gulf coast as needed. They were mostly used for running anchors for drill tenders and construction barges. I have seen them towing drilling rigs on short moves.

Very few of us left that know this is the origin of the term “suitcase wire” used in some parts of the towing industry…


Pretty sure that’s the way the Moon Tide went down. Different part of the world though.

The Smit Lloyd boats were very well designed and were well equiped. Our oil patch is very unforgiving and the weather can change quickly. Even the port has to be abandoned in a North westerly gale. Dutchie was quite correct concerning the amount of water on deck. When a rigmove is cancelled due to weather and you are already hooked up to the pennant wire and lying stern to a seven metre swell it becomes quite an exercise in muscle control, of the sphincter.

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Brings back old memories of the Dutch Smit Lloyd supply vessels with a length of 180 feet. I attended the sea trials of the Smit Lloyd 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14. The Smit Lloyd number 13 was in good seaman’s fashion skipped. During the sea trials in bad weather the ship was a mess as the yard personnel vomited literally all over the place. Only the bridge was free of that stench…

The Smit Lloyd 9 can be seen in full action here and it was not even very bad weather. The North Sea can play up terribly and can become a real hell hole.

Some of the older vessels from the '50s I’ve heard were classed as self propelled barges.

I believe a single ship capsized in the North Sea while tied up to a platform in about 1975. The UK Department of Transport sent out a memo to the industry asking for views as to why this had happened, and as has been suggested in this thread the answer appears to have been the retention of liquid in the cargo of casing on the deck.

I have been prompted to include a few words from the introduction to my book “The History of the Supply Ship” as follows:

The history of this curious ship type is unusual in that the industry which it supports is also very new, so the normal marine traditions have hardly been applied to it. And if they had it would be difficult to imagine that the job could have been done at all. Today it has become a day to day event for a ship to pull a subsea plough along the seabed using over 20,000 bhp or for a platform supply vessel to use between six and ten thousand horsepower to maintain station a few metres from a vast offshore structure in a near gale.
We have reached this point from the beginning, when an ex WWII landing ship (tank) struggled to get alongside a wooden platform in the shallow waters off the Mississippi delta. It is a story of technical innovation, and bravery on the part of those who invested in the new ship designs and those who sailed on them.


I remember in '71 we, along with 5 or 6 other mudboats were dispatched to the TRANSWORLD TENDER I. She was an old LST converted in the late '40s. The well on the platform was kicking and they were taking bulk mud from 2 boats at a time. The extra mass of the mudboats caused extra tension on the anchor spread. Many sphincters had extra tension also…

Transworld claimed to be the first to have an actual mobile offshore rig in the GoM back in the 1950’s.
They claimed that when the drill crew, who were all from Oklahoma and had no experience with ship/boat or the ocean, came on their first offshore rig they decided that the drilling end was the business end of the rig and thus the “bow”.

When they built a couple of Bethlehem Mat rigs in Singapore they spent money on changing the drawing and marking to where the Bow became the Stern and consequently Port became Stbd. v.v.
This caused all kinds of confusion with the boat when they were told to “come in on the Transworld Stbd. side,not the other Stbd. side”. or something to that effect.

I attended the second rig when they departed from the yard and again when working in the Irrawaddy delta in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1975 & -76. (The first one disappeared into a crater after a blowout in the same area earlier)

I was very surprised that they had been allowed to replaced life rafts with “Carley floats”. (No lifeboats on J/U rigs at that time) According to the USCG inspector that attended, this was normal practise in the GoM. (Can anybody confirm that??)

Since the rig was US registered and USCG approved I could not do anything about that, although I did voice my opinion, as I’m want to do. (My job as MWS was “to look after steel, not men”)

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Man, I forget which company always called the drilling end of their jack-ups the bow. Wasn’t Transworld, though.
Used to drive me nuts.

Maybe there were others, but Transworld is the only one I have had any dealings with that had this obsession.
I did several rig moves with Transworld 63 in Burma, before they almost lost that one too.

This time it was due to scouring during the strong spring current in the delta. I used to stay on the rig until the anti-scouring dura bags were in place, but on one occasion I had to leave early because the one and only plane that was approved to fly between Yangon and Bangkok had to go to HK for major servicing and re-certification.

Since they were busy drilling top hole the periods of slack tide were used getting casing on board and the divers were ignored. Eventually the rig tilted over the max. 1.5 degr. allowed to use the jacking system.

I arrived a couple of days later together with a couple of Bethlehem engineers to try to get the rig down low enough to refloat on HW, which was achieved by cutting bigger pin holes for half the pins on each leg.

We ended up towing the rig to Bombay, where larger sections of the legs were cut out and new shaped sections with pin holes were flown in from Beaumont Tx. by a Hercules C135.
The manifest read; “xx tons Pin holes”.

Those were the days.

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In the '50s, '60s and '70s, each drilling rig had a stand-by boat. The standard charter package from the company I first sailed was a mudboat, crewboat and stand-by boat.

I remember seeing fishing boats in the North Sea early '70s chartered as stand-by boats also.

Yes Standby boats are still required in most places and in the North Sea they have become very sophisticated, with very specific rules and requirements to obtain REC-Class.
Here is a modern EERV for the North Sea:
The biggest fleet of EERVs belongs to Esvagt:
But that does not mean that normal LSA can be dispensed with on the rigs and platforms.

It used to be just about any old thing that will float would do as the standby boat. Sometime they didn’t even have enough space to accommodate the number of people on the rig/platform they are assigned to, paying lip service to the rules and requirement and disregarding safety of personnel.

Mobile rigs have been required to carry lifeboats since sometime in the early 1980’s, incl. US flag rigs regardless of where they were working, at least outside US waters.

PS> There are still some converted fishing boats in use as Guard boats for seismic operations around the world:

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Over the years I have written about many aspects of the offshore oil business, and have compiled a newsletter for the last 18 years, so can’t resist offering a link to one which contains 1300 words about standby boats. A potted history if you like. It is a subject familiar to me, since as a safety consultant I have had to assess their capabilities and argue about their operation on behalf of clients with the UK Health and Safety Executive on a number of occasions. (


During a J/U rig move in the Fulmar Field in the UK sector of the North Sea in 1980 I remember listening to one of those Hull Standby boats reporting her arrival with a message somewhat like this;
“This is stand by boat … reporting. Arrived on location at , h. Crew on board is 8, Fuel xx tons, Freshwater 800 ltrs. Fully provisioned and fueled for 21 days”.
Someone in the Control room commented; “They are not planning to shower much”.