The Loss of the DB29


This is what I was able to write in my newsletter the other day about this accident:

“On the last day of October this year a crane barge, the DB-1 sank in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico. When I started searching for a bit more information about the accident I came up with stuff about the loss of the DB29, a derrick barge owned by McDermott back in August 1991. The barge had been laying pipe for an offshore oilfield in the South China Sea and at the time of the sinking was on passage being towed by the tug Typhoon. What little information is available is provided by the Bradford Telegraph and Argus which reported on the coroner’s court convened to determine the cause of death of one of the divers who had been in sat during the passage. He and three other divers were lost as well as a further 22 crew members. The evidence provided to the court included some from a man who had travelled from New Zealand. The witness seemed to be suggesting that the barge had been overloaded, and that it was being towed, having no propulsion of its own, to a place of safety where it could wait out the typhoon. But it seems that under deck spaces began to fill up with water, and the deck cargo began to move about. Frustratingly for marine people with an interest, these witnesses are essentially amateurs whose view of the misfortune is conditioned by their lack of technical knowledge. Probably the management of this object would have just seen the loss as bad luck, but as usual it is more likely to have been the result of lack of knowledge of the marine environment.”

I was wondering if anyone on this forum could shed more light on this accident which has not had much media space as far as I can tell, possible because most of the crew were Malayan and the thing was registered in Panama.


I was Marine Advisor on board DB 29 while working off Sarawak a few months before her sinking and followed the news of her capsize and sinking very closely at the time.
As you say there are very little to find about this incident, but I found this on youtube:

Apparently the Incident Report are available on this website, if anybody have an account:

The Sat-dive set on DB29 was of the portable type. It was not “float free”, not attached to any Hyperbaric Lifeboat. or escape chamber and the bell could only hold 2 pers.
IOW; without any escape possibilities for the divers in saturation.

Here is the “float-free” Escape chamber on another Construction barge:

Instructions to anybody finding and recovering this Escape Chamber:

The big question asked at the time was; Why wasn’t the POB reduced to min. require for transit?
Why was operation continuing so late that divers were still in saturation on transit?
Who was in charge at the time and were there any Marine expertise on board.

PS> The reason I was on board for the job in Sarawak was because the Oilco. demanded Marine expertise, even in the benign waters there. (No typhoons possible)

I’ll try to refresh my memory and see if I can find any more info from that time.


It happened again, 11 years later:


From this website (Page 5):


Has anyone compared this casualty to the 1995 loss of the DLB269(?) written about so well by Michael Kreiger in his book “All the Men in the Sea”? At first glance there seems to be several similarities with this loss - especially with regards to the sat divers. As a OSV master I learned a lot about what can be done to provide support before and during a mass casualty marine event from this book.


I only vaguely remember hearing and reading about this accident, happening far away from S.E.Asia.
This was originally Brown & Root’s Lay Barge “Meaders” (BAR 269) but ended up with McDermott as DLB 269.

Here is her history in a Wikipedia page of Dutch origin:,_1967)


I have not yet read the reports on the 29 in detail, but from what I have, it is possible that there are more similarities than one might expect. The book was done as a journalistic enquirer and there seems to have been many mistakes made. If someone compared the events, he might be able to determine if the lessons learned were lost, resulting in another tragic loss. If memory serves me well, I think the barge had been put under another operator.


New to this site,just read my husband Brian Sheppard had an injured leg which is why he didn’t swim out of diving chamber.He died August 15th 1991 leaving 3 young sons,I was never told about his injuries.Always prayed that they learned by their mistakes and would not happen again and that no one will go through the horrors of the deep that Brian went through, sitting there in a boson chair which he made from piping ,tied himself up head and shoulders ubove water in an air lock waiting hours and hours, what went through his mind waiting to be saved, praying, hoping,we cant imagine what we would think,maybe he prayed he would be saved and see us again.No one came ,until his friend after 2 months went back down and brought his body home to us .R.I.P Brian Sheppard,we will always love and never forget you,Gail Sheppard,Adam,Ryan and Brett and now 3 grandaughters.


Hi Gail, Since it was me who started the thread I think I can speak for all of us who contribute here and say we are sorry for your loss. We are mostly current or former seafarers, and argue quite a bit on a variety of topics, but we are probably united in our view that life at sea should be made as safe as possible. I personally feel that the sinking of the barge should have been the subject of a formal enquiry by the flag state, which was Panama, but the only investigation seems to have been undertaken by the coroner in Bradford, a task that he was ill equipped to carry out. So we will never know why the barge sank although we can speculate, and we would probably think that any preparation for adverse weather would have been less than adequate. Non marine staff, and that includes any divers, are truly in the hands of the management of the object who, in this case, should have been aware of the loss of the drill ship Glomar Java Sea with all hands in those waters eight years previously. Were any lessons learnt from your husband’s death and that of his fellow divers and 22 crew members? It seems unlikely, but I’d love to be corrected.



I totally agree with everything you have to say. We waited seven years for the inquest and like you said, with a coroner who was ill-equipped. Having read your post it prompted me to read over documentation written around time. I cannot find any information on Brians injured leg, would you mind sharing the source of this information. I can likewise do the same if you are interested and I will send over my email address.

I am no expert in the industry but it seems nothing has changed in 27 years. As we all know we are still seeing divers (and crew) dying at sea and it brakes my heart.


God bless you ma’am


Hi Gail, I have been giving your suggestion some thought, and I am sure that it would be really difficult to put anything meaningful together, since most of the decisions that resulted in the barge being moved too late, without the appropriate levels of watertightness, and maybe stability must have been taken by the shore management, and even where formal investigations have taken place the conversations between the ship and the shore are never revealed. But that being said, if you could send me a list of the documents you have I’ll see if I think I could construct a meaningful narrative. You can find my email address at .


Ok thank you,i will get my son to do this for me,Gail.


You are very right. Too little has changed because of the many accidents that has been in the offshore industry during the last 30-40 years.
A repeated finding has been that decisions are made by shore based personnel with little or no marine knowledge or experience.

This was the case with the Glomar Java Sea that capsized and sunk in a typhoon a few years before and not far from where the DLB 29 sunk:

Likewise with the Seacrest that went down in a typhoon in the Gulf of Thailand in 1989:

In all these cases the wrong decisions were made by people ashore and on board who had no formal maritime education or credentials.

As said earlier, I was Marine Adviser on the DLB 29 only a few months before she went down. This was because the Oilco she was working for at the time did not accept that there were no maritime expertise on board while working for them.

I had a similar assignment on McDermott’s LB 200 in the North Sea in 1981. That time because Norwegian Authorities did not allow a barge with 550 persons on board to work in Norwegian waters without a qualified Master Mariner on board to advise the Barge Superintendent.

Luckily, in both cases there were no major incidents to test my authority vs. the Barge Supervisor,

The worst accident in terms of lives lost that has affected floating offshore units was the Alexander Kielland capsizing in the North Sea in 1980, with the loss of 123 lives:
In this last case there were a Master Mainer as OIM, but with little experience from this type of units.

This accident resulted in a change in rules for MODUs under Norwegian flag and working on the Norwegian OCS. Changes of rule applied both for the units and the OIM.
I.e. anybody being in charge of a MODU. (whether self-propelled or not) must not only be a Master Mariner, but have 4-month additional schooling and training on things pertain specifically to such units. (This applies regardless of nationality of the unit, or the OIM)

Unfortunately this has not become universally accepted rules.