The History Channel series Deep Sea Salvage ran for one season of six episodes in 2009. The series follows the activities of salvage teams employed by Bisso Marine, a family owned salvage company that has been operating along America’s Gulf Coast and (more recently) beyond, for over 100 years.
The first few episodes involve the land and surface-based salvage of some partially sunken vessels in the Mississippi River and surrounds, and a number of barges pushed far inland by a storm surge. I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect that much of the mayhem that the salvage teams are required to fix occurred as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
Later episodes deal with salvage divers who venture (alone) 100 metres below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico to shackle giant chains to a wayward oil rig leg, or into murky, fast flowing river waters to determine whether a wrecked barge still contains toxic oil in addition to what’s already spilled out and polluted the river. The diving shown isn’t saturation diving.
The show is edited (I think) to make the action seem quite rapid and to take place over short periods, but in some cases there must be a lot of waiting – for weather, gear, support – involved. Tony and I would have liked to see more detail about the dive planning, the gas mixtures used (for the deeper ones helium seems to be involved, because the divers’ voices over the radio were hilariously squeaky) and the logistics of dealing with potential decompression sickness while on a crane barge out at sea. The show isn’t really about that, though; it’s concerned with the work the divers do underwater, but not so much how they get there and back. We were gripped by the dive footage, despite this.
Everything is enormous. The barges and oil rigs are colossal. The winches, cranes, chains, blocks and pulleys, ropes and other equipment such as inflatable bags (large enough to rest a barge on top of a few of them) are all giant-sized. Working with such massive gear requires planning; one can’t quickly pop back to the office to pick up a winch one has left behind, or quickly pick up a chain and move it out of the way of an earth moving machine. Out at sea the constraints are even more severe. Most of the jobs covered in the series were so mind-boggling to me that I would have ordered the vessels scrapped – one can’t even imagine that it’s possible to remedy some of the situations shown. And yet somehow it is, and the Bisso teams do.
Something else that makes this a fine series to watch is that one of the slightly senior salvage team members is called “Lunchbox”. You read that correctly.