Page 46: of Maritime Reporter Magazine (June 1989)

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By James J. Gaughan, Chief Engineer and Angelo Tseudos, Principal,

American Bureau of Shipping

James J. Gaughan

Fascination with the underwater wonders of the sea has prompted more than 700,000 passengers1 to venture as deep as 250 feet below the water's surface in tourist sub- mersibles. All of these passengers have returned safely to the surface after the ride of a lifetime.

Classification is one of the key factors contributing to this excellent safety record. Almost every tourist sub in operation as well as those cur- rently under construction has been or will be designed, built, and tested in accordance with the require- ments detailed in the American Bu- reau of Shipping's "Rules for Build- ing and Classing Underwater Sys- tems and Vehicles."

Although the majority of tourist- sub passengers have probably never heard of ABS, sub builders and operators alike know how important

Angelo Tseudos it is to have the American Bureau of

Shipping approve their initial de- sign, survey the construction pro- cess, and perform periodic surveys during the operating life of the sub.

They know that safety counts; they know that ABS has the technical expertise to make critical evalua- tions.

The Birth of an Industry

Jacques Piccard is credited with designing the first tourist sub- mersible, the Auguste Piccard, which went into service in 1964 for the Swiss National Exposition, where during a 15-month period she carried 32,000 tourists to depths of almost 1,000 feet in Lake Geneva.

After this initial project, develop- ment languished for almost 20 years before a small fleet of oilfield sub- mersibles was converted for tourist use in the Grand Cayman Islands by

Research Submersibles Ltd. Lim- ited to two passengers, these subs make 90-minute dives to 800 feet along the famed Cayman Wall to view the wrecked freighter the Kirk


The first company formed to de- sign, build, and operate tourist sub- mersibles specifically for the tour industry was Sub Aquatics Develop- ment Corporation, Vancouver, Brit- ish Columbia, Canada. Sub Aqua- tics has designed and constructed all five of the 28- and 46-passenger subs in the Atlantis Submersible

Caribbean fleet. Two more 46-pas- senger subs are under construction, one for work in the Bahamas, the other for Hawaii. All are classed by


The industry has grown to now include 12 major submersible opera- tions at various locations around the world2. Gross revenues from passen- ger submersible operations totaled almost $16.2 million in 1988, up from $7.9 million in 1987. Revenues for 1989 are estimated to jump to $32.5 million based on 490 available seats in 12 submersibles. The num- ber of passenger seats are expected to increase rapidly. Of the 19 new tourist submersible being built to

ABS class, eight could be in opera- tion by the second quarter of 1990, for a worldwide total of 850 seats on 20 submersibles.

The only limit on the phenomenal

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Circle 343 on Reader Service Card growth of this industry is the availa- bility of optimum tour sites. The quality of potential sites for 48 -pas- senger tourist subs is determined by a number of factors according to industry analysts Jones, Matsuo &

Associates, Ltd. • A pool of 500,000 tourists an- nually, without seasonal highs and lows; • Coral reefs within three nautical miles of shuttle-boat boarding site (shuttle boats carry passengers from shore to the dive site to speed up the operation, since the cruising speeds of tourist subs are usually around one knot); • Clear water with good visibility; • Weather and climate to allow at least 300 operating days per year; • A harbor deep enough for a sub- mersible that draws 10 feet of water; and • A nearby drydock capable of hauling a 100-ton vessel for yearly surveys and repairs.

The number of sites meeting these criteria around the world is limited to perhaps 50, and initial investment to start up a tourist-sub operations can reach $4 million. To start up more sites, more economi- cally, on an incremental basis, oper- ators could use 8-, 10-, or 12-passen- ger subs, rather than 28- or 46-pas- senger vessels.

Cruise ship operators like to as- sess the growth potential of their markets based on the number of tourists who have never been on a cruise. Using this same gage—the number of potential riders who have never been on a tourist sub—the market for the tourist-sub industry is indeed huge. Even during this period of rapid growth, the tourist- sub industry continues to recognize the importance of the classification process to provide for the safety of life and property.

Importance of Classification

Builders want technical expertise from a classification society, which is why they have their vessel designs verified and build tourist subs ac- cording to ABS's "Rules for Build- ing and Classing Underwater Sys- tems and Vehicles." For owners and operators, safety is essential for profitability. So to extend their profitability, they class their subs with ABS to verify structural and mechanical fitness.

ABS involvement begins with a review of the initial design. ABS engineers perform detailed calcula- tions to assess the hull, mechanical and electrical systems, and life-sup- port systems of a tourist sub. All materials must be specified and cer- tified before construction can be- gin.

Because of the unique operating

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