Smit Salvage has developed a new, patented wreck removal cutting system that is faster and more cost-effective than traditional techniques. This pioneering technology was used for the first time during the successful recovery of the Russian submarine Kursk last year - the most challenging operation in the long history of salvage. The new system utilises a special abrasive cutting wire - a series of grit-covered bushes mounted along a high-tension steel cable. This wire can be positioned over a wreck and connected up to a drive system producing a sawing motion.
This highly efficient cutting system can be used instead of chain-cutting – the traditional method using heavy steel chains and floating sheerlegs. While chain-cutting is effective, it is slower and imposes shock loads on the sheerlegs during cutting operations.Theo Haak, Smit Salvage Logistics and Technical Support Manager, says: "We began to look at new and more cost-effective cutting methods during 1999. Our R & D project has produced a cutting system with greater efficiency and more precision than traditional methods. In favourable circumstances, the system can reduce project duration by up to 30 per cent, with significant cost savings. In addition, this compact, lightweight system is easy to transport and suitable for a wide range of salvage and wreck removal tasks. This new system will improve the viability of a number of wreck removal operations."
The development of the cutting system was undertaken in association with Widia Nederland, a Rotterdam-based manufacturer of tungsten carbide tools, and T.N.O. Nederland. The prototype was conceived as a surface-based system for tackling shallow-water wrecks at depths of up to 30 m. Following the award of the Kursk contract, Smit modified the system for deep-water work and added an underwater drive system. In addition, the cutting wire was strengthened, to increase wear resistance. Prior to its deployment for the Kursk operation, the system's high efficiency was demonstrated during trials in Rotterdam, when it was used to cut an obsolete dredger into scrap.