Posts Tagged ‘semi-submersibles

I Want My Own Submarine

- May 13th, 2012

Yellow_Submarine

One day when I was in my middle teens, my father —completely out of the blue —  said this to me: “I could buy you a sailboat but I’m not going to. It wouldn’t be good for you.”

 

I just stared at him like the crazy man he apparently was and said nothing. What do you say to a statement like that?

 

I puttered around in little borrowed Sunfishes and whatnot, but I had absolutely no interest in owning a sailboat of my own. And I certainly never asked my father for one. The thought had never crossed my mind — until my father put it there.

 

In the course of a summer afternoon, I had gone from having zero interest in boat ownership to suddenly craving — needing — a sailboat to call my very own. Fortunately the instilled madness soon passed, much like an ambush craving for nicotine five or six years after you quit smoking.

 

I never did find out what prompted my father’s bizarre (albeit, for him, normal) pronouncement, but I had a flashback to it earlier today when I learned that the U.S. government will not let me chug around in my own submarine — even in international waters.

 

Of course I don’t really want my own submarine. I find the idea dumb, claustrophobic and dangerous — especially if it was a homemade DIY submersible, which is really the only way I can see the average person acquiring a submarine.

 

But my Pavlovian teenage rebellion (which never really disappears completely, no matter how old we are) suddenly kicked in when I read that the U.S. Congress had, in 2008, passed a law making it illegal for me, as a private individual, to own and/or operate a submersible or semi-submersible vessel on the high seas, in international waters outside the normal territorial jurisdiction of the United States of America.

 

The law is formally entitled “an Act to amend titles 46 and 18, United States Code, with respect to the operation of submersible vessels and semi-submersible vessels without nationality.”

 

Among other things, the law says this:

 

‘‘§ 2285. OPERATION OF SUBMERSIBLE VESSEL OR SEMI-SUBMERSIBLE VESSEL WITHOUT NATIONALITY.

‘‘(a) OFFENSE.—Whoever knowingly operates, or attempts or conspires to operate, by any means, or embarks in any submersible vessel or semi-submersible vessel that is without nationality and that is navigating or has navigated into, through, or from waters beyond the outer limit of the territorial sea of a single country or a lateral limit of that country’s territorial sea with an adjacent country, with the intent to evade detection, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both.”

 

You can look it up yourself. Here’s a link to it on the U.S. Justice Department website.

 

 

As you see, there’s the twist of “without nationality” involved but, really, who is the United States government to go poking its nose into my business — and threatening me with 15 years in Leavenworth — if I manage to construct my own unregistered submarine and successfully navigate it a few hundred kilometres out into the Atlantic Ocean?

 

(Just writing that last bit made my stomach knot up with dread: Who would do something as insanely suicidal as that? Actually, I’m sure there’s someone out there who would, if they haven’t tried it already. If he or she wants to be buried alive at sea in a coffin of his or her own construction, how is that the business of Washington, D.C.?)

 

It turns out that, in fact, plenty of people (with less money than James Cameron) are building their own submarines and taking them down as much as 100 metres in waters from the Baltic Sea to coastal Florida to lakes in China.

 

Tao-Xiangli-metal-barrels

Here’s one report from Ananova, a British web news service, in 2008:

Tao Xiangli made the 1.6 tonnes submarine mostly from metal barrels and improvised parts by hand, reports Zhong’an Online.

“Metal barrels are possibly the best material for me because of their low cost,” said Tao, a migrant worker in Beijing.

The 20ft submarine is cramped inside with room for only one person but it features pressure meters, monitoring cameras, a TV set, oxygen supply and headlights.

“Although the equipment is simple, it’s enough for a basic submarine, and more importantly, it enables the passenger to see things clearly underwater,” said Tao.

It took Tao more than a year of research and experiments, but he says the most difficult challenge he faced was not a lack of knowledge, but of funds.

“The devices for submarines are all expensive, so because I couldn’t afford them I found a lot of inexpensive replacements,” he said.

Tao said the basic submarine cost him £2,200 (about $3,500), the equivalent of a year’s pay.

 

A year later, the China Daily newspaper ran these photos and reported:

Tao-Xiangli-afloat

Tao Xiangli prepares his homemade submarine before operating it in a lake on the outskirts of Beijing September 3, 2009. Amateur inventor Tao, 34, made a fully functional submarine, which has a periscope, depth control tanks, electric motors, manometer, and two propellers, from old oil barrels and tools which he bought at a second-hand market. He took two years to invent and test the submarine which costs 30,000 yuan (that’s about $4,700 — up from the $3,500 reported a year earlier).

Tao-Xiangli-lake

 

Now of course the U.S. government has what it thinks is a good reason for passing the no-you-can’t-own-a-submarine act. Doesn’t every government always have a good reason for passing any law? Oh, it doesn’t? You mean some laws are stupid and wrong and counter-productive and actually damaging to the fabric of society? Really? Who knew?

 

Turns out the U.S. anti-submarine-ownership law is aimed at South American narcotic cartels smuggling drugs into the U.S. (or at least close to the U.S. before being transshipped at sea to surface vessels) on fibreglass semi-submersibles.

coke_sub

U.S. drug busters estimate about a third of all cocaine shipped from South America to the U.S. is now transported on narco subs built at hidden shipyards along the coast of Colombia and elsewhere. How they could know the percentage breakdown is beyond me (and I take it with more than a grain of salt) but it does indicate that there must be quite a few of these druggie subs floating around out there in the ocean.

 narco-submersible

Here’s a link to a story that takes you inside a drug-smuggling sub.

 

 

According to the New York Times, U.S. drug busters believe the Colombian cartels are building about 120 subs a year. Each sub carries anywhere between three and 12 tonnes of cocaine, depending on the size of the vessel.

 

Here’s a link to the New York Times piece.

 

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) estimates that about 10% of all narco subs are captured. (Again, how do they really know?) Others are sunk by their crews after making delivery to avoid detection. And still others return to South America to make several subsequent trips.

 

But I don’t care about the drug smugglers.

 

There must be other ways, other legal means to scupper the narco navies without infringing on the right of lunatics around the world to sink or swim in submarines of their own fiendishly clever devising.

 

Here’s Chinese inventor Zhang Wuyi, for example, who has designed, built and sold several different models of personal submersibles.

zhang-wuyi-1-submarine

zhang-wuyi-2-submarine

 

And German U-booter Michael Henrik Schmelter takes his homemade sub to depths of 100 metres off the Baltic coast near Kiel.

 

M-K-Schmelter-sub

 

But my favourite is a Florida physics teacher named Karl Stanley who has built a couple of submarines in his home machine shop that can descend to depths of 100 metres as well (with a theoretical crush depth of  almost 200 metres). Both Karl’s one-man and two-person subs are made from large propane tanks  (of two different sizes) and are pedal-powered underwater.

karlsub-1

Here’s a link to Karl’s website where he explains how he built his subs.

karlsub-2

 

These people are all Grade A kooks in my opinion, but what would the world be without kooks doing things that other, rational people consider insane?

 

With or without the blessing of the U.S. government, they’re going to take their dangerous dreams to sea.

 

All I can say is good luck and God help ‘em.

 

And I would advise them all to hoist a piratical Jolly Roger. It seems like the only flag they should be sailing under.

Tao-Xiangi