Salvors Right and Refloat U.S. Navy Subsea Vessel R/V Petrel

RV Petrel
File image courtesy Vulcan Inc. / Estate of Paul Allen

Published May 2, 2023 5:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy-owned research ship that fell over in a drydock in Scotland has been righted and refloated at last. 

In March, the storied research vessel R/V Petrel tipped over in drydock at a yard in Leith, Scotland. The ship had been laid up since the beginning of the pandemic, and it was undergoing an overhaul before returning to service. 35 people were injured when the vessel tilted over, including some who sustained serious injuries. 

Several victims have retained legal counsel to seek compensation. One worker, Romanian national Constantin Pogor, told The Independent that he was thrown across the bridge and fractured his pelvis and ribs when the ship tipped over.

The cause of the casualty is not yet known, though unusually high winds may have played a role. The UK's Health and Safety Executive is investigating.

In recent weeks, work crews have been busy at the site with large mobile cranes, preparing for the effort to right the Petrel. The ship was finally refloated and moved out of drydock on Tuesday, according to the BBC.  

R/V Petrel has an illustrious history. Built in Norway in 2003 for Stolt Offshore, she performed subsea inspections in the North Sea for more than a decade. In 2016, she was purchased by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and refitted for deep ocean search expeditions. Under Allen's ownership, the vessel cruised the Pacific hunting for famous World War II shipwrecks for the next three years - and she found more than a few. Among other successes, Petrel was responsible for the discovery of the wreck of the cruiser USS Indianapolis, the Japanese battleships Hiei and Musashi, the aircraft carrier USS Wasp, and the light cruiser USS Juneau, of Sullivan Brothers fame. 

Paul Allen passed away in 2020, and the Petrel was laid up during the pandemic due to the operational challenges of the era. The U.S. Navy purchased it from Allen's estate for $13 million in 2022, with plans to use it for a seabed infrastructure protection mission. It is operated by Oceaneering under contract.