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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:57 a.m., Friday, May 24, 2002

Insiko sinking to end deadly maritime saga

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Rusty Nall sat on a box on the burned deck of the Insiko 1907 today and casually mixed the main ingredients for the explosives that would send the refueling tanker to the bottom of the ocean.
A tugboat today tows the Insiko 1907 out of Honolulu Harbor. The Insiko will be sunk 12 nautical miles southwest of Kalaeloa.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

The U.S. Coast Guard arranged to sink the ship early this afternoon about 12 nautical miles southwest of Kalaeloa where the water is 6,000 feet deep. Nall's company, American Maritime Corp., would do the job and Nall would get to press the button.

Sinking the Insiko ends the strangest maritime saga Hawai'i has seen in years.

The ship was crippled in a fire in March that killed one crewman and left 11 others adrift for nearly three weeks.

After they were saved by a passing cruise ship, it was discovered that the rescuers had left behind the captain's dog, Hokget. That triggered a search-and-rescue mission that lasted three weeks and captured worldwide attention.

Nall is an explosives expert. A former Army Ranger, he said he blew up bridges in Vietnam.

The plan was to have him open three 4-inch valves inside the engine room to allow water into the ship, Nall said. Holes had already been cut between interior compartments, on the deck and on the hull so that water can flow in and air out, he said.

But just to be sure, Nall was going to use 30 pounds of explosive a potent mix of ammonium nitrate and nitro methane poured into 99 baton-sized tubes to blow another hole in the bottom of the engine room.

He grinned at the thought. He's sent seven other ships to the deep.

"The boat will kind of jump," he said. "My favorite part is watching it sink. It fills you with adrenaline."

The Insiko was more ghost ship than anything else.

From stem to stern, on the bridge and on the hull, it is covered with rust and the black scars left by the March 13 fire. Hoops of wire are all that remain of the automobile tires that were used as a buffer between the hull and piers.

"This whole boat, you need a tetanus shot from looking at it," said Petty Officer David Mosley, a Coast Guard spokesman. "I would never have felt comfortable in there."

Because the ship had been drifting at sea and on a course that would ground it on the pristine reefs of Johnston Atoll, the Coast Guard had the Insiko towed to Honolulu Harbor.

A total of 296,002 gallons of fuel, oil and water were pumped out of the ship after it arrived May 2.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.