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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, May 25, 2002

Sea saga ends as the Insiko is sunk

 See video of the Insiko sinking (QuickTime player required)

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

SEQUENCE: "It went down kind of like the Titanic — stern first, and the bow shot straight up in the air. It was quite impressive," said Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley, who recorded it all on film.

Courtesy David Mosley

Rusty Nall sat on a box on the burned deck of the Insiko 1907 yesterday morning and casually mixed the main ingredients for the explosives that would send the refueling tanker to the bottom of the ocean.

In a few hours, Nall would close the book on one of the strangest maritime sagas Hawai'i had followed in years.

The Coast Guard had arranged to sink the ship yesterday about 12 nautical miles southwest of Kalaeloa, where the ocean is more than 6,000 feet deep. Nall's company, American Maritime Corp., got the job and Nall was the one who pressed the button.

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

After the crew was saved by a passing cruise ship, it was discovered that 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, a former Army Ranger, is an explosives expert who once 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. Holes had been cut between interior compartments, on deck and on the hull to allow water in and air out, he said.

But just to be sure, Nall was going to use 30 pounds of explosives — 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.

At Pier 24, American Maritime Corp. workers prepare the stripped-down Insiko 1907 for its sinking out at sea.
Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

He grinned at the thought. He has 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."

Petty Officer David Mosley, a Coast Guard spokesman assigned to witness the sinking, said the Insiko was scuttled about 1 p.m. and it took no more than 20 minutes for it to vanish beneath the calm blue water.

"It was very quick and very spectacular," Mosley said. "It went down kind of like the Titanic — stern first, and the bow shot straight up in the air. It was quite impressive."

The Insiko was more ghost ship than anything else.

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

"This whole boat, you need a tetanus shot from looking at it," Mosley said. "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 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.

During the pumping, workers also recovered a set of bones believed to be those of the crewman killed in the fire, Gi Hui Nian of the People's Republic of China. The office of the Honolulu medical examiner is attempting to positively identify him but still needs dental records from China.

Advertiser staff writer Curtis Lum contributed to this report.

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