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An Overview of the SNAME Marine Forensics Committee and Panel

Editor’s note: The July 2016 issue of (mt) magazine focuses on marine forensics, with articles on flooding simulations, ROVs and AUVs, accident investigation methods, and much more. Bill Garzke, co-chair with Sean Kery of the SNAME Marine Forensics Committee, put together the following history of the committee as bonus content complementing the July issue of (mt). We hope you enjoy learning about the creation and development of this important committee and the work it continues to do to better understand the causes of maritime accidents.


The formation of the SNAME Marine Forensics Panel began with a technical paper that William Garzke wrote in 1993 with Dana Yeager, Stewart Harris, and several others on underwater submersibles for the September 1993 SNAME Annual Meeting in New York City. This was the centennial for SNAME. That paper featured the explorations of the wrecks of Titanic and Bismarck as examples of what modern technology could accomplish with advancements in underwater electronics and robot technology. The news media seized on the section of the paper focused on Titanic, and William Garzke became a news item on September 17, 1993. He was interviewed on television by Dan Rather of CBS, Tom Brokaw of NBC, and Paula Zahn of CBS Good Morning America. The BBC did a voice interview, as well.


This was followed by the Oceans ’94 event in Brest, France, where Garzke made a presentation on Titanic. This was at the invitation of Joseph Vadas of NOAA, who had organized the meeting. Garzke was introduced to Jean-Louis Michel, Paul Henri Nargeolet, and George Tulloch of RMS Titanic, Inc., as well as Andre Sergovich, a Russian MIR pilot. It was after this meeting that Garzke petitioned SNAME to form a panel on marine forensics. Dr. William Morgan, who was chair of the Technical and Research Committee of SNAME, thought this would be possible. Ultimately, the marine forensics committee was formed as an adhoc panel under the Ship Design Committee.


During 1994, Garzke was invited for a special meeting with George Tulloch to acquaint him with the operations of RMS Titanic, Inc. and to discuss a Titanic barge project that he wanted to build to house artifacts taken from the debris field of Titanic. He wanted Gibbs and Cox, Inc. to design the barge museum. Tulloch also pledged cooperation with the activities of the future Marine Forensics Panel.


Call to order

The first meeting of the Marine Forensics Panel (SD-7) was called to order by the chair, William Garzke, on March 2, 1995 at the Washington, DC office of Gibbs and Cox. Paul Cojeen, who was not a member of the panel, but was interested in the panel’s activities, was in attendance. He made it clear that the panel should not be involved in active shipwreck investigations. This was to avoid making SNAME the target of lawsuits. Cojeen was informed that panel SD-7 has two members that are involved in maritime law, David Davies and George Chandler, who are not only practicing attorneys, but also naval architects. The safest approach for the panel to gain experience would be to investigate ship losses such as Titanic and Lusitania, which are well beyond the statutes of limitations.


Robert Scott, the president of Gibbs and Cox and the sitting president of the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE), addressed the group after introductions had been made. He wanted those in attendance to know that ASNE supported the systematic study of marine forensics.


Garzke appointed Robert Dulin to be the ASNE spokesman for the panel and David K. Brown to be the spokesman for the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA). The latter appointment made panel SD-7 truly international. Dulin and Garzke were to draft up the panel’s charter for submittal to SNAME. David Davies, a maritime lawyer from Cleveland, Ohio, was chosen to be the panel’s secretary and to take care of any legal issues that might arise. George Chandler of Hill, Rivkins, and O’Brien also joined the panel to be an advisor on maritime law. Peter Hsu, Phil Sims, and Arthur (Sandy) Sandiford also were present at this meeting.


A discussion took place concerning a paper entitled, “The Titanic and Lusitania, A Final Forensics Analysis,” written by William Garzke, David K. Brown, Arthur Sandiford, John Woodward, and Peter Hsu that was to be presented that evening at a meeting of the Chesapeake Section of SNAME. This would be the first technical paper presented by the panel. Garzke noted that there would be a press conference that afternoon with reporters from the Voice of America, the Public Broadcasting System, and Scripps-Howard News Service. The paper would be chosen for the Vice Admiral Cochrane Award for the best paper delivered before a section of SNAME in 1995. The paper also would later be presented to the New York Metropolitan Section, where Garzke had been section chair.


The second meeting of the Marine Forensics Panel took place on June 22, 1995. The charter for the panel was approved. Important in the charter was the decision to drop the provision for listing of qualified marine forensics investigators. The 11 members attending decided that a listing of famous historical shipwrecks should be done for the next panel meeting. It was during one of these early meetings that Gregg Bemis, owner of the wreck of Lusitania, joined the panel. Garzke announced that Dr. Ian Buxton and David K. Brown had become members of the panel.


Titanic documentary

The Marine Forensics Panel meeting of June 6, 1996 was very noteworthy in its history. The meeting was attended by Gregory Andorfer of Stardust Visual, who was working with the Discovery Channel and RMS Titanic, Inc. on an expedition to the wreck site of Titanic during August 1996. Andorfer was interested in a finite element study of Titanic that would indicate where critical stresses occurred during her sinking process in April 1912. Garzke was chosen to be a technical consultant on a documentary that would feature testing of steel taken from the wreck site and to be the program manager for Gibbs and Cox during the finite element study. Andorfer chose Dr. H. P. Leighly of the University of Missouri to do the metallurgical analyses. Funding for the Titanic project was provided by Stardust Visual and SNAME. As part of the project, Garzke would go to the wreck side in 1996 and would join with David Livingston of Harland and Wolff, Belfast as technical consultants to assist in the recovery of a steel section of the vessel.


In 1997, chair William Garzke, who was at that time a vice president of SNAME and chair of the SNAME Education Committee as well as the Marine Forensics Panel, attended a SNAME executive meeting in Jersey City, New Jersey. Garzke asked the committee whether SNAME would allow the Marine Forensics Panel to make an independent investigation of the loss of MV Estonia, a Baltic Sea ferry that had been lost in a severe storm in September 1994. The panel had been contacted, through the efforts of Gregg Bemis, by an association of Swedish families that had lost family members in the disaster. The executive committee told Garzke that the panel could not participate in such an investigation due to liability constraints. Individuals could participate in such an investigation, but not under the auspices of SNAME. Shipwrecks that are no longer liability constraints, such as Titanic, Lusitania, and Andre Doria, could be panel-sponsored projects.


In February 1998, Garzke was invited to make a presentation on marine forensics to a study of forensics by the Smithsonian Society. This was the first time that the public had heard that there was such an endeavor.


As a continuing part of the Titanic project, Garzke went to the wreck site in 1998. He joined with David Livingston of Harland and Wolff as technical consultants in the recovery of a 20-ton section of Titanic and to confirm its location on the ship. These efforts resulted in two television documentaries, Titanic Live (August 1998) and Titanic, Answers from the Abyss, in 1999. Panel members David Wood and Richard Silloway were part of the second team to advise on the identification of two inner bottom sections of the ship. In December 1998, the panel participated in the sinking tests of a model of Titanic’s bow at the Naval Warfare Center, Carderock. These efforts culminated in the editing of the script for a televised documentary at a special panel meeting in January 1999, which would be aired on the Discovery Channel in April 1999. Further finite element studies were made that located peak stresses in the ship when it broke apart at the surface before making its plunge to the seabed below. The Discovery Channel’s production, Titanic, Answers from the Abyss, was an outstanding success.


In 1998, the National Geographic Society requested the assistance of the Marine Forensics Panel regarding the loss of USS Maine in Havana harbor in 1898. They were planning an article that would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the loss of the vessel. Nichols Advanced Marine also was contacted to study the loss of the ship and confirm whether a mine explosion was responsible. The need to do so was made necessary by a statement from Admiral Hyman Rickover that the cause of the loss was not a mine, but an internal explosion resulting from the spontaneous combustion of coal.


The Marine Forensics Panel appointed a subcommittee of Robert Dulin, Phillip Sims, and Peter Hsu led by Chair William Garzke to do the study. The National Geographic Society provided testimony of the crew, plans of the ship, and a final report by the Department of the Navy in 1911. After some research and meetings, panel SD-7 gave its report to the National Geographic Society that the cause of the explosion was the spontaneous combustion of coal near a magazine. Phillip Sims had also found that there had been 39 such incidents of spontaneous coal combustion in United States Navy ships during that period. Nicholls Marine concluded it was a mine explosion, but was refuted by its vice president, Otto Jons, who did an independent study based on structural analysis. This was confirmed by Peter Hsu, who had studied photographs of the wreckage taken in 1909. Otto Jons made several presentations of his findings after joining panel SD-7, including the Marine Forensics Symposium in April 2012.


In August 1998, Garzke was invited to be guest speaker at the Dorothy Killam Lecture Series to be held at the Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia during October 1999. The Canada Council Killam Prizes were inaugurated in 1981 with a donation by Dorothy J. Killam in memory of her husband, Izaak Walton Killam. The Killam Program at the Canada Council also includes the Killam Research Fellowships, which support scholars engaged in research projects of outstanding merit in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences, engineering, and interdisciplinary studies within these fields. Dalhousie University selected the topic, Spirits of the Mineral World, and selected Garzke to give a lecture on the scientific findings on Titanic.


In September 1999, SNAME held its Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD. The panel held a meeting at the Hyatt Regency to discuss the Maryland Science Exhibit, the planning for which was well advanced. More than 20 persons took part in this meeting that involved Gregory Andofer, chairman of the board at the Maryland Science Center and George Tulloch, president of RMS Titanic, Inc. During that meeting, the panel presented a technical paper on the loss of USS Yorktown (CV 5) during the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Professor Jacques Hadler, who wrote the War Damage Report of this ship without the benefit of seeing the wreck, was in attendance. In April 2000, the Maryland Science Exhibit opened in Baltimore with much public interest. The exhibit continued for a period of 18 months before it went on a tour of 5 other cities in the United States.


Estonia activities

During 2000, Gregg Bemis led the first private diving expedition, along with panel members Paul Mathias and Jutta Rabe, to the Estonia wreck site. This effort was done on Bemis’s own initiative and without the assistance or official permission of the Marine Forensics Panel, due to official direction of SNAME. Samples of steel from the area of Estonia’s bow visor were taken and presented for scientific analysis. These metal fragments were analyzed by professional metallurgical laboratories in Great Britain, the United States, and Germany. All labs concluded that explosions had deformed the metal.


On March 17, 2005, the Swedish government authorized a study into the loss of Estonia, admitting that the ferry had engaged in the carriage of Russian military equipment before the fateful voyage. On May 19, 2005, a pre-announcement was made by VINNOVA, a special commission set up by the Swedish government, for a study into the loss of Estonia. A request for proposals was set for July 1 and these proposals would be due by August 29. On October 10, these proposals would commence for evaluation for the selected parties who would then submit detailed proposals by December 15. On January 31, 2006, the Swedish government would announce the successful bidder based on VINNOVA’s recommendations.


In a surprising request, John Graffman, the Program Manager of VINNOVA, requested a meeting with the Marine Forensics Panel at their scheduled meeting on September 20, 2005. The panel had scheduled a technical paper, “Marine Forensics, Historic Shipwrecks, Determination of Root Cause,” at the Oceans 2005 Conference on September 20 in Washington, DC. In advanced of that presentation, selected members of the panel met with Graffman on September 19 to discuss concerns of any investigation of Estonia. He was informed that SNAME had not sanctioned the panel’s involvement in any study of the ferry’s loss. Graffman attended the presentation at the Oceans 2005 Conference as well as the official panel meeting that followed on September 29, where he would make a presentation on the intents and schedule of proposals submitted to VINNOVA.


On September 27, 2005, panel member Gregg Bemis presented a paper with technical data at an Estonia symposium in Tallinn, Estonia. This public symposium had been organized by Helje Kaskel, a widow from the Estonia catastrophe. During this symposium, several international experts, including Bemis, mentioned that the official report of the disaster did not expose the true causes of the vessel’s loss that claimed the lives of 852 persons. Jutta Rabe also discussed the evidence of explosions on the ship, a subject that has been censored in the mainstream media. The conclusion of this symposium was that a new investigation needed to be done, but it was never authorized or funded. An official government report was eventually issued that engineered the cause of the sinking to be the result of the storm, with no mention of the many inconsistencies in the public record. The governments involved have since proposed encasing the wreck in concrete or burying it by dumping sand to prevent divers from accessing the “gravesite.” While protecting gravesites is a laudable motive, it is noted that no one has ever proposed this level of effort or expense, to deny access to any other shipwreck.


The panel’s involvement in studying the losses of HMS Hood and DKM Bismarck came in 1991 when panel member William Jurens participated in an expedition to these wreck sites at the invitation of expedition leader David Mearns. This expedition was sponsored by Channel 4 of London, England. Some results of that expedition were presented in a technical paper, “A Marine Forensics Analysis of HMS Hood and DKM Bismarck,” by William Jurens, William H. Garzke, Jr., Robert O. Dulin, Jr., Jon Roberts, and Richard Fiske, at the SNAME Annual Meeting in September 2002. Jurens also was asked to review some of the findings of the data from the May 2002 expedition to the Bismarck wreck site by James Cameron. That led to a visit with Cameron by three panel members (Garzke, Ken Smith, and Jurens) in August 2006, which led to a technical paper and presentation during ASNE Day 2008. Those meetings were crucial in the development of a book, Battleship Bismarck, A Design and Operational History, to be published by the Naval Institute Press and Seaforth Publishing in November 2016.


Other studies

During the years that the panel has been active, studies of other ship losses have been conducted. These included the losses of USS Maine (1998), HMHS Britannic (2002), MV Beth Dee Bob (2004), SS Andrea Doria (2008), HMS Prince of Wales (2009 and 2011), HMS Hood (2013), USS Monitor (2012), MV Edmund Fitzgerald (2012), and SS Costa Concordia (2012). In 2002, the panel realized its first book publication, "Titanic Ships, Titanic Disasters, An Analysis of Early White Star and Cunard Superliners," by William H. Garzke, Jr., and Professor John Woodward.


Sean Kery joined the panel at the October 2007 meeting and became involved with the Panel’s development of the “Guidelines for Marine Forensic Investigations.” When then-editor Brian Abbott was rendered unable to participate due to a car accident, Kery took over as acting editor. The guidelines document eventually grew to include 46 chapters and almost 700 pages, encompassing every aspect of marine forensic investigations for which authors could be found to write. It was published by SNAME as an e-book in April 2012. The e-book format makes revisions and updates less expensive as there are no printing costs and no physical inventory. A second edition is in the planning stages at this time, to include the many significant developments since the first edition.


In June 2010, the panel was established as a full SNAME committee with Garzke as it's first Chairman. Sean Kery would later become the vice chair of the committee and contribute much to marine forensics along with Kenneth Smith and Phil Sims. The Marine Forensics Committee (MFC) began working on its first symposium to align with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic on April 15th, 1912, and to publish the guidelines document. The Marine Forensics Symposium was held in April 2012 and included more than 20 technical papers and presentations.


Members of the MFC have published one or more technical papers and presentations every year since the founding of the panel back in 1995. The committee has many active members from SNAME, but is unique in that it also welcomes members of ASNE, MTS, RINA, IMRest and various other technical societies, as well as educators, shipwreck owners, divers, underwater archaeologists, United States Coast Guard and NTSB investigators, and even members of the general public, such as Pierette Simpson a survivor of the Andria Doria disaster. Simpson is the author of the book, Alive on Andria Doria and is an honorary member of the Marine Forensics Committee.


Funding of research

Over its 21 years of existence, the Marine Forensics Panel/Committee has received funding to accomplish research into some of the ship losses enumerated in this article.


Lusitania: The SNAME Technical and Research (T&R) Committee awarded $1,000 to Jamestown Marine for a study of the sinking of Lusitania. Results of that study were published in a paper on the loss of the ship by Peter Hsu and William Garzke, presented to the New York Metropolitan Section in 1998.


Titanic: The SNAME T&R Committee and the Discovery Channel awarded $25,000 to perform a finite element analysis on the sinking stresses in Titanic to Gibbs & Cox, Inc. This analysis was aimed at locating the critical stressed areas of the ship.


HMS Hood: The SNAME T&R Committee awarded $1,000 for the purchase of videotapes of the debris field of HMS Hood in 2001. The analysis of those tapes is an ongoing task of the Marine Forensics Committee.



Following is a list of committee papers, grouped by topic.


Oceans 95, presentation on Titanic by William H. Garzke, Jr. “The Titanic and Lusitania, A Final Forensics Analysis,” William H. Garzke, Jr., David K. Brown, Arthur Sandiford, John Woodward, and Peter Hsu.


“The Loss of Titanic,” William H. Garzke, Jr. and David K. Brown. Titanic Symposium, Institute of Marine Engineers, Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 15-16, 1997.


“The Titanic, An Anatomy of a Disaster,” William H. Garzke, Jr., David K. Brown, Paul Mathias, David Livingston, Dr. Timothy Foecke, Dr. Roy Cullimore,  David Wood, Dr. H. P. Leighly, and Arthur Sandiford. October 1997 Annual Meeting. (This paper won the Joseph Linnard Prize for Best Paper at this Annual Meeting.)


“The Loss of RMS Titanic,” Spirits of the Mineral World, William H. Garzke, Jr. and Dorothy Killum Lecture, Halifax, Nova Scotia, October 1999.


“A Marine Forensic Analysis of the RMS Titanic,” William H. Garzke, Jr., Dr. Timothy Foecke, Paul Mathias, and David Wood. Proceedings of Oceans 2000, Providence, RI.


“The Impact of Bioconcretious Structures (Rusticles) on the RMS Titanic,” Implications for Maritime Steel Structures, Dr. Roy Cullimore and Lori Johnston. November 2000 Annual Meeting.


“A Marine Forensics Analysis of the Titanic,” William H. Garzke, Jr., Timothy Foecke, Paul Mathias, and David Wood. October 2001 Annual Meeting.


“The Break-up of Titanic A Progress Report from the Marine Forensics Panel (SD-7),” Roy F. Mengot, and Richard T. Woytowich. New York Metropolitan Section, The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 2009.


“Titanic Ship’s, Titanic Disasters, An Analysis of Early White Star and Cunard Superliners,” William H. Garzke, Jr., Woodward, JSNAME 2002


“Tumblehome Warships,” Philip J. Sims and James S. Webster. November 1996 Annual Meeting.


“Comparative Naval Architecture of Passenger Ship’s,” Sims, P. 2003 World Maritime Technology Conference, San Francisco. Attendees received on a CD, also appeared as SNAME Transactions 2003 , Vol. 111, SNAME 2004.


“The Loss of MV Derbyshire,” Dr. Douglas Faulkner. November 1998 Annual Meeting.


“The Loss of the USS Yorktown (CV 6),” William H. Garzke, Jr., Robert O. Dulin, Jr., and William Jurens.


“The Loss of the Beth Dee Bob,” William H. Garzke, Jr. and Captain Steve Gatto. October 2004 Annual Meeting.


“The Loss of the MV Estonia,” William H. Garzke, Jr., Ken Smith, and Gregg Bemis. September 2005, Oceans 2005.


Presentation, “Loss of the Andrea Doria,” William H. Garzke, Jr. and Pierette Simpson. Technical & Research Committee, SNAME, November 2006.


“The Loss of Andrea Doria,” William H. Garzke, Jr. and Pierette Simpson. New York Metropolitan Section, SNAME, 2008.


“The Decay of the Andrea Doria,” Philip Sims, John Moyer, and Steve Gatto. Journal of Ship Production and Design, Vol. 26, No. 3, August 2010, pp. 187-198.


“A Marine Forensics Analysis of HMS Hood and DKM Bismarck,” William Jurens, William H. Garzke, Jr., Robert O. Dulin, Jr., Jon Roberts, and Richard Fiske. September 2002 Annual Meeting.


“Presentation on the DKM Bismarck,” William H. Garzke, Jr., Robert O. Dulin, Jr., and William Jurens. Hampton Roads Section, SNAME, February 2008.


“The Wreck of DKM Bismarck, A Marine Forensics Analysis,” James Cameron, Robert O. Dulin, Jr., William H. Garzke, Jr., William Jurens, and Kenneth M. Smith, Jr. Arlington, VA, American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE Day, 2008), June 2008.


“The Bismarck Encounter," William H. Garzke, Jr., Robert O. Dulin, Jr., and T.G. Webb.  Presented to the Chesapeake Section of SNAME, June 1991.


“The Loss of the HMS Prince of Wales,” William H. Garzke, Jr., Kevin Denlay, and Robert O. Dulin. JOINT Meeting of the Institute of Marine Engineers and the Institution of Naval Architects, London, September 2009.


“The Loss of the HMS Prince of Wales,” William H. Garzke, Jr. Kevin Denlay, and Robert O. Dulin, Jr. New York Metropolitan Section, SNAME, 2011.


“Structural Failures in Large Passenger Ships,” William H. Garzke, Jr. SNAME Annual Meeting, 2012.


“Remember the MAINE,” Otto P. Jons.


“The Breakup of Titanic: A Progress Report from the Marine Forensics Panel (SD-7),” R.F. Mengot and R.T. Woytowich. Marine Technology, Vol. 47, No. 1 January 2010, pp. 37-46.


”The Death of the USS Thresher, The Story Behind Histories Deadliest Submarine Disaster,” N. Polmar. Lyons Press, Guilford, CT, 1964, 2001, 2004.


”A Forensic Investigation Of The Breakup And Sinking Of The Great Lakes Iron Ore Carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, November 10th 1975, Using Modern Naval Architecture Tools And Techniques, Updates on the 40th Anniversary,” S.M. Kery. Presented December 2015 at SNAME luncheon series by request.


“Naval Architecture of the USS Monitor,” part of the NOAA Monitor Project final report, 2016. Several chapters in preparation due September 2016.


“On the Hydromechanics of Vessels and Debris Fields During Sinking Events,” S. Kery. Paper presented at SNAME World Technology Conference, November 2015 in Providence, RI.


“Weights Engineering of Historic Vessels,” Sean Kery, SAWE International Symposium, Alexandria, VA, May 2015.


“Hydrodynamics Related to Shipwreck Taphonomy,” Sean Kery, Jillana Stauffer. Paper presented at MTS/IEEE Oceans 2015, Washington DC.


Marine Technology Society Journal, November/December 2012 issue on marine forensics, Sean Kery guest editor and author.


“Guidelines for Marine Forensics Investigations,” (book, 46 chapters, approximately 700 pages), S. Kery and R. Wasalaski. Published as SNAME T&R Bulletin 8-1, April 2012


“A Forensic Investigation Of The Sinking Of USS Monitor Using Modern Naval Architecture Tools And Technologies,” S. Kery, M. Eaton, C. Quigley, S. Henderson, J. Broadwater, J. Johnston, D. Krop, E. Nordgren, and T. Vada. 2012 International Marine Forensics Symposium, National Harbor, MD, April 2012.