Karl Kroyer - "The Sunken Yacht" by Carl Barks
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Donald Duck

Wouldn't cost much to raise her!
We could tackle a job that size!
The Sunken Yacht by Carl Barks
1948 Carl Barks published his story how Donald Duck and his nephews raised Uncle Scrooge' sunken yacht using ping pong balls.

Ship raising with expanded polystyrene (EPS) made Karl Kroyer known to the public. A gifted journalist reported to the world that a patent application was rejected due to "prior art" - a 1949 Donald Duck story using the same technique. Copying Donald Duck, however, was a journalistic artefact, but made it a "good" story.


The Al-Kuwait Story. The fact is that no patent application was rejected on grounds of prior art. Karl Kroyer did not know about Uncle Scrooge's yacht and did not copy Donald Duck. True is, that in 1964 the freighter "Al Kuwait" capsized in the fresh-water harbor of Kuwait with a cargo of six thousand sheep. It could not be raised by pontoons and a floating crane able to do the job was no closer than Sidney. The ship was insured by a Danish company, who asked Kroyer for assistance. Kroyer presented the problem to his staff. It was a young employee, who got the idea to use entrapped air and who demonstrated the invention in bench scale the very same day. He used expanded polystyrene (the type used for heat insulation). Few weeks later an airlift from Berlin to Kuwait with solid non-expanded polystyrene was in full swing. On the quay the polystyrene pellets were expanded with hot steam, hardened and pumped down into the hull of the ship. It is no simple task, to mix polystyrene balls into water and make them pumpable. We succeeded and the invention was patented (GB 100600 and DE 1247893). There was never filed any application on the use of expanded polystyrene. The use of cork was found to be known at the time, but polystyrene was the only realistic product for the purpose. The invention was later sold to a Dutch salvage company and has been used in salvage operations in awkward places of the world.

How Donald Duck helped save the day.

If we zoom back to December of 1964, we will find the freighter Al-Kuwait sitting on the floor of the Persian Gulf at an 87 degree list to port. 

Big deal you say.

Well, it was a really big deal to the residents of Kuwait.  You see, the ship went down with approximately 6,000 sheep on board right in the middle of Kuwait's main source of water.  Thousands of rotting carcasses in your water supply would make anyone concerned.

It was obvious that they had to raise the ship to save the water supply, but no one was quite sure how to do it.

The solution actually came from the Danish manufacturer, Karl Kroyer.  He had remembered reading a 1949 Walt Disney comic book in which Donald Duck was faced with a similar problem - how to raise a sunken yacht.  Donald and his three nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie, just in case you forgot) came up with a great solution: they filled the yacht up with Ping-Pong balls and brought it back up to the surface.

Kroyer decided to try a similar approach.  Clearly, getting your hands on enough Ping-Pong balls to raise a 2,000 gross ton  cargo ship has never been an easy task.  Instead, Kroyer developed a system in which powdered polystyrene was boiled to form pearl-sized air-filled balls.  Essentially, he was making his own small Ping-Pong balls right there on the site.  Once the bubbles were formed, they intended to pump them down into the ship's hull.

Kroyer arranged for all of the boilers, pumps, and chemicals to be flown from Denmark to Kuwait.  We can be quite sure that they pumped and pumped and pumped.

So, did this crazy scheme work?

You bet.  It took an estimated 27 million polystyrene balls, but the Al-Kuwait was successfully brought back to the surface and the Kuwaiti water supply was saved.

The total cost to save the ship was $435,000.  Since the ship was insured for $2 million, the insurance company made out very well.

And they can all thank a fictional character named Donald Duck (and his cartoonist, Carl Barks).

Source: http://members.tripod.com/~earthdude1/donald_duck/donald_duck.html

Postscript. Salvage of Al-Kuwait boosted Karl Kroyers dream of inventions as a livelihood and 1964 marked the beginning of a new activity, "Invention on Demand". The Business concept, however, never got strong. When a customer presented his problem and heard our proposal, the typical response was: "Ah! Oh, nothing. We can carry this out ourselves, and even cheaper." That's right. Most companies are able to refine a technique and develop it to perfection, but few can free themselves from the basic idea, reject it and devise a new principle for a solution.

Kroyers own organization was in this respect no better. The idea of expanded polystyrene was put into practice and Al-Kuwait was brought on right keel successfully. The methodological problems with control of buoyancy and avoiding a ship comes up with overly dramatic momentum when it loses its grip in the seabed in deep water and also the huge cleaning job afterwards remained unsolved.

The idea of expanded polystyrene was otherwise accompanied by a couple of alternative methods, each facing these problems.

Compressed air with suspended material for initially sealing fine and small cracks plus a controlled outlet for the displaced water provides significantly better opportunities. Sealing could for example imitate emergency patching of tires with latex foam aerosol. Seal only needs to reduce leakage to less than the capacity of compressed air.

Air bags instead of free air contains other and more options. Large air bags are used to lock cargo in containers. They can be designed for completely lining the interior of cabins and empty spaces and be supported by the walls. Air bags can also be attached outside the ship and reduce the need for reinforcement of the hull before uplift. Finally, air bags could provide the ultimate solution - ie prevent sinking. Large and sufficient build in air bags could be triggered and provide the necessary buoyancy in many types of ships as part of emergency preparedness.

It requires high charge and a strong commitment to explore new avenues. Kroyer had this commitment for his own ideas. The idea for the continuous conversion of starch to glucose was entirely Kroyers own idea and he remained persistent and continually adapted the method to the ever changing market conditions. Attitudes towards other people's ideas were more tepid and reserved and thats why the salvage concept was sold off without being finished - but no matter, he was a great inventor, a great Nestor and a great Dane.