USS Scorpion (SSN-589) Sunk by Seaquake



by Capt. David Williams

The darker chart at the top was released by the US Navy on 24 May 1968. It shows the last known position of the USS Scorpion as due east of Lisbon Portugal, “only a few miles” south of the Azores, near if not inside their territorial waters. This same chart was published on the front page of the Gallup New Mexico Independent on 28 May 1968 (link) (pdf-file) and in several dozen other US and Canadian newspapers. There was no doubt that the Scorpion was “a few miles south of the Azores.”

However, the admirals began to worry whether the USS Scorpion had crashed to the bottom shortly after sending her last message. If so, did the newly refueled nuclear reactor rupture and spill nuclear radiation near Azorean shores. They also worried if maybe the nuclear torpedoes on board the sunken USS Scorpion were leaking radiation. It wasn’t long before their worries turned into serious concern. What if the Azores Government started to worry about the same thing?

If the Azoreans made a big stink out of it, Congress would be forced to conduct a full blown investigation that would have no doubt uncovered the fact that the USS Scorpion had hairline stress cracks in her hull near the stern and 109 unfilled repair orders when she was sent on her last mission. Truth be told, the USS Scorpion was a wreck looking for a place to crash even before she left Norfolk and a lot of admirals knew all about her deplorable condition.

The only thing the top brass could think of was to fabricate a new location about where the Scorpion was when she sent her last message. They needed to invent a reason why the USS Scorpion was not due east of Lisbon and a few miles south of the Azores and pray that no one compared the new chart to the old one first released. They needed to fabricate a new story that would put the USS Scorpion 400 miles south of its assigned course and a long way from the territorial waters of any sovereign nation. They could then claim for the next hundred years that they were protecting the sacred burial grounds of US Navy sailors by not revealing the exact location of the wreckage and by refusing to allow any organization to send down a mini-sub. In other words, they faked the location of the wreckage so now they can’t allow anyone to visit the fake location.

The perfect solution was to spread a rumor that at the last minute, the USS Scorpion had been diverted to the Canary Islands on a secret spy mission. After the fake spying was supposedly completed, the USS Scorpion then allegedly headed straight back to her home base at Norfolk, Virginia.

After faking the spy mission, the admirals then reported that USS Scorpion crashed to the bottom for unknown reasons while on a direct route home from the Canary Islands. The new fabricated location and chart was now 400 miles south of the Azores. This was a bold lie, but if they could convince the Azoreans that it was the truth, then they would be out of serious trouble over the deplorable mechanical condition of the USS Scorpion, which made it extremely vulnerable to shock waves from a shallow vertical thrusting earthquake in the seafloor.

Allow me to repeat: The USS Scorpion had 109 unfilled repair orders and stress cracks in her hull that were visible to the naked eye. And, to make matters worse, the emergency system to flood her ballasts tanks with air and float her to the surface was broken and the US Navy knew it before she was even assigned her final mission.   

How Did I Discover the Cover-up?

In 1974, my ship was hit by a seaquake off the coast of Puerto Rico. We almost sank.  I started looking for others who had experienced the same thing but had a hard time finding any reports. My big break came in the 1990s when companies started digitizing old newspapers and putting them up on the Internet. Starting in the 1700’s, newspapers all around the world were reporting ships hit by seaquakes and other undersea upheavals.  Online archives are filled with violent encounters such as the ones shown at this (link). You can find another 2000+ eyewitness reports of submarine upheavals at this (link). Here’s a different (link) with over 12,000 reports from sailors telling you their experience with undersea earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. And there’s a lot more. I even have over 5,000 handpicked reports from other sources that I am slowing posting on the net (Ships Hit By Seaquakes 1700 – 1899) (Ships Hit By Seaquakes 1900s to present). This stuff is mind-blowing.

Strange thing is these reports stop hitting the press in large numbers shortly after the USS Scorpion sank.

More Shocking Truth

Convincing evidence of a seaquake cover-up becomes obvious when you compare the huge number of seaquake reports prior to 1968 with the tiny number of such reports coming out today. There are just as many undersea earthquakes now as there were a hundred years ago and fifty times more ships, but rarely do we hear about a vessel hit by one of these events. If there were no cover-up, we’d be reading about a nasty seaquake hitting a ship or a pod of whales almost every week.

I’m also convinced that the British and Australian navies are in on the cover-up along with the US Navy. All three have been fully aware of the danger since the early 1800s. Since then, several hundred US Navy vessels have encountered these events, including 40 to 50 submarines. The first encounter in the public records with a US Navy ship occurred in 1852 off the coast of Vancouver Island (link). One of the most notable to make the newspapers happened in 1918 when double earthquake shocks shook the entire sixth fleet of Admiral Rodman’s heavy dreadnoughts (link).

This much is proven. The US Navy first started investigating the intensity of seaquake pressure waves in 1939 (link). In 1940, they wanted to set off large explosions just offshore to generate monstrous tsunami waves and destroy enemy coastal cities. They wanted to know all about using explosives to mimic seaquakes. This effort was called Project Seal. The US Navy also released a news article in 1962 asking for scientists to help them create artificial undersea earthquakes to sink enemy ships so their adversaries would believe an earthquake sank it. This geophysical warfare effort was called Blue Sky Research (link). This is just the tip of the iceberg — there is so much more convincing information that it becomes too overwhelming to read.

Reason for Cover-up

The main reason the Navy does not want you to know about the dangers of seaquakes is to hide the stupid mistake they made in the 1950s when they designed and built six Skipjack-class nuclear attack submarines. The Navy wanted the fastest, quickest turning, most silent nuclear attack submarine money could buy so they came up with the Skipjack design with its wide unsupported stern diving planes. The upper and lower external struts that were normally used to support such wide horizontal appendages during fast maneuvers were deleted from the new design because they generated bubble noise (cavitation) and reduced the top speed by a few knots.

Removing these external supports was a monstrous mistake.

The wide horizontal dive planes on the Skipjacks often flapped up and down slowly like some giant prehistoric bird lifting off the ground. The internal supports could not take the constant stresses. After 4-5 years of service, the supports started to show hairline cracks and signs of metal fatigue in crucial areas that could not be seen by simple inspection. In addition, the Skipjacks also suffered a lot of shaft and propeller vibrations that added vibratory stress to the already fatigued internal supports. Because the hull of submarine changes shape under increased diving pressure, aligning the long shaft and propeller so they didn’t vibrate at various depths was a nightmare.

The more stress-weakened the internal support brackets became, the more vulnerable the horizontal diving planes were to sudden shock waves generated by vertical-thrusting seaquakes, especially an extremely shallow reverse-fault event near six magnitude.

When the subs were new, the wide horizontal planes, like those on the USS Scorpion, could take the blow. But after 4-5 years of bending stresses, the wide diving planes became like sitting ducks, just waiting to be hit hard by seismic shock waves.

A Seaquake Exploited USS Scorpion’s Flaws

In 1966, 2 years before the USS Scorpion disaster, O.L. Martin, Jr. with Maritime Safety Division at the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office published a special report entitled UNDERWATER DISTURBANCES! It was all about the danger of seaquakes and undersea volcanic eruptions. Read his report (link). At the same time you read it, ask yourself if the shock waves and pressure disturbances mentioned by the US Navy’s Maritime Safety Division in 1966 might injure marine mammals, sea turtles, fishes with swim bladders. You don’t need to read too close. Just look in the left column of page 59 where the article clearly states that:  “MARINE LIFE CAN BE DESTROYED BY A SEAQUAKE.”

Also notice on the last page where the article informs: “Damaging seaquake…..The ship may be thrown about in the water with such force that mast, booms, superstructure and machinery as well as the hull may be damaged. It is possible for seams to be opened to such an extent that flooding cannot be contained and the vessel sinks.” Keep in mind that this is an exact quote published in 1966 by the US Navy’s very own Maritime Safety Division! The US Navy said that sequakes could open seams and sink ships.

Two years later, in May 1968, the USS Scorpion mysteriously disappeared in the seismically-active Azores Islands along with her crew of 99 US sailors. There were no seaquakes in the official US government records, but purging these files would have been a simple matter of an admiral making a 2 minute phone call. And, there were no seismic stations in the Azores capable of detecting a dangerous quake near where the USS Scorpion was located when she sent her last message.

As a cover-up, the US Navy started a rumor that the Russians had sank the USS Scorpion. Then they denied it. However, in a secret transaction withheld from the press and the public, the Office of Naval Research signed a $2.6 million contract with Scripps Institution in San Diego on 15 December 1968. Scripps was to complete a study entitled OVERPRESSURES DUE TO EARTHQUAKES PROJECT (link).  Even though it was not officially classified, it was not publicly announced or widely distributed until 2015 when a digital copy was accidentally released by the National Technical Information Service (NTIS copy).

The US Navy admitted in 1966 that seaquakes sink vessels, but pretending two years later to know nothing about seaquakes, they ask Scripps to tell them how overpressures from an undersea earthquake might sink the USS Scorpion. They also wanted Scripps to develop a SEAQUAKE HAZARDS CHART so they could keep the five other Skipjack-class submarines out of harm’s way until they could be retired them without embarrassing the admirals. This they ordered even though the 1966 report by the US Navy’s Maritime Safety Division including a far more detailed SEAQUAKE HAZARDS CHART. There was also a request for floating pressure gauges (sonobuoys) that could measure the intensity of seaquake pressure impulses, even though the 1966 report mentioned floating seismic recorders were already in use.

Scorpion's starboard diving plane not shown
(tail section of the USS Scorpion with missing starboard dive plane, propeller, and drive shaft!)

The USS Scorpion, a Skipjack with 109 unfilled repair orders and long overdue for her major overhaul, disappeared while sailing a few miles south of the Azores Islands, near the Azores Triple Junction, one of the most seismically-active areas on Earth. It didn’t take long for the admirals to figure out that the USS Scorpion’s wide stress-weakened diving planes were hit by a series of intense shocks from a vertical thrusting, shallow-focused undersea earthquake. Read all about the intensity of seaquake shocks at this (link).

Powerful seismic sea shocks snapped the stress-weakened internal supports holding the starboard dive plane. Once loosened, the wing-like plane was then washed back by the rushing water into the propeller, breaking off two blades, and snapping the propeller shaft where it connected to the main drive. The 99 sailors on board were helpless because the emergency blow system that filled the main ballast tanks with air and caused the sub to surface was inoperable (link). The Scorpion rolled over several times and spiraled to the bottom a few miles south of the Azores.

The US Navy knew the sub was in danger traversing seaquake-active waters. This meant that sending USS Scorpion back and forth to the seismically-active Mediterranean via the seaquake-prone ocean a few miles south of the Azores was the same as sending her on a suicide mission. The shocking truth forced the top admirals to either lie to the families of the dead sailors and to the public or be disgraced and court-martialed.

Another big reason to lie was because the US Navy had five other seaquake-vulnerable Skipjacks in service that had to be decommissioned. Under no circumstances could the admirals accept the embarrassment of having to retire an entire class of nuclear attack submarines due to horrible design flaws, especially at the height of the Cold War and at a time when they were already under heavy criticism for the 1963 mysterious loss of the nuclear submarine USS Thresher.

Russia, France, and Israeli navies also knew a seaquake sank the USS Scorpion because they had also lost submarines in seismic hotspots only a few months earlier. They all agreed to keep quiet about the danger. Otherwise, they would all have the same problems.

To make matters even worse, the wreckage of the USS Scorpion was likely leaking radiation into Azores fishing grounds and probably still is today. The Navy had to lie about the real location of the wreckage. They also had to lie when they said the reactor did not crack open when the submarine crashed into the rocky sea bottom. Taking one look at the mangled reactor compartment makes it impossible to believe the US Navy, especially since they lied about everything else.

The US Navy, masters at press manipulation and propaganda, pumped out confusing news reports left and right and stalled around until the admirals finally came up with a ass-saving plan. In case the truth ever came out, they would pretend that they did not know that seaquake shock waves could snap off a wide diving plane that was ready to fall off on its own. They didn’t want to sound completely stupid about seaquakes so, as a backup cover story, they decided to kick off a new $2.6 million research program to supposedly discover how seaquakes could sink nuclear submarines. But they would also continue to publicly deny the seaquake connection. If they could keep it out of the press, then there would be no reason to reveal the special $2.6 million seaquake research project. In other words, if the truth leaked out, they’d say they didn’t know the real danger and had recently initiated a study to learn the truth. It was a weak excuse, but it was all they could think up. If the seaquake connection never leaked, they’d bury the unclassified seaquake research in the basement of the Pentagon and no one would ever know what really happened.

The Shocking Truth!

The first part of the overpressures project was to develop a system for measuring seaquake pressure waves. This first phase started with the following paragraph:

“The Overpressures Due to Earthquakes project work is directed toward the understanding of the various effects, at the sea surface, at the ocean floor, and between, of nearby undersea earthquakes. The present goal is the study of pressure variations in the water column which result from seismic events. At the beginning of the program, various experimental approaches were considered. One such consideration was the development of inexpensive long time instruments that could be scattered over know seismic areas and left for extended lengths of time (i.e. several years). The idea of attempting to measure the overpressures using such instruments was subsequently abandoned, mainly because of the gross uncertainties involved with trying to make such measurements in the near field of adequate seismic activity. It was decided, instead, to attempt measurements during the aftershock sequence of large earthquakes located beneath the sea. There is almost invariably a sequence of aftershocks following a large earthquake. By definition, the size of the aftershocks are all smaller than the main event (the greatest aftershock is usually about 1.2 in magnitude less than the main event) and continue for from a few days to a number of weeks after the main shock. They are usually located in the general region of the main shock and most probably along the edges of the displacement area of the main shock.”  (see Page 50 of this document)

Bottom line, the US Navy does not want you to know that a major seaquake can sink a modern nuclear attack submarine loaded with nuclear weapons. In fact, they want you to believe that seaquakes are harmless to submarines, surface ships, and to pods of diving whales.

And, neither does the oil industry want you to know that a seaquake could crack the legs on an oil rig or snap one of a thousand large oil pipes that carry crude oil from several hundred miles offshore to refineries on land. Just such a pipeline burst only a few days ago and in now spreading oil all over Southern California beaches (link).

One seafloor upheaval in the wrong place could coat a hundred miles of pristine beach with black crude and cost a billion dollars to clean up. A strong seaquake under a loaded oil tanker or natural gas carrier could be even worst. In fact, seismic shock waves sinking oil tankers is nothing new. Here’s a report (link) about how a seaquake turned an oil tanker into scrap metal.

It happened again on March 6, 1988 when a major earthquake with seven aftershocks occurred in the Gulf of Alaska about 200 nautical miles from the oil depot at Valdez. Four Exxon oil tankers were nearing Valdez when the following events erupted one after the next near their position:

PDE 1988 03 06 223538.14 56.95 -143.03 10 7.8 MwHRV
PDE 1988 03 06 230556.84 56.75 -142.99 10 4.7 MLPMR
PDE 1988 03 06 231105.10 56.91 -143.04 10 4.4 MLPMR
PDE 1988 03 06 231438.46 57.50 -142.80 10 6.3 MLPMR
PDE 1988 03 06 232359.90 57.67 -142.94 10 4.4 MBGS
PDE 1988 03 06 233332.53 57.40 -142.89 10 4.2 MLPMR
PDE 1988 03 06 233747.69 57.74 -142.97 10 4.1 MLPMR
PDE 1988 03 06 233949.59 57.10 -142.90 10 4.5 MLPMR

The 500,000-barrel crude oil tanker Sansinena II, under the command of Captain Brent Christiansen, was streaming from Portland, Oregon, to Valdez, Alaska, to pick up a load of crude. Captain Christian in now the chief port pilot for the Port of Los Angeles. Below is his account of what happened:

“Suddenly, without warning, an extremely severe vibration started to shake the entire ship. My first thought was that we’d lost one or several propeller blades. I immediately pulled the throttle back to about 40 rpm, but there was no change in the intensity of the shaking. I did not know what was happening so I ran out on the bridge wing to look around. I could see the stack shaking so hard I thought it might collapse. I returned to the bridge and a few moments later the shaking subsided.”

“About this time I heard a call over the very high frequency (VHF) emergency Channel 16. It was the Exxon Boston calling the Exxon North Slope and reporting that she had encountered heavy vibration, had lost power, and was experiencing some flooding. The Exxon North Slope also was without power and called a third Exxon ship, the Exxon New Orleans, which turned around and headed back to stand by the Exxon Boston. Meanwhile, our radio operator heard about the earthquake from a station at Ketchikan. We proceed to check the deck and the engine room and found no signs of damage, so I gradually resumed speed. I called the Exxon North Slope, gave our position, and offered to assist if needed. They responded that they were restoring power and did not need any help at this time. The Exxon Boston reported that the flooding was under control and the Exxon New Orleans was now standing by. While this was happening, we felt the first of several aftershocks, leaving no doubt that it was an earthquake we’d felt. We resumed course to Valdez, where eventually all vessels arrived without further incident.” (Craig B. Smith (2006) Extreme Waves, Joseph Henry Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001, ISBN 0-309-13367-X e-pub ISBN (link)

Naturally, the oil industry and the US Navy don’t want you worrying about such things. They don’t even want you to worry about why whales mass strand. And cruise ship industry also wants you in the dark. How many people will take a cruise if they think a seaquake could sink their ship? Even the owners of cargo vessels have ordered their captains to stop reporting seaquakes because they could be sued if they sell the boat a few years later without disclosing a prior run-in with a quake. Just like a building cracked by an earthquake, the resale-loan value of a ship plummets, especially if there’s a public report about an earthquake encounter.

And just in case you still think I’m off my rocker, read this report (link) released by top NASA physicists at Goddard Space Flight Center. They studied two 7.5 mag. seaquakes and determined the shock front from both events approached 100,000 pounds per square inch (6000 kilobars). A shock wave of that magnitude is enough to sink any nuclear submarine even with strong supports on her diving planes. On the other hand, a 1971 study financed by the US Navy (link) estimated shocks of an average seaquake at about 250 pounds per square inch. There’s a big difference between 100,000 psi and 250 psi. Read both research papers and decide whether you believe the physicist paid by the Navy or the ones working for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Read more on seaquake intensity.

The truth lies in between the two reports. The average magnitude 5.5 seaquakes likely consist of a series of low frequency compressional waves at ~600 psi, lasting for ~30 seconds.

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