YO-44 aka Kodiak Queen: Richard Branson to sink WWII ship that survived Pearl Harbor attack

by   Profile Herbert   When 12th April 2017
Navy ship YO-44 (c) Darryl Baker
The Kodiak Queen (YO-44) has a turbulent history covering more than 75 years (c) Mike Cochran
Preparation for its next phase of life as a diving wreck has started. (c) Screenshot FB Video (www.facebook.com/bviartreef)
The body of the Kraken is transported to the Kodiak Queen (c) Screenshot FB Video (www.facebook.com/bviartreef)
Final work on the body of the Kraken on board of the Kodiak Queen (c) Screenshot FB Video (www.facebook.com/bviartreef)
Kodiak Queen with Kraken body (c) Screenshot FB Video (www.facebook.com/bviartreef)
The arms of the Kraken are built next to the Kodiak Queen. (c) Screenshot FB Video (www.facebook.com/bviartreef)
One of the giant arms is lifted on board of the Kodiak Queen. (c) Screenshot FB Video (www.facebook.com/bviartreef)
Kodiak Queen and the Kraken - ready for its next life as diving wreck (c) Screenshot FB Video (www.facebook.com/bviartreef)

Ship targetted to become artificial reef

These days, weather permitting, a ship is scheduled to sink. Nothing special? In the course of the day, the Kodiak Queen is to be sent to the bottom of the sea in the British Virgin Islands off the coast of Virgin Gorda – by no less than British billionaire Richard Branson. It is slated to become an artificial reef for sports divers.

The former 478-ton US navy ship, measuring 47 metres long and 8.8 metres wide, was launched in September 1940. At first glance, it looks like just another old warship. However, on closer inspection, an incredible story lies behind its unassuming exterior.

The Kodiak Queen has a turbulent history covering more than 75 years. During the Second World War, it was a navy ship named YO-44. It was one of the five ships that was caught in the devastating air attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941, surviving it without injury.

With 12 crew members, the small ship had almost 380,000 litres of highly inflammable aircraft fuel in the tanks at the pier next to a submarine. When the Japanese surprise attack began at 7:48 am, the crew wanted to get to safety, but the submarine commandant urged them to immediately move the “floating bomb” before they were all hit by an explosion. The crew followed the orders and chugged the small tanker in the bomb hail into a bay where there were no ships and fled through the canal exit of the port across the open sea to the western side of Oahu.

After the war, the historic ship had been decommissioned by the Navy and converted into a fishing boat in the 1960s. Its final years were spent at a pier in Roadtown on the island of Tortola, the largest island of the British Virgin Islands, and was due to be scrapped.

Branson known for special projects

Along came 66-year-old Richard Branson, who was encouraged by a friend to explore this project. With him as one of the most colourful figures in the British business world, the Virgin Group is a consortium of many companies. With assets at an estimated five billion US dollars (according to Forbes 2016), Branson has always been involved in very special projects.

At 22, he founded Virgin Records. After signing Mike Oldfield, Branson enjoyed immediate success through the release of the album Tubular Bells. At 29, he bought Necker Island, a 30-acre private island in the British Virgin Islands. The only house on the island, of course, belongs to him. Branson also operates a successful airline in Virgin Atlantic Airways, and manages to finds the time as a successful entrepreneur to live out and realise his fantasies.

In 1986, he made the fastest Atlantic crossing in a speedboat. A year later, he flew over the Atlantic in a hot air balloon. In 2011, he built the dive boat Virgin Oceanic, in which he plans to descend to the deepest parts of the Mariana Trench and the Atlantic.

However, Branson is not only an entrepreneur with a golden hand and a multi-faceted adventurer; he has also been working intensively on climate protection, and species and oceanic protection for years. Much attention was given to the support of former President of Costa Rica of his efforts to protect sharks. In January 2013, Branson received the "Shark Guardian of the Year" award from Sharkproject.

Branson is, of course, also a diver and wants, if everything goes smoothly, dive the wreck one of the next days. As a preparation for its next phase of life, the ship has been completely gutted and is free from all dangerous contaminants. As a special gag, the support group won by Branson for this project constructed a 25-metre-long giant kraken, which clings to the ship's stern with its eight long tentacles, as if it had just pulled it underwater. The frame of the octopus was welded with round steel and is fixed firmly to the ship.

After the sinking, subsequent work on the wreck will be carried out with consultation with experts and volunteers, as Branson and his assistants, with the support of marine biologists, want to create an artificial reef with a wealth of species at the historical wreck. In particular, Branson hopes to bring about the increase of the goliath grouper population. Thus, Branson wants the wreck not just for the entertainment of sports divers, but also for the creation of an flourishing artificial reef.

With the wreck, so much income is to be achieved that the project is almost self-financed. Until now, Branson and his supporters have already taken care of the appropriate start-up investment from their own pockets. An estimated four million dollars have been used to clean and prepare the ship, and to build the octopus. We hope that this would prove to be money well spent (we mean, “sunk”...)

Further information:
History of YO-44
Dive the BV Artreef
Infos und Videos
On Taucher.Net

Written by
Profile Herbert
When 12th April 2017
Location Virgin Gorda, Britische Jungferninseln

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