SPT16: 1994

In the late 80’s, Sulzer Brothers, the diesel engine builder in Switzerland, took on a submarine project, a 16-passenger deep diving passenger sub, designed by Jacques Piccard and originally destined for the Swiss lakes. The project eventually stalled on the final straight when an accountant at Sulzer drew a line through it after significant cost over-runs. After reportedly costing around $12m it was then purchased for just $250,000 by the now infamous Juan Almeda, one of the main characters in the Netflix documentary Operation Odessa. US Submarines were approached to complete the vehicle and put into operation in south Florida.

The sub was shipped to the same Fort Apache Marina – Miami as in the film where Patrick Lahey, Charlie Sillett and I had to complete the sub build in the middle of what seemed to us like an episode of Miami Vice. Working with Juan on and off through the ‘90s left us with many, many questions. After recently watching Operation Odessa, the pieces of the jigsaw all fell into place.

SPT16 had a diving depth of 100m which was unusual for a tourist submarine and was fitted with 8 quite large spherical sector windows. These give a view that is less distorted than the usual flat windows. Seating was in groups of 4 with a window on each side. In between these ‘booths’ were battery cases. This left full height clear gangway down the centre. The Pilot had the luxury of a superb full diameter hemispherical window.

The workmanship thought this vehicle was superb but the aesthetics left much to be desired. The sub had been briefly sea-trialled in Switzerland which resulted in a significant ABS list of issues to be rectified. This list was completed, including additional soft tanks in the tail and the sub was signed off. The plan was to put the sub into service in South Florida but, as it was not US-built, a congressional exemption was needed to circumvent the Jones Act. This was never granted so the sub went into store.

To our knowledge the sub never worked and is probably currently in some South American warehouse.