It should go without saying that shipping is the lifeblood of world trade. And while many economies face grave difficulties and the shipping sector struggles with over-capacity and poor rates, seaborne trade must, and does, continue. The infrastructure supporting shipping on approach to, and in, port is well established and well understood: the network of increasingly sophisticated – and ever larger – ports, the dominance of containerisation, pilotage, modern navigation systems, dredging and so on. But one vital sector is perhaps less well recognised. It is marine salvage.
The ISU is the global trade association representing the mutual interests of marine salvors. It has 60 members including the large international players, regional operators and small firms. Between them, members of the ISU conduct over 250 salvage operations each year and dozens of wreck removals. Over 75 percent of marine casualties occur in or around the approaches to port, and if not properly and rapidly dealt with, represent the potential to cause a major hazard to other vessels; port infrastructure and the serious economic consequences of interruption to normal flows of cargo and port operations. Even the loss of one berth for a comparatively short period can have a significant impact.
Debunking the myths
There are many myths about marine salvors, not least that they are treasure seekers hoping for the spoils from lost cargoes or that they prey on vessels in distress. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fundamental objectives of marine salvors are to save life and property, in that order, and while doing so to protect the environment. Indeed, marine salvors have a legal, as well as moral, obligation to prevent and minimise damage to the environment while undertaking salvage and wreck removal operations. Marine salvage is a highly sophisticated industry which combines the highest standards of seamanship – often in very difficult conditions with, among others, the disciplines of naval architecture, complicated engineering, heavy lifting and pollution control.
It is an industry which operates within a formal legal framework governed by the 1989 IMO Salvage Convention and a sophisticated and long-established legal context using proven and trusted forms of contract. Salvors’ work benefits seafarers, coastal states, shipowners and their insurers, both property and liability. Some coastal states employ emergency towing vessels which are on standby to intervene in threatening situations but their coverage is far from universal and, in most cases, it is only the commercial salvors that stand between a casualty and a catastrophe.
Quick response vital
Rapid intervention in an emerging casualty situation is acknowledged to be the key to a successful salvage operation. One of the most commonly used salvage contracts is the Lloyd’s Open Form (LOF). Its great benefit is that it allows for that rapid intervention. It is a simple pro-forma contract which enables the salvor to go to work on the casualty without having to negotiate the fees ‘upfront’. It is based on the fundamental principle of salvage: ‘no cure, no pay’. If the services provided are not successful there is no reward. If the job is successfully completed the salvor and the ship owner and insurers agree a fair rate for the job based, amongst other criteria, on the value of the ship and its cargo. If no agreement can be reached the contract allows for arbitration under a process managed by Lloyd’s of London. It is a well regarded system that has been in operation for more than 100 years. The latest edition of LOF was published in 2011. If a casualty is beyond economic recovery it may become the subject of a wreck removal operation. These are often conducted under Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) contracts such as Wreckfixed – a fixed price for the job; Wreckhire – a daily rate contract, and Wreckstage – staged payments according to progress. It is usually a matter for the owner and insurers to determine the wreck removal arrangements in close cooperation with the shore based authorities.
Salvors in action
There are numerous examples of cases where the work of marine salvors has helped to keep a port operational or quickly to bring it back into full service after an incident. In March 2007, for example, the car carrier, Repubblica di Genova, at 42,567 gross tonnes, slowly capsized at her berth at Antwerp. But it was not until August that an ISU member was able to parbuckle her: pull the vessel upright and begin the process of refloating and repair. Of course the affected berths were out of action for the entire period and the work of the salvor in removing the vessel was vital to the port’s interests.
Another more recent episode was in late 2011 when the cellular container feeder vessel, Deneb, developed a list to starboard while moored alongside the APM Terminal at Algeciras, Spain. The casualty eventually settled on the seabed on her starboard side, partially blocking the quayside. An ISU member was again mobilized and decided to combine parbuckling with regaining buoyancy. Two 600 tonne shore based cranes were assembled on the quayside while preparatory work began on the vessel (see Figure 1). The first stage was removal of loose containers that had fallen to the seabed causing difficulties for the divers. Once cleared, the deck containers still connected to the ship underwater could be removed. Hold containers were removed next, a challenge due to the attitude of the vessel. Pumping out the engine room and number one hold provided enough buoyancy and, with the assistance of the cranes, the vessel was re-floated and removed to bring the port back into full operation.
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