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Salvage in crisis as accidents no longer happen

Photo: Seatrade Maritime Seatrade Maritime Salvage and Wreck conference
A crisis in the international salvage response system could leave the maritime industry exposed without the possibility of dealing with certain types of casualties.

The gaps in the global network have arisen because the salvage industry can no longer afford to cover all regions and all possible events due to a lack of funds.

Some delegates and speakers at the Seatrade Maritime Salvage and Wreck conference in London blamed the decline in the number of casualties, meaning that there was less income to share among salvage companies, while others pointed to insurers wanting jobs done on the cheap.

According to Nicola Pryce-Roberts, a Senior Lecturer in business and law at Southampton Solent University said: “There had been a lot of salvage companies had left the business, but the insurance companies know there is heavy competition between the salvage companies.”

Competition in what is a critical industry for safety and the environment has driven down prices but that has not produced a better outcome, as both sides of the industry and the independents like Pryce-Roberts apparently agreed there is a need for an injection of cash.

One senior insurance expert, who preferred to remain anonymous, played down the tensions preferring to point out that the industry is still in discussions, but he said the crucial element is “who is going to pay, is it the insurer, the charterer, the owner or the authorities, it is probably going to be a combination of all these, which would be fairer.”

George Tsavliris, the Principal at George Tsavliris Salvage Group, claimed the industry is suffering from “uncertainties”, through a lack of income.

However, Tsavliris did not believe a lack of accidents was the problem: “It’s not that there is not enough work, but it is more that insurers do not want to pay, they want to do things on the cheap,” said Tsavliris.

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International Salvage Union president John Witte and Executive VP at Donjon Marine, believes that the industry needs to stop being adversarial and realise that all parts of the salvage equation must have an income.

Donjon Marine handled the salvage of the Grimaldi vessel, Grande Costa D’Avorio, in Port Newark, New Jersey, which suffered a fire in July this year.

“Underwriters have a renewed concern over costs,” conceded Witte, adding, “Salvage companies are also vessel operators, so they pay into the system too.”

In Witte’s view there is a “misunderstanding” within the industry and that is due to a lack of communication.

Nevertheless, industry tensions between international P&I insurers, who essentially pay for the salvage and wreck removal, and the salvage companies remain and that could lead to gaps in the global salvage network.

Concerns over the protection for large container ships was evident, particularly where the handling of lithium-ion batteries, or freight which contains li-ion batteries, such as electric vehicles, is concerned.

Stephan Hennig The UK’s SOSREP, Secretary Of State Representative, who acts for the government in the event of an accident in UK waters, also raised the issue of ultra-large container ships (ULCS), vessels of over 20,000 teu.

“There are challenges with large container ship groundings and how we would deal with them, so far we have got away with it,” explained Hennig, “A large container ship aground near the shore could be a major problem,” he added.

There were two major concerns, first getting a heavy lift crane into place in comparatively shallow water and secondly where to store containers, “There could be 20,000 teu or more, where would those containers be stored?” he asked.