Emergency response in the United States has a different perspective since the events of September 11, 2001. There is a renewed realization that preparation and planning for unforeseen events is critical and essential to success. While there has always been a need to cure the marine casualty when it occurs, now, by a process of evaluation and preparation, there exists the opportunity to prevent the event in some instances and minimize the consequences in most. An awareness of the importance of a prompt professional salvage response is beginning to permeate the public and regulatory perception.
American Salvage Association
The American Salvage Association represents a group of twelve of the leading professional salvage companies that have responded to the overwhelming majority of the most serious marine casualties that have occurred in the United States over the course of the past two decades. While remaining independent and competitive, the individual companies making up the Association recognize a common interest in promoting the value of salvage, more importantly, by sharing information and experience, the group can together improve the national salvage, marine environmental protection, wreck removal, and harbor clearance response capability.
The American Salvage Association Mission Statement perhaps best describes the reason for its formation, its vision for goals to be attained and its value to the United States.
The role of the American Salvage Association is to:
• Ensure that our membership is committed to standards of readiness, conduct and performance that provide the nation an adequate salvage response.
• Educate the general public as to the role of the marine salvor in protecting life, the environment and property from the consequences of the perils of water transportation.
• Promote cooperation among our members to assure a most effective, successful response in major incidents.
• Promote issues of salvage safety when working in a marine environment.
• Promote training for today's response as well as anticipating and planning for the changes certain to evolve in the future.
• Provide standard contracting options for salvage and wreck removal in order to eliminate negotiating delay and thereby promote prompt casualty response.
• Promote preplanning among owners, underwriters, and regulatory agencies before the actual event.
• Promote and encourage a regulatory framework that will result in prompt, effective response.
• Promote communication and cooperation with all those potentially affected by the consequences of a marine casualty.
• Promote information exchange and cooperation with other national and international trade associations and regulatory agencies for the benefit of transportation by water.
Even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States Coast Guard had come to the conclusion that salvage response in the United States needed review and a renewed regulatory enforcement emphasis. Currently under consideration are proposed new regulations for salvage relating to oil tankers and barges under OPA-90.
The American Salvage Association believes, and the rest of the world seems to agree, that while OPA-90 may not be perfect, it has gone a long way toward improving the maritime industry by recognizing the need for the most vigilant respect for the marine environment. To finally recognize that the existing salvage regulations effected by OPA-90 are not adequate is critical to future successful casualty response.
The American Salvage Association further believes that:
• The proposed regulations are a significant step in the right direction, that they should be implemented promptly and that the U.S. Coast Guard should find a means to extend the regulations to cover all vessels sailing within U.S. waters as bunkers represent at least as great a threat as oil cargoes when assessing potential environmental harm. Although extension to all commercial vessels would require additional legislation, it appears that a broader application of the regulations would not only abate potential environmental damage but would also spread the economic burden of the regulations.
• The proposed regulations will reduce confusion, provide for planning, increase cooperation, speed response, and mandate an effective salvage. Further, the regulations will help vessel owners understand that salvage services are truly required to be listed in their Vessel Response Plans.
• The proposed regulations would also reduce the need for state regulations in this same area and thereby avoid regional conflict in an industry that is clearly global in nature. Without these regulations and the Coast Guard's diligent enforcement of them, U.S. salvage capability will be left to decline. Safer vessels and better crews lead to fewer accidents but there will always be accidents (or worse) and, as a nation, we must not lose our capability to respond to them.
The Coast Guard should be applauded for its effort to define a Resource Provider. In order to maintain an adequate number of experienced and trained personnel, modern equipment, adequate insurance, sufficient capital and just plain "know how", it is critically important that the American salvage industry be supported.
The "planning guidelines" in previous regulations are becoming highly prescriptive "performance standards" in this proposal. Current regulations recognize that each casualty creates unique challenges specific to the particular incident. We believe that the U.S. Coast Guard has given the correct interpretation to the original standards and that the same interpretation should continue to be maintained in the development of the proposed regulations.
We question the projected $100 million expenditure level during the first year of implementation. Mariners and salvors, in particular, have had to be resourceful and innovative in their approach to fiscal solutions. The ASA suggests a number closer to $35,000,000 will be more than sufficient during the first year with substantial annual reduction in cost thereafter once the initial capital improvements are made.
The Incident Command Structure, as presently implemented, does not place proper value on salvage and on the important role of salvage operations to environmental protection. Neither does it adequately recognize salvage as a cost effective, proactive mitigation tool. The ASA understands the benefit that salvage can play in reducing the potential for pollution damage.
The issue of responder immunity must be addressed, as, in our litigious prone society, the salvor may be reluctant to utilize all methods at his disposal to avoid catastrophic environmental damage if the procedure employed will result in some amount of environmental harm for which the salvor may be held liable. It is, as a result, imperative that responders providing salvage and marine firefighting resources shall, for the purpose of 33 U.S.C. 1321 (c) (4) (A), be considered as rendering such services consistent with the National Contingency Plan. A clear statement insuring salvors immunity in an environmental response is long overdue.
The principle element now driving marine salvage and the salvor's expanded role and economic opportunity are the impact of actual or threatened marine pollution. Who can better assess and cure the polluting source than the salvor? Clearly, no one! The salvor is usually first on scene. The salvor is responsible for keeping oil and other potential pollutants in the stricken ship, if possible. The salvor is responsible for patching the hole that allows the pollutant to escape. The salvor must be responsible for booming the ship and restricting the area of damage to the immediate vicinity of the vessel where possible. The salvor is responsible for removing the pollutant by lightering. The salvor takes action to close the barn door before the horse escapes while those involved with spill response only chase the horse down the road. The salvor is the principal protector of the marine environment. Good salvage is good pollution prevention.
Port Security and Harbor Clearance
Issues of port security and the safety of our navigable waters are being urgently reviewed in this time of terrorist concern. Marine salvage, firefighting, wreck removal and response in the event of terrorist use of vessels or their cargoes as vehicles of destruction are now important considerations. These and other terrorist targets including port facilities and infrastructure (bridges, channels, industrial terminals, pipelines, tunnels, etc.) and the need to protect environmentally sensitive areas, highlight the need for a capable harbor clearance capability.
Harbor clearance, an aspect of port rehabilitation, entails the removal or reduction of vessels and other objects including bridges that have come to obstruct waterways and port facilities. The skills, capabilities and assets that are the salvor's stock-in-trade are the same skills, capabilities and assets that are required to respond to a significant harbor clearance requirement.
Salvage and Wreck Removal
The natural perils of marine transportation, the ever-present potential for human error and other factors make the total elimination of marine casualties impossible. Although serious accidents are now far fewer in number, shipping casualties and the resulting need for salvage services continue to occur as a result of mechanical breakdowns, groundings, collisions, fires, explosions, and structural failures. In extreme cases, where the condition of a stricken ship is beyond salvage, wreck removal operations will be employed to clear the hulk and provide access to the affected terminal or port facility.
With today's larger ships, their heavier cargoes and greater bunker supplies, and the increasing transport of hazardous materials, the practical, technical, safety and financial challenges of salvage have increased significantly, as have the consequences of failure.
Still, with America's infrastructure and today's capabilities including the availability of high horsepower tugs and supply boats, moored and dynamically positioned (DP) project support vessels, heavy-lift derrick barges, submersible transport vessels, work class and 'eyeball' remote operated vehicles (ROVs), proven surface and saturation diving capabilities, traditional "hot-tapping" and remote controlled offloading systems (ROLS), subsea oil heating systems, a greatly expanded oil pollution response capability (OSROs), etc., coupled with a highly trained workforce with experience gained here and abroad, the professional American salvor's ability to address the threat to ships, their cargoes and their ports of call, as well as the coastal and ocean environment is better than ever before; regulatory shortcomings and financial challenges notwithstanding.
No work in the marine field is more demanding and more dangerous than firefighting. Owing to the extreme conditions that can quickly overtake an affected vessel, her bunkers and cargo, the value of skilled and experienced salvors is apparent. Still, responding to shipboard fires are just one of a number of casualty types with which salvors are confronted on a recurring basis. Contrary to what some appear to think, shipboard firefighting should not be viewed as a separate, standalone service; it is an important part of a more complete marine salvage capability.
When thinking about marine firefighting, no presumption should be made that the fire is the only challenge and that the affected vessel will be secure alongside a berth and easily accessible. The vessel will be underway, either offshore or in more congested waters near shore or in port. Or perhaps, she is at anchor. Even if she is alongside a berth, in the interest of the local population, the berth and its attendant facility, it may well be that the casualty should first be relocated to a safe anchorage or other remote location before full-scale firefighting begins.
Is the casualty's crew still aboard? Have they initiated a response? Is her propulsion machinery operable? What tugs are available in the area? What caused the fire? Did she first suffer a collision and, if so, what structural damage was sustained? What other operations (lightering, bunkering, tank cleaning, etc.) were taking place at the time of the incident? Did she also suffer an explosion and, if so, what damage was sustained? What is her cargo (petroleum, bulk, container, other) and to what extent has it been affected? What is the condition of her tanks; are they inert? What is the condition of the inert system? Has there been a pollution incident? If not, what is the prospect for a pollution incident? What are the weather conditions; more important, what are the predictions? What actions have the authorities taken, and/or what requirements have they imposed? What response capability should be mobilized based upon the information available? What local resources are available? What resources should be dispatched from the salvor's own stores? What other assets need to be put on stand-by? Many of these questions appear to have nothing do with the fire; yet they have everything to do with the casualty. In fact, the fire is only a part, albeit a most dramatic part, of a larger marine operation, a marine salvage operation.
Wreck Oil Removal
Beyond present day casualties, there is a population of olds wrecks that remain scattered about our coasts. The environmental threats posed by the cargo and/or bunker oils remaining aboard these wrecks, and the action that must be taken to deal with the resulting pollution threats has, for the most part, been ignored. Now, in light of the need to provide for a heightened level of marine environmental protection, and with the benefit of today's salvage and oil extraction capabilities, the threat to the ocean and coastal environment posed by aging shipwrecks should be addressed.
The pollutants in these wrecks pose serious environmental risks. Degradation of the wrecks' hulls and tank plating ultimately will cause the oil tanks to fail, allowing the oil to escape. Even today, a number of these wrecks leak oil into the environment and others should be recognized as environmental disasters waiting to happen. The cost to the public of removing the oil from the wrecks now, while it is still contained, is significantly less than the costs will be if the oil is allowed to escape into the environment with the attendant destruction of natural resources, aquatic mammals and fishery habitats, and significant economic losses suffered by seaside communities. Once again, the professional American salvor's ability to address this threat is better than ever before
Recognizing the emphasis on expanded regulatory control and public interest in any significant emergency event, the American Salvage Association is maximizing its efforts to integrate its membership of salvors into the expanded community of responders. This expanded community, consisting of government, business, environmentalists, industry, the media, spill responders, underwriters and others must work together to create effective security and response systems. To contribute to this new expanded response capability in a coordinated and effective manner is a primary ASA goal. The American Salvage Association and its members are committed to providing the United States with the best response capability available in the maritime world today.