Wreck Removal Convention: Key Issues Remain Unresolved

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
New developments in wreck removal and the ever-increasing size of ships provided the focus for the International Salvage Union’s London conference on March 7. Looking at the prospects for a new Wreck Removal Convention, the Institute of Maritime Law’s Richard Shaw warned that adoption of the draft at the May diplomatic conference in Nairobi was not a foregone conclusion. He told delegates at the ISU’s Associate Members' Day that “Important issues have still to be resolved.”

Richard Shaw said that the new Convention, if adopted, would provide comfort to harbormasters and shore authorities asked to provide refuge for marine casualties. He added that the convention provides freedom to contract. A Coastal State may not impose a particular salvor on an owner. On the other hand, this Convention concerns wrecks in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), whereas most wrecks are in inshore waters and the territorial sea. States would be free to apply the Convention in territorial waters but they may not necessarily accept Convention provisions drafted with the EEZ in mind, including the general requirement to act in a proportionate manner.

Skuld Executive Vice President Arthur Pilkington provided a P&I perspective. He cited the case of a reefer which had grounded off the Norwegian coast only a few weeks before higher limitation limits were to take effect under Norwegian legislation. The Club resisted heavy political pressure to apply the new limits, on the grounds that it is vital for owners to have the certainty that they can rely on existing law. At the same time, the Club made an exception following the loss of the ferry Estonia and over 800 lives. The higher liability limits about to take effect were applied – with the general support of the international P&I community.

During his presentation, Arthur Pilkington singled out the UK SOSREP system for praise. He urged other governments around the world to adopt such arrangements for casualty response. He made these observations when commenting on the case of the RMS Mulheim, which grounded near Land’s End in March 2003. There was no legal obligation to remove the wreck, as there was no environmental threat. Bunkers and cargo had been removed. There was no hazard to navigation and removal for aesthetic reasons was not a relevant legal ground. In the event, the vessel broke up on the rocks and became a tourist attraction for a brief period.

Ultra-large ships and salvage Hendrik Land of SvitzerWijsmuller Salvage presented an introductory paper on the salvage of ultra-large vessels. He said: “The prospect of rescuing thousands of terrified people from a new generation cruise vessel is a nightmare that most – even in the cruise business – would prefer not to think about. This class of ships tends to operate in remote areas that are also highly sensitive from an environmental standpoint.

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