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Marine Salvage Saves Time, Money, Lives & the Environment

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

June 24, 2014

Though maritime transportation is unequivocally proven as the safest and most environmentally benign means to move goods from ‘point A to point B,’ it is a given that accidents do happen. When they do, having a qualified, competent marine salvage company around can be the difference between minor incident and major tragedy. For insights on the maturation and future of marine salvage sector, MR reached out to the leadership of the American Salvage Association (ASA) for answers.

What are the major missions, objectives and challenges ASA has on its top line agenda today.

    Paul Hankins: As a relatively small trade association relative to other maritime organizations, the American Salvage Association tries to concentrate on those issues most important to its members and likely to have the greatest impact on their livelihood and long-term survivability.  After leading the effort to get the nation’s new salvage regulations implemented, ASA has several important issues in front of it as it enters its 14th year.  The first issue directly involves the new regulations.  Every covered vessel is required to enter into a pre-negotiated salvage contract with a qualified marine salvage.  This ensures an immediate response, skipping the sometimes involved process of negotiating a salvage contract – and hence a delayed response.  Now that these contracts are in place, the accompanying responsibility of the ship master to notify the salvor must be enforced.  This will ensure that the reason for the contracts - timely notification and response to a potential incident – is preserved and not squandered.  The master’s organization is required to notify the salvor within 2 hours of a qualifying event.  If that does not happen, the salvor is prevented from taking those early actions that could make the difference between success and failure.
The second key challenge faced by all ASA members, and indeed the response community at large, is the incorporation of a Responder Immunity clause into the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA90).  If a responder must worry that its every (responsible) action could be litigated in court later, the speed and willingness to respond is severely restricted.  A marine responder must be protected from the same immunities that cover land responders, that is that their responsible actions when conducted in the best interest of the response will be immune from frivolous litigation by those trying to profit off a response.
Finally, a third continuing challenge is the identification of what we call Safe Harbor of Refuge.  When a ship is in trouble, an important element in keeping it safe is to move it (if at all possible) to a harbor of safe refuge where it will be protected from the high winds and seas of bad weather that could quickly further imperil it.  While this sounds to be a common-sense concept, what happens in an actual event without outside influence is that those responsible for the harbor often prevent access as they do not want a ship in potential peril to threaten their harbor, which of course allowing access might do.  Understandably, these officials have the mandate to protect their harbor without the burden of having to consider the larger picture.  An accepted protocol to quickly open these harbors to use for safe refuge must be established, a protocol that both protects the harbor officials and ensures the rapid approval of such a harbor.  The protocol that could spell the difference between just a temporary incident and a total loss of a vessel in the throes of an imminent storm. 

Breaking this down, what is the number one hot button issue in the view of ASA?
    Hankins While the ASA doesn’t rank these three priorities as they are all of equal importance to the salvor, perhaps the most painful thorn in our side is the rapid and timely notification of the salvor at the beginning of an incident.  The regulation states the notifications must occur as soon as there is a threat of an oil spill.  While this can be widely interpreted, the most beneficial path in terms of protecting life, property, and the environment is to make those notification as soon as something goes awry.  There is some reluctance to make a notification because of the misconception that as soon as the salvor is called the money starts flowing.  This misconception must be corrected. 

    Todd Schauer     Responder immunity is a huge issue for the salvage community right now given the unwarranted exposure that responders are currently facing in lawsuits following the Deepwater Horizon incident and oil spill.  Given the awareness raised by these recent legal issues, we have a rare opportunity to address this serious problem for the entire industry; we need to focus our attention and bring this issue to a rapid and successful conclusion.

In regards to Places of Refuge, where are we in terms of regulatory bodies as to solving this issue?

    Jim Elliott In 2004, the International Maritime Resolution published Guidelines on Places of Refuge for Ships and, in 2007, the US Coast Guard published their Places of Refuge Policy. Since then, various Area Committees around the United States have grappled with the issue and some areas, Houston for example, have published geographical specific plans on places of safe refuge. The safe refuge issue is often played out in tank vessel marine casualty exercises.
In fact, in the last month alone, I have been involved in two large-scale exercises with major oil companies that include discussions on places of safe refuge. With this said, it is easy to envision a Prestige or Erika scenario off the U.S. coast.  In the U.S., response operations, including marine casualty events, are often an exercise in civil society where political, media and stakeholder issues drive decision-making as opposed to the pragmatic cost-benefit analysis. The issues are complex and exercises are typically played out in a vacuum without the benefit of political leaders in the discussions.

    Schauer     Internationally, this is a major issue that demands attention.  The recent case involving the Maritime Maisie chemical tanker is a key example.  Salvors for the loaded and severely damaged chemical tanker sought refuge for more than three months before being allowed into Korea; and had to keep the vessel under tow under difficult offshore conditions and with critical levels of structural damage throughout this period.    Fixing the places of refuge problems around the world will not be easy; we must continue to raise awareness and work on solutions.
In the United States, I have witnessed and participated in several places of refuge success stories, and I believe both the U.S. Coast Guard and the involved salvors deserve credit for facilitating refuge solutions with the many stakeholders.   In 2005, the capsized car carrier Couger Ace was allowed to be towed into Dutch Harbor under difficult circumstances.  Also in 2005, we worked with the USCG and local stakeholders to gain approval to tow the capsized and upside down 150,000 barrel fuel barge DBL 152 into Mobile, Alabama.   In 2007, the severely flooded Tong Cheng was allowed refuge into Barber’s Point Hawaii. Every one of these cases ended positively and averted the likely loss of each vessel, saving property and preventing tremendous environmental impact. 

Is there more work to do to formalize and streamline processes for places of refuge in the U.S.?  Certainly, but some great work has already been done and we should build upon that.

How about responder immunity for salvors … where are we on this issue?

    Elliott The American Salvage Association is leading the effort to integrate responder immunity language into the Oil Pollution Act through active participation in the Response Coalition.  Like the effort to establish salvage and marine firefighting regulations, the push to clarify responder immunity will continue to build the nation’s salvage and marine firefighting capabilities and capacity. Most importantly, it will ensure those on the front lines are protected from frivolous litigation so they can focus their efforts on minimizing environmental impacts and preventing the loss of property in coordination with the Coast Guard led Unified Command.
The ASA continues to build the coalition and engage with senior Coast Guard leaders and legislators to move this issue forward. There is little doubt that protecting those that often risk their lives and livelihoods to help others is in the best interest of the public good, and should be integrated into legislation. 

Put in context the evolving relationship between salvors and the insurance community today versus 10 years ago.

    Tim Beaver Overall, I believe that the relationship between the insurers and the salvors has been good, and because of the efforts of the ASA, through our inclusion of representatives of the insurance community, as well as with our bi annual salvage conference, both parties have become more knowledgeable and understanding of the other’s position, problems and priorities.  So on the positive side, this recognition of our mutual dependency has made a relationship that can be naturally adversarial, somewhat less so. One pet peeve of mine on the negative side would be the continuing trend towards not using insurer representation on projects. 
I may be dating myself some here, but in past decades there was hardly an incident too small but that a smart, local surveyor was not called in to represent the interests of the owner and underwriters.  While for some salvors this may have been a thorn in their side, we found that by working with the surveyor, in their capacity to “advise and assist” we were able to make good decisions, balancing risk with prudence, that allowed an effective response to be launched. Perhaps not the least expensive set of options, but the most prudent.  The natural inclination for the underwriter to question why things didn’t go perfectly, and why they cost so much, and so on was controlled to a great degree because of the participation and buy in of the surveyor during the project.  There was a much improved understanding of what the job took to do, and why it cost what it did.  Maybe there are some underwriters that want it that way, maybe there are some that like room for ‘discussion’ after the fact,  who knows?
    Schauer    There are many challenges that salvors and the insurance community share alike.  For example, the continuing trend for ship owners to build and operate exceedingly large vessels including mega containerships, with little regard for the implications of salvaging such vessels when in distress, is highly concerning if not alarming. Another concern is the recent trend by certain government authorities to dictate prescriptive salvage methods by un-informed government agencies that ultimately limit creativity and drive up the cost of salvage operations.   Salvors and insurers must continue to work closely to address these kinds of serious issues.

Based on your experience, looking back, what has been the most significant technological and / or legislative change that has impacted your business?

    Beaver    If I look back over the past decades, the most significant impact on the salvage business over my career has not been on the technical side.  Granted, chain pullers, roller bags, 3D renderings, subsea mapping, ROV’s and things like that are now part of our common arsenal, but the concepts and basic tools for salvage remain very much the same. 
The most overarching and pervasive impact to maritime salvage, in the U.S. at least, has been in my opinion the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.  This wed pollution and salvage together.
The salvor has for the most part greatly benefitted by this relationship.  Vessels that wouldn’t be worth a dime, have been inspected, boomed off, stripped of pollution, removed from navigable waterways, all under the authority of OPA 90.   Our industry has had to change and grow to adapt to the requirements of coast guard, the use of incident command systems, and working within the BOA system. 

    Elliott    The most significant legislative change that has impacted the salvage industry has been the implementation of salvage and marine firefighting regulations for both tank and non-tank vessels. These regulations clearly set response timeline expectations, now incorporated into both Coast Guard and industry standard operating procedures. As a result, the major US salvage companies have purchased and pre-positioned salvage equipment, such as portable lightering and marine firefighting packages, around the country and have formalized networks of subcontractors to immediately respond around-the-clock. In doing so, the nation’s salvage capacity and capabilities have expanded logarithmically.

Looking ahead, is there anything on the horizon that gives you cause for pause, perhaps thinking “I should get out of this business?”

    Hankins If one has to ask oneself should he be in the business, than the time to get out of the business has probably passed.  The salvor’s world is one of constantly changing parameters, constraints, and opportunity.  That’s probably what draws many of us into it.  So the mindset of the average salvor is such that we can easily deal with changing landscapes.  I personally see nothing but continued opportunities for the salvage community. 

    Elliott    Looking ahead, the salvage industry continues to face many challenges. For example, the size and complexity of commercial and passenger ships continues to grow. The regulatory oversight and political landscape is also proving to increasingly become more challenging. The unique challenges and the ability to make order out of chaos, however, is what drives the men and women in the salvage industry. As opposed to running away from these challenges, the salvage industry runs toward them, always ready to compete for the next opportunity to pragmatically solve the most demanding marine casualty incident.  I have personally had the good fortune of working with many of the leaders in the US salvage industry over the years. I don’t know of a one that would back down from the challenges that lie ahead.

    Schauer    I often joke that the misery of the salvage business is that once you get in, you can’t get out – that you rapidly lose any qualifications, attention span, or possibly even the sanity required to hold any real job!  
In all seriousness, and notwithstanding the potential liabilities of our current responder immunity status, the future of the salvage business is bright.  Global shipping will continue to grow as well as the challenges that vessel operators will face in staffing ship’s with competent and experienced crews.   Casualties will continue to happen and salvors will be needed as much or more than ever.  Expectations for response capability will continue to extend for larger ships and for deeper water. 
Developing countries will continue to expand their adherence to internationally accepted environmental standards, and the days of leaving polluted wrecks behind in the waters of under-resourced nations will come to an end.  It’s a good time to be a salvor, which is fortunate, given my questionable employability for any other job.
    Beaver    It may sound corny, but the salvage business is a passion, it gets in your blood.  Maritime salvage is the ultimate test of ingenuity, skill, business savvy and seamanship.  Naturally the emergent nature also has appeal.  One never knows when the phone will ring, and the battle is to begin.  This is what salvors love, this is what salvors do. 
As far as thinking “should I get out of this business,” the only thing that could do that would be if my company’s very existence was put in the crosshairs of the legal community. 
This is why the ASA is working so hard to establish responder immunity for marine salvors.  There is no reason for a reputable salvor to have to hesitate during a response because he thinks he may get caught up in a frivolous lawsuit.  We members of the ASA hope that good clear language in the law will prevent this from happening.

The Respondents

    Paul Hankins
Paul Hankins, VP of Salvage Operations at Donjon Marine, has more than 30 years in the maritime industry.  He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981.
    Jim Elliott
Jim Elliott, VP, T&T Marine Salvage, started his maritime career 30 years ago working as a commercial diver and managing search and rescue operations for the U.S. Coast Guard. As Vice President of T&T Marine Salvage, he manages all aspects of operations, from heavy lift to diving.

    Todd Schauer
Todd Schauer has 20 years of marine salvage experience that began with a career in the U.S. Coast Guard and serving on the USCG’s Salvage Emergency Response Team.   He has worked for Resolve Marine Group for 14 years, and is currently the Director of Operations for Resolve’s worldwide salvage business.

    Tim Beaver
Beaver is a company founder. He began diving commercially in 1977, and made dives on a regular basis for the subsequent 30 years. His in-water experience includes ship repair, salvage, marine construction, pipeline installation, and other services utilizing air, mixed gas, and saturation diving techniques.

(As published in the June 2014 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News -


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