The Turkish-owned bulk carrier Seli 1 that broke down and went ashore at Table View near Cape Town in 2009. She was carrying a cargo of coal. She could not be refloated and was later cut up. Photograph : Brian Ingpen

Some Definitions

  • Salvage : The voluntary saving of a ship and/or her cargo from imminent danger.
  • Salvor : The company involved in providing a salvage service to a ship in danger and/or saving cargo.
  • Casualty : A ship that is in danger
  • Lloyd’s Open Form (LOF) : This means that the salvage operation is done with only an agreement between the salvor and the ship owners that the operation will be conducted on a no-cure-no-pay basis. i.e. that the salvor will complete the salvage operation and that the ship will be delivered safely to a “safe haven”. Otherwise, the salvor will receive no pay.
  • Scopic : If the casualty appears to be beyond salvage (e.g. the ship has sunk, is breaking up, or burning out) or the operation will be lengthy, the salvage operator may change the contract from Lloyd’s Open Form OF to SCOPIC. All costs plus a reasonable profit are paid to the salvage operator by the casualty’s insurers (P&I Club). The salvage operator may be requested to remain on site to help reduce the possibility of pollution or to remove to reduce the wreck.
  • Ocean Towage : An operation where a tug takes a vessel in tow when the vessel has broken down but is in no immediate danger, It also applies where a tug is towing a vessel that has no power of its own from one port to another, e.g. an oil rig being towed from Korea to a port in West Africa, or an old vessel is being towed from a port to a scrapyard. The tug’s owners usually negotiate payment in terms of daily hire e.g. $20000 per day that the tug is involved in the operation.

The Dangerous South African Coast

The South African coast has many characteristics that contribute to accidents at sea.

  • Large numbers of ships pass the coast (about 14500 ships pass the Cape each year) increasing the chance of a casualty.
  • Frequent gales and heavy seas off the coast, particularly in winter, increase the chance of damage to ships. The strong winds and heavy seas can also drive immobilised ships ashore.
  • The rocky coastline increases the chance of a ship becoming a total loss if she goes ashore.
  • Fog occurs frequently, particularly in the region from Port Elizabeth to north of Walvis Bay in Namibia.

Casualties along the South African Coast

  • Over 2600 ships are known to have been lost off the coast. (In early years of the sailing ships trading to the east from Europe, many vessels did not return and disappeared without trace, possibly off the South African coast.
  • More than that have been saved from going ashore or have been refloated after going ashore, or saved from other danger.

South African Salvage

For over a hundred years, South Africa has had respected tug services that were available to assist ships that

  • have broken down, (If this has happened off a lee shore, urgent tug assistance is necessary to tow the ship clear of the coast.)
  • have gone ashore,
  • have been in a collision
  • have been in danger of going ashore,
  • have been damaged by the heavy seas off the coast and suffered structural damage, cracked plating
  • have caught fire, or suffered explosions,
  • are in danger of sinking.