• A specialist marine services company is appointed to have an Emergency Towing Vessel on standby at all times. Such a company must have the following for a salvage operation:
  • Expertise (i.e. people with knowledge and experience of salvage)
  • Equipment (Tug, pumps, generators, compressors, pipes, …….and much more)
  • Large amounts of money (Helicopters, other vessels, and equipment may need to be hired immediately the alarm is raised and this means that the company will have large expenses!)
  • Ability to respond to a call-out 24/7/365
  • Capability of handling what could become major disasters. (A shipwreck could become a major oil pollution problem, or a vessel carrying explosive cargo could explode.)

Processes involved in Salvage Operations

The major salvor in South Africa is contracted to respond immediately to any casualty along the cost or further out to sea. The following is the usual sequence of events – but circumstances of the casualty, her position and/or her condition may change the procedure.

  • Receive notification of a casualty : In South African, news of a casualty is usually picked by the SA Maritime Safety Authority’s Search & Rescue Centre in Bellville, near Cape Town, who would have picked up a distress call or have received notification of a casualty or potential casualty. (The tug is put on standby – or even dispatched, depending on the situation.)
  • Investigate Facts : SAMSA and the tug owner find out as much as they can about the casualty, her position, the type of problem, her cargo and whether the crew are in danger. (Helicopters or other ships will be dispatched to rescue the crew if they are in danger.)
  • Broad Planning: A plan of action is compiled, and if there is time, this plan of action is put to SAMSA for approval.
  • Logistics & Equipment: The salvor’s personnel establish what equipment will be needed immediately, and dispatch it to the site of the casualty (if ashore).
  • Networking & Communication: All relevant parties are put on standby – the salvage team, the nearest port, ambulances, local hospitals, customs (who need to monitor the scene if cargo is washed ashore), immigration (who need to clear survivors into the country), environmental authorities (who may need to take precautions in the event of oil pollution or other environmental disaster.)
  • Weather forecasts & Tides: The salvors need to know whether the weather is likely to remain calm, or wheterh high seas are forecast. They will also need to know the state of the tide, in the case of a vessel that is ashore.
  • Risk Analysis: Decisions need to be made regarding the safety of the casualty. Plans must be made as to what to do with the ship once the immediate danger is past (should she be towed to a place of refuge – a sheltered area where better assessments of her condition can be made?….etc)
  • Calculations: The salvors need to calculate the distance and time for their team and/or tug to get to the casualty. Costs must be estimated, and financial preparations must be done to pay what could be fairly large sums of money, e.g. to hire equipment.
  • Contract Negotiations: A salvage contract is negotiated between the owner of the casualty and the salvage operators, and the insurers and whether LOF or SCOPIC or Daily Hire agreements will be used.
  • Safety of Operations: Any immediate dangers must be assessed and reacted to. The safety of rescuers, the salvage team and the crew of the casualty is the top priority.
  • Environmental Considerations: The possibility of pollution needs to be considered urgently and immediate plans must be made to counteract it.
  • Documentation & Records: All information relating to the operation (costs, messages, records of weather, etc) must be kept accurately as these will be needed when final salvage or other legal claims are made.

The bulker Kiani Satu being towed off the beach at Buffels Bay by the tug SA Amandla in August 2013. The ship was so badly damaged that she was towed out to sea and sunk. Photograph : African Marine Solutions (AMSOL)

Other Points to Note regarding Salvage Operations

The Primary Objective in salvage operation is keeping the oil aboard a casualty until either it can be transferred to another vessel (or pumped to tanks ashore) or until the ship is brought to a safe haven,

  • Salvage Operations that are Time Critical
    • A ship has gone ashore and is in danger of being badly damaged the longer she remains ashore. The timing of the next high spring tide will also dictate when the salvors will attempt to pull the ship off the shore.
    • A ship has gone ashore and her bunker tanks are likely to be punctured if she stays ashore for any length of time.
    • A ship is in danger of going ashore
    • A ship is in danger of sinking
    • A ship is on fire
    • A ship is blocking a harbour channel.
    • Recovery of oil aboard a casualty
  • Salvage Operations that are very important but not Time Critical. This means that the operation must be done as soon and as quickly as possible but if the operation takes a bit longer, it will have limited environmental consequences or limited additional damage to the casualty or her cargo.
  • Wreck Removal (if the wreck is not blocking any channel or access to an important facility, or posing a danger to people)
  • Cargo Recovery (unless the cargo is toxic, explosive, or perishable and needs to be recovered quickly.)
    • A ship that has broken down and is not in immediate danger of going ashore or sinking. Her owner will request the ship to be towed to a safe haven on a daily hire basis (e.g. $25000 per day) and not on a Lloyd’s Open Form.

People and Organisations involved in Salvage Operations

  • Those who become involved in a salvage operation include the following :
  • The salvors (and their tug, their personnel – specialist staff such as the salvage master who will take charge of the operation, naval architect who will advise on all matters relating to the stability or structure of the casualty, engineers, divers, logistic co-ordinators, oil pollution specialists etc., and teams bringing equipment such as pumps, generators, compressors, winches, wires, ropes, pipes, hoses, booms to prevent oil spreading, etc)
  • Medical personnel if there is any risk that crewmembers of the casualty or others may be injured or in danger
  • Specialist rescue personnel, such as the National Sea Rescue Institute to evacuate crewmembers from the casualty. Often this is done by helicopter.
    • The authorities of the country in whose waters the accident has happened.
    • The authorities of the country in which the casualty is registered
    • The owner of the casualty
    • The Master (Captain) of the casualty
    • The entire crew of the casualty – they might need to be rescued if there is any danger to them (e.g. fire on board, danger that the ship might break up or sink)
    • The Cargo Owner(s)
    • Insurance Companies (covering the ship, crew and the cargo)
    • Pollution response companies,
    • Liability Underwriters (P & I Clubs) – they may need to give permission for certain expenses to be incurred.
    • All surveyors and lawyers representing the salvors, the shipowner, the cargo owners, insurance underwriters, local authorities, etc.
    • Other important equipment or vessels may have to be chartered or hired e.g. additional tugs, dive spreads, utility vessels, barges, helicopters, etc.
    • Weather forecasters – they give regular forecasts so that the salvors can plan their operation according to weather
    • The public – they need to be informed of what is happening – and, in some instances where the ship has gone ashore, the public need to be kept away from the area around the casualty so that equipment and emergency vehicles can be brought to the site.
    • The Media – they need to be informed of what is happening, especially if pollution or other danger is foreseen, and also to be informed regarding the plans for the salvage operation. This enables the media to present a true account of what has happened and what is planned; otherwise, the media may report incorrectly on matters to do with the salvage operation.

The bulk carrier Ikan Tanda ashore at Scarborough near Cape Town in 2001. She had broken down off the coast and was driven ashore by a strong wind and very heavy seas. After her some of her cargo had been taken ashore and some had been jettisoned (thrown over the side) to lighten her, she was refloated six weeks later. She was too badly damaged to be allowed into any port, and she was towed out to sea and sunk. Photograph : Andrew Ingpen

Salvage Arbitration

Once the salvage operation has been completed, the salvor calculates what it cost to attend to the casualty. The amount is claimed from the owners of the casualty whose insurers will probably dispute the amount. The dispute then is heard by an Arbitration Court, usually in London. All those involved prepare presentations to the court so that a decision can be made. For example, a successful salvor may claim $6 million, a total that takes into account the following aspects of the salvage operations

  • the value of the casualty,
  • the value of her cargo,
  • the potential pollution clean-up costs (that were avoided because the salvor managed to refloat the vessel)
  • the costs to the salvor of the operation (e.g. fuel costs of a tug; charter of additional vessels, or helicopters, etc.)
  • the difficulty of the operation (aspects such as the weather or the location of casualty will be included here)
  • the prospect that the casualty could have been a total loss had she remained ashore (again, weather conditions, sea conditions wile be considered)
  • the danger posed to the salvor, his vessels, and his personnel
  • the danger posed to the casualty’s crew had the salvor not acted successfully
  • a reasonable profit.

Once the arguments of the salvor and the casualty’s insurers and owners have been heard, the arbitrator will decide whether the original claim was fair, whether it was too high, or whether it was too low. The arbitrator will then give his verdict and order that the salvage claim which he believes to be correct is paid to the salvor.