Growing challenges for the salvage industry
As we approach the one hundredth anniversary of the tragic loss of White Star’s Titanic, I am in one of my favourite places – Funchal in Madeira. I look over the harbour as the mighty cruise ships of today come and go, sometimes as many as three or four per day.
Their passengers once ashore give the local economy a massive injection of cash each year. These titans of the sea not only provide an interesting and exciting spectacle as they enter and leave the port, but bring to mind the recent capsize and sinking of the Costa Concordia and the disabling by fire of the Costa Allegra in the Indian Ocean at the end of February.
In my “From the Lookout” in the March edition of Sea Breezes, I covered a warning from Andrew Chamberlain, a leading maritime lawyer, that the shipping industry faces its “Deepwater Horizon” moment in the event of a mega containership casualty. He added that the consequences may well result in a complete change in the accepted insurance arrangements for such large vessels.
January’s issue of Nautilus’s excellent Telegraph publication reported a warning from Andreas Tsavliris, President of the International Salvage Union, that salvors will face huge problems in dealing with an emergency involving a cruise ship carrying up to 5,000 passengers or a container ship of up to 16,000 TEUs.
Both of these warnings were made before the Costa Condordia incident. Mr Chamberlain also warned that the salvage industry has limited and ageing resources, is increasingly risk averse and today consists of only around four or five companies with a genuine global capability. He also noted that the legal environment for dealing with these incidents is becoming increasingly demanding with rising claims, disproportionately high clean-up costs and the near impossibility of disposing or recycling of a wreck due to the restrictive legal regime combined with the absence of suitable recycling facilities.
It is against this worrying background that the decision of the UK Government to withdraw the four strategically based salvage tugs from around the UK coast should be considered. The provision of these Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) arose in the first place from Lord Donaldson’s report and recommendations following major maritime incidents, including the groundings of the Braer and the Sea Empress. The Government should surely now be reviewing this decision which Sea Breezes has consistently spoken out against.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR