Maritime Salvage & Wreck Removal

Capt. Sandeep Kalia, MIIMS, RMS
AFNI, RMS, MIIMS, Executive Director, GOL Salvage Services (GO Salvage)
The marine protection of environment is of the utmost importance in salvage response cases. When marine causality occurs, marine salvage professionals (salvers) try their level best to prevent future damage and maintain healthy environment. Capt. Sandeep Kalia, MIIMS RMS, Executive Director, GOL Salvage Services (GO Salvage), who successfully executed various complex and challenging salvage operations, including INS Vindhyagiri, MT Pavit from Juhu beach, MV Socol 6, and participated in refloating of Pratibha Cauvery at Chennai, shared his insights on salvage, wreck removal, environment, political, operational and environmental challenges during his presentation at SMP World Expo 2014.

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they have been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. It is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.” source Adidas

Prelude The principles of salvage have evolved over many centuries. It is time that Historical negative attitudes toward salvage and wreck removal must be dispersed, especially in the current casualty arena of ever-increasing costs. The circumstances are very different today from what they were in the 70s and 80s. Environmental issues are even more significant today and play a far larger part in today’s salvage operation than they did three decades ago.

The bunker fuel capacity of modern day shipping is considerably in excess of the capacity of shipping of 30 years ago. Today there are bulk carriers, container ships, oil tankers and cruise liners with bunker capacities well in excess of 5,000 tonnes.

Today, protection of marine environment is the key factor in the most of casualty response cases. To prevent future damage to the environment, there is an imperative need for intervention by salvors. Speed of response is the key, which governs any causality situation. The time taken by owners, clubs, underwriters, marine authorities etc. to decide and engage salvage professionals is of essence, which can prevent the causality from becoming a wreck, which remains in water for a very long time. The first few hours and days are critical. Circumstances are usually challenging, the environment is difficult, time is tight, the authorities are demanding and the sums of money at stake are enormous.

Unsinkable ‘Titanic’ vs Masterpiece ‘Costa Concordia’
Mighty ‘RMS Titanic’ in 1912 and the master piece ‘Cost Concordia’ became a wreck in 2013. Titanic collided with an iceberg and Costa Concordia hit an underwater rock. Titanic was supposed to be the ‘unsinkable’ and the Costa Concordia was also a masterpiece of the modern technology. Despite more than 100 years of regulatory and technological progress in maritime safety, accidents do occur.

Both cases involved state-of-the-art cruise ships, although the state-of-the-art obviously has changed dramatically in the 100 years in between. In both cases, the ships were subjected to breach of water tight integrity resulting in massive flooding. Is there a predicament here?

While there has been a paradigm shift in mindset, skills, maritime technology and standards of training between 1912 and 2012, there seems to be some factors, which are still dormant and haven’t changed. Human Element? In the case of RMS Titanic, there was human error, also in the Costa Concordia human element was responsible for the disaster. In both cases, the masters were very experienced. We have invested heavily into training, state-of-the-art simulators and academies. However, Human factors are major contributors to the majority of causalities.

400 ship casualties occur globally each year. While there has been a substantial decline in major casualties and significant pollution incidents, the magnitude of these accidents has increased enormously. The significant trend of improvement is the result of SOLAS, international conventions, regulation boards, ISM code, national and international rules as well.

Salvage and Environment
What is salvage?
Marine salvage is a highly sophisticated industry, which combines the highest standards of seamanship (often in very difficult conditions) with, other disciplines of naval architecture, complicated engineering, heavy lifting, and pollution control. Salvage is a causality related business. It does not encourage investments depending on yearly projections. The guiding principle of the most commonly used form of salvage contract, the Lloyds Open Form (LOF) is “no cure-no pay”.

Salvage industry continues to experience the difficult times. The commercial pressure, the un-predictable nature of the business, and decline in the number of salvage cases make investments in equipment and vessels very difficult. The next generation of box boats ranging from 14,000 to 18,000 TEUs (Twenty Equivalent Units) capacity present huge challenges. Successful salvage has a much greater significance today, given the importance now placed on preventing spills and protecting environment. Today, protection of the marine environment is the dominant consideration in the most salvage operations. The mission is to ‘keep the pollutant in the ship.’

Recent highly visible container ship casualties like the MSC Napoli off the UK coast and the Rena offshore New Zealand presented real difficulty and yet were comparatively small. Giant cruise ships are a concern, too. The ongoing work to remove Costa Concordia is the largest operation of its kind.

International Convention on Wreck Removal
International Convention on Wreck Removal was adopted by IMO member governments at a diplomatic conference in Nairobi in May 2007. This Convention extends the powers of Coastal States to take action for removing wrecks posing hazards in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Wreck removal is covered by an International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention of 2007. This Convention will enter into force one year after ten IMO member states have ratified or acceded to the Convention. India has acceded to this convention. Denmark is the last member state to accede. We expect this convention to come into force by April 2015.

Today, there are more than 450 abandoned wrecks along the Indian Coast, which is a growing concern over the threat posed by these elderly wrecks. In many cases, these wrecks are in coastal waters or port approaches. Many elderly vessels are now partially or totally buried in our soil. Foreign shipowners and their P&I Clubs are not obliged to remove these wrecks if they are not impeding the navigable channel or shipping lane. As per the MS Act 1958 and Indian Ports Act of 1908, ship owners are legally liable if the wreck is a hazard in a shipping lane or close to a navigation channel. However, the convention once in force will make it mandatory for the insurer to meet the costs in such condition, even if the owner(s) abandon their property. We have seen many classic cases of owners abandoning their property in our soil. Rak Carrier, M T Pavit, Black Rose are few of them.

This Nairobi convention will change the entire gamut of wreck removal and salvage. The game changing aspect of the convention is that once in force, the right of states to order the removal of wrecks will extend from territorial waters to 200 nautical miles EEZ. Wreck Removal Certificate will be required. And failure to comply will be treated as a criminal offence. No vessel, semi-sub, floating platform or craft over 300 GT will be allowed into port of a Convention state unless it is carrying a wreck removal insurance certificate.

Motor Tanker Pavit
MT Pavit a 999 ton product tanker, which was abandoned in Oman drifted across the Arabian Sea and after a month surfaced on our National Beach, breaking multi-layer security cordons while raising highest level of concerns. The owner of the vessel came to Mumbai but fled the country after four days abandoning the vessel, as our laws are too soft and vague with respect to removal of wreck.

Even the non IGC insurer was not obliged to execute the removal of wreck, raising questions on our legal systems. An Indian Salvage company engaged by the Directorate General of Shipping rose to the occasion and removed the wreck in less than 48 hours, only to find that Central Govt and Ministry of Shipping had no provisions to reimburse the salvors, even when the orders for salvage operation was directed by the DG shipping. Almost 30 months henceforth their ordeal remains.

Explosions on Naval Submarine
As stated earlier, the scale and magnitude of maritime casualties in the recent past has been alarming. On August 14, 2013, there were serial explosions on a Naval submarine berthed in Naval dockyard, loaded with Torpedoes and Missiles. Eighteen souls were charred in the heat generated due to the multiple explosions, as it raised the temperature of the enclosed water to many thousands of degrees. The water in the dockyard was boiling for almost one and half days and no diver was able to enter the submarine to execute the search and rescue operation. It was reported that almost 180 fire tenders were emptied to douse the fire.

This is one of the most complex and challenging salvage operations where the salvors have to undertake removal of ordinance in a submerged condition, eight metres under the soil and 15 metres under the waterline in nearly zero visibility. Such is the complexity of the salvage operations.

Mocando Disaster
One of the most catastrophic oil spill, the world has ever witnessed was the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico - 2010. Following figures enumerates the quantum of spill:
  • Spill date: April 20–July 15, 2010
  • Well officially sealed on 19 September 2010
  • Cause - Wellhead blowout
  • Casualties - 11 dead
  • Volume of oil spilled up to 780,000 cubic meters
  • Area – (6,500 to 180,000 km²)
While as a country we have been fortunate enough not to experience a disaster like Deepwater Horizon, the possibility of such magnitude of catastrophe can not be totally ruled out. Our offshore installations on West and East coasts are always exposed to such threats from disabled/drifting vessels or other contributing factors. Are we remotely geared to combat a spill of this magnitude?

Environmental Impacts of Oil Spills
  • Economic Impacts – Tourism, Amenity, Fisheries, Industry, Ports and Harbours, which includes access to harbours, loss of revenue, external pressures
  • Marine Life –Fisheries, Birds, Mammals
  • Shoreline, Eco systems, mangroves etc.
Legal, Political & Environmental Challenges
Challenges include:
  • Infrastructure to receive damaged containers or cargo
  • Provisions and policies for removal of the vessel and all its cargo
  • Combat oil pollution at sea and on the beaches
  • Floating cargo at sea and on the beaches
  • Claims from local fishermen, hoteliers etc.
  • No provisions for clearing the seabed of debris
  • No disposal or re-cycling options
Further Challenges include:
Political challenges include ports and waterways, which are vital to the nation’s economic well-being, and the closure of major harbours, which would have an enormous impact on both commercial and military operations. Equally important are questions about our capabilities to respond adequately to a terrorist incident should one occur at our major port.

  • Economic conditions are as tough as many of us can remember. The shipping industry is truly struggling with the contraction in international trade and the underwriting community is suffering.
  • All eyes are set on the Nairobi Convention.
  • Mega box boat casualties present a range of challenges for salvors and will stretch even the largest salvor.
  • Are major ports geared up for combating oil spill response for Tier 1 and beyond?
  • And what about minor ports?
  • Compensation to salvors who offer services on No-Cure No Pay basis should not be unduly held up.
  • Criminalisation of well-intentioned responders is a real concern and is in direct conflict with the goals of safer ships and cleaner seas.
  • Closer integration of marine emergency response is essential. Environmental defence is now the more critical measure of operational success.
  • Trust based on regular, open communication and exchange of information is essential but, at the same time, salvage must continue to be profitable.
  • Only fair competition and fair compensation will support a profitable, forceful and effective salvage industry.
  • Challenges include salvage of gigantic Container ships of 14000 – 18000 TEUs.
How well we resolve these issues in coming years could very well, determine just how productive the salvage industry is for generations of tomorrow. It is essential to create an environment, facilitating the recognition of a problem before it’s too late.