Marine Environment - An Insight into Salvage & Wreck Removal

Capt. Sandeep Kalia, MIIMS, RMS
Executive Director, GOL Salvage Services Limited Vice President, ICC Shipping Association (ICCSA)
“Whenever we are trying to achieve, there will be road blocks. I’ve had them, everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If we run into a mountain, we won’t turn around but figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it”. This is the conviction of our Guest Columnist Capt. Sandeep Kalia, Executive Director - GOL Salvage Services Limited (ISU member), an arm of GOL Offshore, who has credited of several complex & challenging Salvage, Wreck Removal & Rescue operations.

The sea is perhaps a multifaceted environment in which man works. It is capricious, difficult and a marvel. It has countless moods, some mesmeric and some challenging. Shipping is the lifeline of world trade. While many economies face complexities, the shipping sector struggles with over capacity and poor charter rates. However, the trade continue.

While the maritime technology has changed beyond recognition in the past century, the human factors and the executive factors have not. As human innovativeness has steadily found its way into shipping, skills required has evolved from being purely physical to being increasingly intellectual in nature. Accidents do occur and will continue to occur. They happen for the same underlying reasons, despite the technological advancement in the last century and despite all safety regulations and precautions. From Titanic (1912) which was considered to be the unsinkable, the grounding of ‘Costa Concordia’ in 2012, a masterpiece of modern technology, has highlighted that even with substantial technological advances, shipping casualties will continue to happen.

One vital sector of the shipping industry is Marine Salvage - the process of rescuing a ship, its cargo, or other property from Peril. A lot has changed since the Salvage Convention was first drafted. Environmental issues now dominate every salvage case and what may have been a satisfactory ‘encouragement’ then is no longer so today. The salvor’s main objective is to keep the pollutant within the damaged property. Safety of human life is the top priority during every operation. Stabilising the situation to preclude the event from worsening is the next priority.

The economics of this industry has changed as well. In most industries investment decisions are based on analysis of the return on capital employed. Salvage being a casualty related business, does not encourage capital investment based on five year projections, however, high capital intensive investment is imperative. It cannot be done without large, powerful tugs and an assortment of expensive equipment in order to be ready for casualties.

The Indian Scenario
The country has been facing increasing human pressures over exploitation of marine resources, dumping of industrial and toxic wastes, oil spills and leaks which have resulted in substantial damage to our ecosystems. The collision between MSC Chitra & MV Khalijia III in 2010 was an eye opener and had exposed the country’s readiness to handle causalities of such magnitude in a major port.

Lack of coordination between various agencies / authorities, compliance with national & international rules, improper communication & signals, complacency, attitudinal & behavioral changes have all contributed to increase in the causalities & their severance. This was followed by un-detected guests, M V Wisdom & M T Pavit in 2011, stranding on our national beach. The latter was abandoned in Oman and had drifted across the Arabian Sea, stranded on Juhu Beach in July 2011, undetected, breaking multi layer security cordons while questioning & raising National security concerns. Furthermore, the owner of the vessel & it’s P&I club abandoned the vessel leaving our Central & State Government helpless, due to absence of regulatory framework to enforce provisions for removal.

An indigenous salvage company came forward & executed the successful Salvage operation under explicit directives of the Central government on 15th August 2011. Their ordeal continues for two years now, as the Central Government has still not been able to compensate them for their professional services, leave aside any empathy for their selfless deeds. M V Rak Carrier is another classic example abandoned 20 nautical miles of the Mumbai coastline with 60,000 tons of coal inside the cargo holds.

Wreck Removal
If a casualty is beyond economic recovery it may become the subject of a wreck removal operation. There are more than 450* abandoned wrecks along the Coast. A high proportion of the wrecks are in poor condition and pose an immediate threat to our ecological systems. Shipwrecks, together with ocean acidification and waste dumping into the seas are among the biggest sources of pollution. Oil pollution from these wrecks and in general have an adverse impact on marine biodiversity and direct effects on the socio economic balance of the affected region. The delay in decision making / finalization of a salvage contract & finally responding to an emergency situation by the Ship Owners, Authorities, Administration individually or collectively, turns the salvageable scenario into a Wreck. Time is of essence & every second counts.

The Wreck Removal Convention 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 to remove wrecks posing hazards in the Exclusive Economic Zone (200 NM). It will enter into force one year after 10 IMO member states have ratified. So far a total of 6* Member states have ratified this convention. An important 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 NM EEZ. India has acceded to this convention but until enforced we have no control over the wreck remains which are abandoned in our waters, outside the navigable channels.

Economic & Political Challenges
One of the key challenges is the way in which the various national and international regulatory frameworks and environmental considerations come to bear on salvage and wreck removal. Indian law with respect to wreck removal is laid down in Part XIII of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1958 and in the Indian Ports Act, 1908.

As per these acts the Ship Owners are legally liable to remove the wreck only within the territorial waters, if the wreck is a hazard in a shipping lane or close to a navigation channel. Due to absence of binding legislation, Owners and their clubs are not obliged to remove these wrecks, if they are not impeding the Navigable channel. Causality response readiness could be significantly enhanced by having resources within the country facilitating improved interagency coordination.

Concern is also expressed on adequate funding methods that are not in place to cover an effective salvage response. The response to any maritime causality would involve many government agencies and organizations at the central, state and local levels. The oil or the wrecks, if it is to be removed, needs to be funded by local governments. A number of funding options could be explored, including expansion of existing ones or development of new ones patterned after successful funding mechanisms that needs to be in place. Oil pollution cess is one among many.

Cabotage Law & Capacity building
It is rather unfortunate to submit that there have not been enough efforts, encouragement or reforms by the Government to promote or support aspiring or established Indian salvors, provide them with level playing platform vis-à-vis international salvors. This lack of support from the government is deterrents for prospective players envisaging to enter this business. There is an imperative need to reform our cabotage law, provide the first right of refusal to Indian companies and promote capacity building.

In my opinion there is no dearth of professional talent, skills & professionalism in Indian Nationals. Lack of recognition of national competence is purely driven by ignorance. This has to change. Our country has internationally recognized and fully established salvage company/s which can operate beyond the country’s borders.

Summary & Conclusion
Salvage business has evolved over many centuries. The conditions are quite different today from what they were in early 80s. Environmental concerns are even more significant today and play a far larger part in operation than they did 3 decades ago. For example the bunker fuel capacity of modern day shipping is conspicuously in excess in comparison. Modern day bulkers, box ships, tankers and cruise liners have fuel carrying capacities well in excess of 5,000 tonnes.

Lessons learnt from Deepwater Horizon’s (Macondo) oil spill incident in Gulf of Mexico entails that we seriously revisit our response capabilities for a “Tier III” level spill and beyond. While we are fortunate that the country has not witnessed such an incident, with increase in oil trade and E&P activities, the possibility cannot be ruled out!

While salvor’s objective is to protect the environment whilst carrying out salvage operations, sadly, they are sometimes not rewarded for the services they offer. This has to change!!

The next generation of container ships with 18000 TEU capacity present colossal challenges. With the shipping industry experiencing the worst recession ever, how we meet up with the demands of heavy capital investment to cater to ever growing tonnage will determine how dynamic the Salvage business is for the generations of tomorrow!!