Salvors, said the President of the International Salvage Union Andreas Tsavliris, “are innovators and problems solvers and don’t walk away from a challenge”. But the difficulties which may be encountered with giant ships, he warned, “may be beyond problem solving”.

At the annual ISU Associate Members’ Day in London last week, it was reported that the total of all pollutants salved by member companies in 2012 was 810,068 tonnes compared with 496,331 tonnes in 2011. However, the trend as viewed over the 18 years, during which time this data has been collected shows the quantity falling, reflecting, says the ISU, a decreasing number of casualties as a result of improvements to both ships and operational safety over the past two decades.

A number of professional salvors voiced their concerns about their capacity for dealing with very large ships, particularly the “mega” containerships entering service in considerable numbers. The difficulty of sourcing equipment capable of intervening in such cases, not least that of cranes capable of discharging cargo from such vessels in exposed situations, was emphasised.

A technical innovation that could conceivably be used to lift cargo off a large containership was being developed. This ingenious solution revealed was a method of stabilising a crane mounted on a barge which would enable it to be used safely in a 2 metre wave height, which would otherwise have the load swinging about dangerously. Known as the “Barge Master” this motion compensating platform, upon which a crane could be mounted, eliminates roll, pitch and heave, even when the barge itself is moving.

Tested in North Sea conditions last year, the prototype demonstrated that even in a wave height of 2 metres the hook of the crane could be kept “absolutely still”. The device can be containerised and thus airlifted, and has the potential to greatly reduce days of operations in offshore, weather-vulnerable situations.

The problem of places of refuge continues to be a major difficulty for salvors, said the General Manager of Smit Salvage, John Halfweeg. There was, he said, a “huge disconnect between what is talked about and the reality” of providing shelter for disabled ships which needed a place of refuge, even though the IMO Guidelines were specific about the provision. A major problem, he said was the huge number of interests involved in such cases, and the need for co-operation between all the parties involved.

Recent cases, such as the containership MSC Flaminia and the Stolt Valor in the Gulf were, he said “a clear indication that the system doesn’t work”. Ports, coastal states and terminals, said Mr. Halfweeg, needed to work together, while the compelling requirement from the salvor’s point of view was a single focal point that could take decisions. While conceding that the whole issue of places of refuge was a political and economic dilemma for the interests involved, all parties, he suggested, were on the same side, in their wish to see a ship saved and a catastrophe averted. An independent, apolitical assessment of the situation was something that was really necessary.

Author: The Watchkeeper                                                Source: BIMCO