Where I come from, on a small island off the coast of Northern England, low tide occasionally exposes the shape of a great iron boiler, the brown metal covered in limpets, its rivet holes rusted away and the tubes festooned with weed.

It is the largest remnant of a steamship’s wreck nearly 100 years ago and it will be there a century hence, although shapeless bits of corroded frame from the hull are occasionally washed up by a northerly.

That old wreck came to mind as the team working off Giglio accomplished their extraordinary job of parbuckling the Costa Concordia upright. If money was no object, and it doesn’t seem to be these days, there would not be a wreck left on the sea bottom on any coastline.

But there would be a very high price to pay in terms of insurance cover for all that wreck removal, which would leave the whole industry feeling the pain. And this may well be the case as the salvors have shown us their amazing abilities and in the future, governments may increasingly demand that even the most impossible wrecks, in the most inaccessible places, are completely removed.

“If it can be removed, then it must be”, will be the practical consequences of this capability, eventually to be enshrined in law.
But is it always worth this huge effort? Clearly something like the Concordia cannot be left to the strength of the winter gales to remove, while if there is pollution or wreckage causing environmental damage, it is reasonable to require removal.

But should every last shard of metal on the sea bottom be removed? The team removing the remains of the containership Rena have done a magnificent job, but have been told that on account of the cultural significance of the New Zealand offshore reef, the seabed must be completely restored, regardless of the cost, which, of course, somebody else is paying.

In another age, without the technology which the modern salvors can bring to the task, it would have been a ridiculous demand and the remains of the Rena would have joined all those other wrecks around those remote shores, to be broken up by the sea and colonised by sea creatures.

You might argue that today’s ships are too big and laden with pollutants in a way that was not the case when that old coal fired steamer came to grief off Holy Island. You might also suggest that there is no excuse for the sort of errors that lead modern ships onto the rocks and that these need to be paid for. But we might also weigh up the cost and the benefits of wreck removal and maybe suggest a bit of proportionality and balance when the demand “take it away!” is heard.

Author:  Michael Grey              Source:  claymaitland.com