Observers at the Hook of Holland have seen some strange sights recently, with barge loads of large scale marine wreckage passing inbound. These are sections of a large car carrier sunk after a collision in the southern North Sea , but which, in a few weeks, will have been entirely removed by salvage contractors, who have cut up the huge wreck into manageable pieces for  recycling ashore. There is still a residual admiration at the extraordinary removal in one piece of the Costa Concordia wreck, while off the coast of New Zealand, the southern spring is likely to see fresh efforts to remove the final remains of the containership Rena from the offshore rocks where she stranded.

What these spectacular operations have tended to encourage is the belief that there is practically no casualty, barring those in the deep ocean, which cannot be removed under the terms of a wreck removal contract. The idea that a wreck might be left on a coast or in shallow water for the sea to break up will now be firmly rejected by the general public, who have seen and admired just what technology and application (and substantial amounts of money) can achieve. And while this might be a worrying burden for marine insurers, operators will also have noted that the considerable costs of this wreck removal are likely to feed into their own insurance costs, like it or not.

The Nairobi Convention on the removal of wrecks entered force this spring, which of course reinforces the rights of states to require the removal of wrecks. Coincidentally, the years of gestation of this convention also saw an astonishing explosion in ship sizes, with scale economies being developed in practically every shipping sector. So the responsibilities of those who may have to pay for the removal of future wrecks might be thought to have increased exponentially.

While salvors might be expressing their concern at the increase in ship sizes and at their ability to handle such potential cases, there is no doubt that the capabilities of contractors have also hugely increased. The developing technology of the offshore sector has seen the capacity of lifting equipment hugely increased, with cranes and crane barges now being built to cope with an entire offshore topside in an indivisible load. Other gigantic craft have been devised to remove redundant offshore rigs, while cutting equipment and high capacity shears are now available to remove entire ships in “bite-sized” pieces!

There are still worries expressed about the potential for a “deal-breaking” wreck removal, should one of the largest containerships, or super-large bulk carrier, require to be salvaged from a difficult site. But, rightly or wrongly, there is overwhelming public and political “faith” that whatever the size of the ship and wherever it might have sunk or have been stranded, a contractor will be found with the right amount of technology, who can remove it. The tragic wreck of the South Korean Sewol, which must now be removed in one piece, in order to recover the bodies of those still missing, is perhaps the next great challenge.

Author: the Watchkeeper                     Source: BIMCO