In an ever-changing world, salvage companies need to adapt to new trends and technologies. Here, Tug Technology & Business outlines the current and future trends after consulting with salvage experts.
LNG-fuelled ships pose greater threats
As more ships are fitted with stored LNG for dual-fuel propulsion, there are increasing challenges and threats to salvors responding to emergencies. These are the same as risks responding to oil-propelled ship casualties, such as weather and ocean conditions, ship stability and personal risk.
However, there are also risks of explosion and asphyxiation from gas clouds from rapidly vapourised LNG, and LNG spillages cracking steel hulls and forming fireballs around a ship casualty. There are very few cases that salvage companies can refer to for greater understanding of the risk, therefore the industry is waiting for the first major casualty involving an LNG-fuelled ship.
Climate change brings violent storms
A warmer Earth could lead to more violent and frequent storms. Although this remains a scientific hypothesis, there is increasing evidence that it may be a correct prediction. This evidence includes the series of hurricanes that decimated islands in the Caribbean in 2017 and struck the shores of North America with force in 2018.
Hurricane damage in 2017 demonstrated the marine devastation salvage companies could face in the future. If these are more frequent, there will be greater demand for marine salvage companies, but also challenges.
Salvors are experienced in removing wrecks, assisting stranded and grounded ships and recovering debris and pollution. However, recovering yachts, workboats and passenger ferries involves multiple owners and insurance companies with different interests and abilities to pay for salvage.
Any estimate of salvage time would be impacted by unknown environmental and commercial elements, issues and conditions. These would extend the complexity and period of salvage operations.
For example, salvage of the wrecks of yachts, workboats and passenger vessels after the 2017 hurricanes took almost six months and was finally completed in March 2018, although island clean-up is still ongoing.
Demise of LOF brings challenges
Lloyd’s Open Form (LOF) was once the mainstay of salvage contracting, providing adequate remuneration for salvors in a transparent and well-known format.
However, LOF use in salvage contracting has lessened over this decade as more commercial contract formats are used, lowering revenues for the sector.
Salvors fear that declining profits are reducing investment in salvage tugs, equipment and people that could affect the capabilities of salvors in the future.
International Salvage Union president Charo Coll used her Christmas address on 4 December to highlight the consequences of the declining use of LOF contracts.
She emphasised the wider range of services that salvors, including tug owners, deliver to shipowners, insurers and port operators. Ms Coll then explained that the ISU executive committee had changed its vision and public position to emphasise the benefits of a properly funded, innovative and motivated salvage industry.
Digital technology enhances salvage operations
Digitalisation is influencing more aspects of maritime operations as every month passes. More shipping companies are using digital technology for fleet management, vessel monitoring, performance management and system checks. Some of these technologies have transferred to the tug and salvage sector for vessel management and fleet performance monitoring.
Another digital technology can have a positive impact on salvage operations. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) enable salvors to visualise the conditions of a casualty without having to send people on board or in helicopters for inspection.
Unmanned boats could also be used to survey a casualty or wreck without putting people’s lives at risk. Or they could be used to fight fires and test safety conditions. They could also be used to transport people to a casualty, reducing the number of people at risk.
UAVs can also be used for transferring lines between tugs and a stranded ship or sending information from the salvage site to a mother ship.
Unmanned ships mean there is no one to rescue
As shipping develops unmanned vessels, there will be benefits and challenges to salvors. A ship that has no crew on board means there are no seafarers to rescue. However, it also means there are no seafarers for salvors to communicate with to gain an early estimate of the condition of a casualty.
There is also the suggestion that crewless ships will be either safer than those with humans on board or a greater risk. It depends on which side of the argument the industry resides. Some feel that ships will be safer if computers and algorithms are sailing them as this cuts out human error.
But, another side of the argument is that seafarers need to be aboard to take over if there is an issue with the computer navigation system. Those on this side of the argument also highlight how mariners rely on experience to prevent maritime accidents occurring every day.
Therefore, it is difficult to predict how autonomous ships will affect salvage operations in the future. Nonetheless, one thing is clear, there will be an impact one day involving an unmanned ship and it will need to be salvaged.