ISU members prevented 2.54M tonnes of pollutants from entering marine ecosystems in 2020
Global salvage increasingly focuses on preventing marine environmental damage while continuing to maintain ship safety and maritime trade.
The recent salvage of Panama-flagged ultra-large container ship Ever Given in the Suez Canal with up to 15 tugs involved, demonstrated the urgent need for emergency response tugs to maintain global maritime trade and economies.
Whereas salvage efforts on the Wakashio wreck off Mauritius highlighted the importance of salvors to protect marine environments and minimise pollution.
According to the International Salvage Union (ISU), its members provided 191 services to vessels carrying 2,538,210 tonnes of potentially polluting cargo and fuel in 2020.
This was higher than the 2.3M tonnes reported in 2019, driven by a near doubling of chemical cargoes salvaged (133,150 tonnes) in 2020, and a considerable rise in containers prevented from entering the marine environment. ISU members handled ships carrying 33,523 TEU in 2020, up from 25,799 TEU in 2019.
This was partially offset by small falls in crude oil cargo salvaged: 360,733 tonnes in 2020 compared with around 400,000 tonnes in 2019; and offset by a steep fall in refined oil products prevented from entering the marine environment, 112,096 tonnes in 2020 – less than half of the 2019 figure of 278,046 tonnes.
Bulk cargoes decreased slightly to 744,246 tonnes in 2020 and bunkers saved, at 111,886 tonnes, were similar to 2019.
ISU chairman Richard Janssen says preventing marine pollution has become a core business of salvors, driven by governments and public opinion.
“We are in a changed world, in which care for the environment has possibly become the most important driver of political and business decision making. Public attitudes towards environmental damage have hardened,” says Mr Janssen.
“Governments have talked about zero tolerance of spills for some time, but it is now demanded by the public. Every marine casualty presents the possibility of a threat to life, to the marine environment and the possibility of loss of property.”
He speaks about successful salvage being “like a three-legged stool which only works properly when all three legs are in place”. These legs are: a well-equipped and experienced salvor; “a fair and encouraging contractual and financial environment”; and “supportive and sensible authorities”.
“Countering marine pollution can require the authorities to be brave and rise above politics, particularly so in granting a place of refuge,” says Mr Janssen.
“We recognise the risk of pollution cannot be completely eradicated and that bringing a casualty into port or another place of refuge could run the risk of pollution.”
He highlights the work done by the European Union to implement a set of operational guidelines on places of refuge as an example. “We continue to push for wider international improvement through the leadership of IMO,” says Mr Janssen.
In the meantime, ISU members continue to prevent maritime incidents becoming ecological disasters.
“The ISU’s pollution prevention survey clearly demonstrates that marine salvors are central in protecting the marine environment: in many cases it is the most important part of the job,” he says.
It is not just ships’ cargo that could be dangerous to the environment. In 2020, ISU members assisted 14 casualties each with more than 2,000 tonnes of bunker fuel on board. Putting this into context, Wakashio spilled around 1,000 tonnes of bunker fuel resulting in tens of millions of dollars of environmental clean-up costs, on top of the cost of emergency response and wreck removal operations.
“There were four cases in which there was more than 4,000 tonnes of bunker fuel on the casualty, a further six cases of over 3,000 tonnes and a further four cases with more than 2,000 tonnes,” says Mr Janssen.
Another case was a badly damaged VLCC [very large crude carrier], laden with more than 200,000 tonnes of black oil. This cargo was prevented from entering the environment.
The survey also records separate cargoes of many thousands of tonnes of cyclo-hexene, vinyl chloride, gasoline, gasoil, lead granules and diesel fuel.
“We do not know the circumstances of each of these casualties, but we can say for sure that the cargoes were either dangerous or dirty and would cause great damage and cost if they had been released,” says Mr Janssen.
“ISU members’ services in these cases have undoubtedly helped to reduce, if not minimise, potential losses for the underwriters and owners.”
This is particularly important for global protection and indemnity (P&I) mutual clubs, hull and machinery insurers and cargo underwriters.
“Our members also help to protect hard-won reputations, less easy to quantify but more and more important in our connected and social media-dominated world,” says Mr Janssen.
However, changes in contracting over the last two decades has resulted in lower margins for salvors and tension between ISU members and insurance companies.
ISU members reported 191 services including 45 conducted under towage contracts and 34 undertaken using Lloyd’s Open Forum. Variants of wreck removal or marine services contracts were used in 22 services, day-rate based contracts were used for 21 services, Turkish forms were used in 15 services, while 11 used Japanese forms, seven were on a fixed price and lump sum, and 36 involved other contracts.
“ISU members want to be partners with the insurance industry, not adversaries,” says Mr Janssen. “In the past, there has been suspicion on both sides. But all parties need to co-operate on a salvage operation, and it should be the same as when we negotiate industrywide matters on dry land.”
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