Long-term lessons from container ship Ever Given’s grounding and the subsequent disruption to maritime trade may drive investment in emergency response tug stations
This was one of the conclusions from delegate polls at Riviera Maritime Media’s Salvage, Covid, Ever Given and what will follow webinar, held on 15 June during Riviera’s ITS Salvage Webinar Week.
During the webinar, attendees were asked several poll questions on various aspects of salvage, ship navigation and emergency preparedness, following the blockage of the Suez Canal by Ever Given in March.
90% of the delegates agreed, given the Ever Given incident, there were advantages to having tugs stationed where large ships transit.
A panel of experts with decades of experience in maritime operations agreed salvage stations should be set up around key shipping waterways.
On the panel were Tsavliris Salvage Group principal George Tsavliris, Constellation Marine Services director John Noble and Smit Salvage managing director Richard Janssen.
Mr Tsavliris said there used to be stations with emergency response tugs and salvage equipment around main shipping routes, but there no longer are.
“Salvage needs to be paid for,” he said. “For infrastructure and expertise, we need to put in financial resources, so they are available when required.”
With ships getting larger and cargo more valuable, there is a greater need to invest in dedicated emergency response equipment and salvage experts.
“Ship values are rising and they could be transporting, in some cases, up to US$2Bn of cargo. So where is the equipment to refloat ships?” Mr Tsavliris asked. “We are experiencing tremendous losses, and accidents are becoming more costly.”
Maritime casualties, although less frequent, are becoming more challenging for salvors to tackle.
“We always had salvage stations around the world, but now we have to sub-contract tugs and find ways around things,” said Mr Tsavliris.
This leads to longer times to respond to marine casualties, resulting in safety and environmental risks. “We need to be motivated to be 24/7-ready. We need to entice people to be the next generation in salvage,” said Mr Tsavliris.
There was general agreement among attendees that current salvage investment was not sufficient to tackle the growing size in container shipping in the future.
To the statement: Operating procedures, insurance arrangements, infrastructure and adequately skilled shore-based personnel have not kept pace with the present ultra large vessel types. 66% of the respondents agreed, 18% strongly agreed, 16% disagreed.
Mr Janssen thought there was merit to stationing emergency response tugs in areas of higher grounding risk worldwide. A lesson from Ever Given would be “to have infrastructure ready for these ships, not just in ports, but also in waterways,” he said.
The question whether even larger container ships could be manoeuvred in tight waterways along major shipping routes should drive shipping to have “an integrated approach with different parties” to develop methods to mitigate potential issues, said Mr Janssen.
“Salvors need to be part of this risk mitigation as we can support a number of clients. If something happens, we can support owners,” he explained.
Mr Janssen thought part of the successful removal of Ever Given from both banks of the southern section of the Suez Canal in March was the availability of powerful tugs and dredgers. “Suez Canal Authority was prepared, resulting in a successful salvage,” he said. “Ever Given showed the impact of incidents, so all parties must work together to resolve these matters for owners and wider society.”
There is evidence more co-ordination is required to prepare for future marine casualties as webinar attendees were in general agreement that owners and charterers are not prepared enough to deal with an incident.
To this statement: Shipowners and operators are sufficiently prepared to avoid or minimise business interruption and public exposure as a consequence of an incident. 52% disagreed and 12% strongly disagreed, with 30% agreeing and 6% strongly disagreeing.
Mr Noble said the Suez Canal Authority should consider if large ships transiting the seaway between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea need tugs accompanying them.
“Tugs should be ready to react quickly to help control a ship,” he said. “Suez Canal Authority would have to take control and then take responsibility.”
Mr Noble spoke about ongoing discussions around who is responsible for controlling a ship. He concluded the ship’s master ultimately has responsibility. “He is always in command and can override pilots,” Mr Noble said.
This relationship requires further debate and resolution, especially for shipping in busy waterways. “The master-pilot authority relationship in the Suez Canal needs to be resolved,” said Mr Noble. “There is a long way to go before the master-pilot authority issue can be finally resolved.”
An example of the need for further discussion came from responses from webinar delegates to the question: Given the Ever Given incident, who should have ultimate responsibility for controlling a ship’s movements during passage through the Suez Canal? 56% said it should be the ship master, 26% the Suez Canal Authority and 18% the pilot.
When asked what transit speed is appropriate for the largest ships in transit, 53% voted for 10 knots, 35% for 5 knots and 12% for 15 knots.
Attendees were also asked: How realistic is it for shipowners, operators and insurers to expect there are capable salvage contractors available to them 24/7 365 days a year, while there are no funding arrangements to ensure this?
19% voted for 0% realistic, while 27% said 25% realistic, then 24% of responders thought 50% realistic, 19% voted for 75% realistic and 11% thought it was 100% realistic.