Throughout 2018, we have seen numerous ship crashes and groundings requiring the services of salvors.
Salvage tugs are often the first, and many times the only, line of defence against the substantial marine pollution that can accompany shipping accidents and groundings.
In December alone, we have seen at least two ship-to-ship collisions and heard reports of at least five vessels grounded or sunk.
Also in December, International Salvage Union (ISU) president Charo Coll called on shipping and insurance companies to provide increased remuneration to salvage companies.
She said higher payments are required to encourage investment in vessels – particularly new salvage tugs and heavy lift units – as well as salvage equipment, and training and developing highly qualified staff.
Without financial support, salvors would not be able to operate with sustainable profits, limiting the response to maritime emergencies worldwide, she said.
One nightmare scenario would be inoperable ships turning into environmental disasters as they drift on currents and tides or founder on rocky coastlines.
Without salvage companies, these ships would wind up polluting the environment unabated.
Salvors claim they are undervalued until an accident occurs. In 2017, ISU members provided services to vessels carrying more than 3.4M tonnes of potentially polluting cargoes, offering aid in parts of the world where national entities lack jurisdiction or access.
Therefore, as Ms Coll argued, shipping and insurance industries need profitable salvage companies with modern and capable tugs and equipment. They need well-trained salvage experts and seafarers willing to take on the risk of endangering their own lives to rescue others and prevent environmental damage.
Commercial pressures are having an ever-greater influence on salvage contracting, leading ISU to highlight the imbalance.
There has been a slump in the use of Lloyd’s Open Form (LOF) in the last three years, which has sliced salvage companies’ returns from operations and cut their investment budgets.
Ms Coll said ISU recognises that the use of LOF will not return to historic levels and that salvage has moved into a more competitive environment. However, it must not become a cut-throat business where profitability is stripped away, she said.
Instead, ISU has shifted its message to emphasise the wider work and benefits of a properly funded, innovative and motivated salvage industry.
Ms Coll explained that ISU members provide many essential response services that often go unnoticed and unrecognised.
Salvage companies work with insurers to prevent losses from occurring and minimise losses when incidents do happen.
They facilitate global trade by keeping goods moving and ports open for business. Salvors also remove wrecks and fight fires.
The bottom line is this: shipping and marine insurance sectors must recognise the emergency response and pollution prevention services the salvage industry provides. They need to support these companies financially, provide profitable remuneration and stop cutting commercial corners when they engage salvors – otherwise there will not be salvage tugs and well-trained people available for the next shipping, or maritime environment, emergency.