In an exclusive interview, ISU president John Witte predicted the biggest challenges the salvage industry could face, such as an emergency involving a cruise ship or a gas-fuelled vessel
Salvage tug operators face greater technical, oceanographic and financial challenges than ever before but still provide essential safety and environmental services to shipping. Salvors are vital to shipping as first-reactors, loss mitigation partners and wreck clean-up contractors yet they are finding their margins squeezed at a time when demand is rising.
In an exclusive interview with Tug Technology & Business, International Salvage Union (ISU) president John Witte described some of the technical and financial challenges the salvage industry faces.
“Our biggest concern and worry is what will we do in a casualty of a cruise ship with thousands of people on board – it is highly scary,” Mr Witte commented. The Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster of 2012 demonstrated how unstable cruise ships can be, he said, and the Sewol ferry disaster of 2015 highlighted how quickly ships can capsize and the difficulty of evacuating passengers in an emergency.
Another worry is dealing with container ships that are being built larger than 22,000 teu capacity. “The size of container ships and the number of these vessels are challenges,” said Mr Witte, while another is not knowing what is inside damaged containers, “so we may not know what we are dealing with in a casualty.”
Because of this, he thinks there should be more information available on how containers are stacked and what is inside them. “Most are listed accurately, but some will not be and there will be salvage concerns if there is something dangerous in them,” he added.
Mr Witte also said dealing with a gas-fuelled ship casualty would be challenging. “The issue with LNG-fuelled ships is they are potential bombs,” he said. “As more ships use LNG as a fuel there will be more risk of a casualty, and more technical challenges”. He acknowledged that the LNG industry had a good safety record, with no significant casualties so far, but it only takes one safety lapse and salvors will be faced with a semi-capsized ship full of LNG fuel and a cloud of methane to deal with, he warned.
"The issue with LNG-fuelled ships is they are potential bombs"
His comments reflected those made by Smit Salvage master Sylvia Tervoort at the ISU conference in London in March this year. (Tug Technology & Business, second quarter 2017). She had listed the risks, saying that they come from the phase change from a cryogenic liquid to a highly flammable gas, the explosion potential of LNG vapours – or pool fires, the possibility of asphyxiation from working in an oxygen-deprived area.
Those are the greatest technical risks, which will require further investment by the salvage industry in equipment, tugs and people. However, salvors are facing financial challenges since shipowners and insurers are driving prices lower for wreck removal, said Mr Witte, adding that this increases the risk that no experienced salvage company will be available to tackle a marine casualty in the future.
The rest of this interview will be published in the third quarter issue of Tug Technology & Business