Salvaging the Costa Concordia in Italy captured our attention in September when the mammoth cruise ship was hauled upright in what has become the most complex and expensive salvage operation in maritime history.
But behind the headlines of the deadly grounding two years ago and the eerie photos of the stricken ship, lies an immense background story. It’s about marine insurance, salvage laws, complex contracts, the influence of local governments on salvage operations, international agreements, and an intricate blend of the people who make such an operation happen — the divers, salvage masters, surveyors, naval architects and environmental specialists.
All of this is captured in a thoughtful new report by Lloyd’s, the world’s specialist insurance market in London, that outlines current trends in the salvage industry and examines how major accidents by megaships like the Costa Concordia are changing the shape of the global ship salvage industry.
The report, The Challenges and Implications of Removing Shipwrecks in the 21stCentury, says the number of wrecks around the world has risen over the past decade, and the cost of salvaging them is spiraling. Salvage operations have become more complicated, time consuming and costly, as ships have become bigger and carry more cargo. This is especially true of cargo vessels and cruise ships.
In the meantime, the salvage industry is beset by problems recruiting and retaining skilled specialists and is scrambling to keep its equipment technologically advanced to handle wrecks of these larger fleets of vessels.
“Increasing ship size and the ability of salvage contractors to handle the largest vessels, either as casualties or wrecks, is a growing challenge for the shipping industry,” the report said. “Larger vessels carry more cargo, that will take longer to deal with, and create more wreckage to remove, increasing the time taken and consequently, the cost.”
Shipwrecks have also become more visible around the world due to the constant 24/7 news cycle and the instant, powerful presence of social networks. This has challenged the shipping industry to become more media savvy and develop comprehensive disaster communication plans. The Costa Concordia disaster was a case in point.
In addition to ship size and cargo load, a number of other factors drive up costs: local and regional governments that impose requirements on wreck removals, an increasing list of environmental laws that govern cleanups, inconsistent national laws that affect liability and responsibility, location of a wreck far from shore, and the complexity of bunker fuel and cargo removal.
The report also said that human error continues to be the cause of the majority of maritime accidents, due to fatigue, poor communication, lack of technical knowledge, poor ship maintenance and inadequate knowledge of a ship’s systems.
Bad weather can be a factor, and availability of more accurate nautical charts have helped make navigation safer, “but ensuring the availability and use of skilled, well-trained crews is vital. Shipowners and operators should be encouraged to be vigilant in ensuring seafarers are well trained.”
The U.S. salvage industry might find the report interesting reading.