A changing approach to marine salvage and wreck removal – John Noble warns of challenges posed by new-generation ships and environmental demands
Some ships may be too big to salvage efficiently should they get into trouble, the International Maritime Industries Forum has been warned.
John Noble, of Noble Marine and Constellation Marine Services, told an IMIF meeting at the London headquarters of law firm Ince & Co that the salvage industry faces big challenges, including the trend to build bigger ships than ever.
He said: “With the introduction of very large container ships and super bulk carriers, the salvage contractors acknowledge the lack of capability to offload cargo when lightening is required or for other reasons. Some might suggest that salvage of such ships may be pushing the boundaries outside current capabilities.”
Mr Noble offered as an example of the major operators’ concentration on size the Panamanian-registered MSC Oscar, at 19, 244 teu the largest containership at sea, which has been on its maiden voyage, calling atWilhelmshaven and Felixstowe during March 2015. The ship entered service on the heels of the previous record holder, the CSCL Globe, and Mr Noble reminded his audience that plans are afoot for ships of 22, 200 teu.
He showed a slide picturing the MSC Oscar dwarfing tugs alongside. “That gives an indication of the size of the challenge we are going to face, ” he said.
The ever increasing cost of wreck removal operations must be a worry to the protection and indemnity clubs and to reinsurance underwriters, he said, adding that increasing environmental aspects have had a major influence over increased costs.
Mr Noble’s talk had especial topicality because the Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, which was adopted in Kenya in 2007, will enter into force on April 14 2015.
The convention provides uniform international rules and a legal basis for the prompt removal of hazardous wrecks that could impact the safety of lives, goods and property at sea, and the marine and coastal environment.
It will give states the right of direct action against insurers. Mr Noble said that under the convention, the definitions of what could be a wreck are quite wide. “There is a whole page on what constitutes a wreck. Quite clearly, ‘new wrecks’ can be different from the ‘old wrecks.’”
Flag states for the first time, and ship operators will be subject to requirements for reporting. Owners are liable for the costs, and have to demonstrate they have insurance for removal of wrecks.
Mr Noble said of the convention: “It remains to be seen how it will work in practice, but I do think it offers some helpful solutions.”
A leading authority in the field with 35 years’ experience of wreck removal cases, Mr Noble said there had been many changes of approach in that time. Years ago, the costs of such efforts were a small portion of the overall claims expenditure of P&I clubs. “Now the story is rather different. Wreck removal costs form a significant proportion of claims.”
He spoke of the Costa Concordia and Rena casualties which cost the clubs and their reinsurers an “eye-watering “amount of money – “we have to ask ourselves why.” The Rena was a fairly small ship but the cost to P&I clubs and other underwriters of the casualty was significant.
The International Group of P&I Clubs had formed a working group under one of its leading officers, Michael Kelleher, to examine how wreck removal operations might be improved.
In earlier days, said Mr Noble, an attending surveyor would deal with the authorities usually via the harbour master. More recently the authorities had become much more proactive. Environmental concerns often took precedence over operational considerations, sometimes to the extent of influencing how a wreck removal was conducted, as in the case of the Costa Concordia. Sometimes there would be insistence that all oil was removed before work started, even if this were not the safest environmental option.
Mr Noble spoke of the impact of the Special Compensation P & I Clause (Scopic) as the biggest change in how salvors approached a casualty situation. This specified when salvors could claim for the use of their equipment if the clause was included in the LOF and invoked by the attending salvors.
Where a salvage contract included the Scopic clause and a casualty deteriorated to become a wreck, the attending salvors would remain on site. Often the salvor became the wreck removal contractor.
During questions and discussion at the IMIF event, some participants worried over the role of governments in demanding actions that marine experts might view as contrary to good sense or incurring huge costs. “If government says you have to remove the wreck, you have to remove it: we are still seeing this with the Rena, ” said one commentator. Mr Noble said that casualties were often deemed to be in areas of natural beauty, and governments would no longer ‘walk away’ from them.
Mr Noble made the point that casualties made good television, and the public was much more aware of them, as had been the case when the Hoegh Osaka had been grounded near Southampton to avert a potentially serious problem.
Mr Davis, chairman of IMIF, said that in modern times the shipping industry had “a pretty good casualty record, and we should not be ashamed of that.” He thanked Ince & Co partner Renaud Barbier-Emery for hosting the meeting. The event had begun with aperitifs and networking in the dining room of the law firm with its splendid views of the Thames, St Katharine Dock, and the City.