New age of salvage puts premium on safeguarding environment

Professional Mariner|April 2020

New age of salvage puts premium on safeguarding environment
The tools and techniques for salvaging ships improved dramatically in the 20th century with the advent of more powerful pumps, safer diving apparatus and a host of other advancements.
Alan R. Earls

While the technological changes have continued in the 21st century to retrieve sunken assets from the sea, the need to safeguard the environment has become as important as the recovery of the vessels themselves.

And that’s a good thing, given the proclivity vessels seem to have for capsizing and sinking. A prominent example at the moment is Golden Ray, a South Korea-built vehicle carrier that is being stabilized and disassembled after rolling onto its side in September near the Port of Brunswick, Ga., with an estimated 300,000 gallons of fuel onboard.

The salvage team expects to continue its efforts for several months under the watchful eyes of regulators and environmental groups. In other words, these are not quite the swashbuckling days of yesteryear when life and limb were regularly hazarded simply to refloat a vessel or at least retrieve its more valuable components. Now, a unified command, composed of federal, state, local and environmental officials, along with the responsible party and sometimes others, often oversees salvage operations.

In the case of Golden Ray, the heavy-lift vessel VB-10,000 — a twin-gantry catamaran 277 feet long and 314 feet wide, the largest such vessel ever built in the United States — also has been engaged for the project. Salvors hope the technology will reduce the number of potentially dangerous dives required in St. Simons Sound while also shortening the timeline to completion.

Asset value and the environment

When once the recovery of damaged or lost vessels and their cargoes was paramount, the focus has expanded to safeguarding the environment during the process, said John Witte Jr., executive vice president of Donjon Marine, a New Jersey-based marine salvage, dredging and material recycling company. Although the Golden Ray operation is now being handled by Texas-based T&T Salvage, the initial response contractor was DonjonSMIT, a partnership of Donjon and another experienced salvage organization, SMIT, that specializes in incidents involving oil spills.

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April 2020