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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States EXECUTIVE SUMMARY A key challenge of the 1990s for the marine industry—and for all who have an interest in marine transportation and protection of the marine environment—is to sustain a level of salvage capability that ensures effective response to marine casualties posing a risk to the environment and to waterborne commerce. The marine and salvage industries and governments must ensure that this capability exists and is sustained over time. Salvage operations can help prevent pollution by providing assistance to a damaged or stressed vessel. For example, salvors can transfer cargo or fuel from a damaged vessel to a sound one (a procedure known as lightering), thereby reducing the threat of a spill. They can tow a damaged vessel to a safe harbor for repairs, or perhaps even repair the damaged vessel on site. They can jettison a portion of the cargo in order to minimize pollution or other damage. Salvors also can assist in minimizing or even preventing the closure of ports and waterways by rapidly repairing or removing vessels that are blocking passage. The international marine salvage industry has undergone significant changes in the past two decades. Of most concern are the dwindling numbers of trained salvors and the decline in dedicated salvage resources worldwide. The general approach to salvage in the United States, too, is in a state of flux. Whereas historically the salvor directed the salvage response effort, management of vessel salvage response now is becoming a joint effort: The vessel owner is assuming a more active role in salvage response management, including, in some instances, contracting directly for specialized needs rather than relying on a single salvage company for all salvage services. The federal government, acting through the U.S. Coast Guard, has become proactive in handling vessel casualties that involve actual or threatened pollution, providing oversight, direction, and often active participation in the response effort. The salvor often is relegated to a consulting position, without direct input into the decision-making process. Major changes have been made in the operational procedures and regulatory regime of the marine transportation industry. The traditional principles of salvage law were modified in the International Salvage Convention of 1989 to recognize the salvor's duty to protect the environment and to authorize a special compensation award to promote that duty. In the United States, environmental and coastal concerns led to passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90, P.L. 101-380) and related state statutes. OPA 90 imposes new and expanded responsibilities on the oil-carrying segment of the marine transportation industry to prevent, plan for, and respond to oil spills. REGIONAL ASSESSMENTS In its assessment of salvage resources on the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the United States, the Committee on Marine Salvage Issues found that, in general, the nation's salvage capability and readiness appears to have increased in the decade since 1982. This readiness has accelerated, no doubt, as a consequence of OPA 90 and
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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States related state and industry actions. The improvement has not taken the form of a resurgence of the traditional salvage industry, with large salvage vessels and permanent stores of equipment and cadres of trained personnel. Rather, the increased capability stems mainly from the availability of fly-away1 and prepositioned stockpiles of equipment, the development of networks of salvage equipment and expertise, and a general increase in the power of tugs used in coastwise and harbor towing. Also of note is the aggressive role the Coast Guard now assumes to ensure timely response to major accidents. Resources available now that were not available in the 1980s include strategically deployed response assets provided by oil spill responders. These assets, while not designed to perform salvage, can provide assistance quickly due to their prepositioning near major shipping areas. The level of salvage activity in the United States continues to be insufficient to support traditional salvage practices. As a result, salvage has become a secondary business for salvors and other marine contractors. Financial arrangements, such as retainers ensuring the availability of salvage resources required under the vessel response plan regulations arising from OPA 90, have improved the financial status of some salvage providers but do not offer enough incentive for companies to maintain dedicated vessels and crews awaiting offshore casualties. Nor is the practice of requiring retainers to ensure availability of response capability uniformly practiced among salvors. What is more, companies that can afford such investments would be reluctant to maintain often-unemployed assets producing limited return. In other words, with marine casualties in the United States occurring at a historic low rate, there is not-enough salvage activity to make salvage a paying proposition for companies dedicated solely to salvage. Nor is the level of activity sufficient to attract and train future salvors. In sum, although the salvage industry in the United States appears to be on an upswing—at least temporarily—as a result of OPA 90, the long-term prognosis may still be bleak unless ways can be found to train salvors and stimulate salvage-related business activity. KEY ISSUES, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS Effective, time-critical salvage provides an important safeguard against environmental damage and commercial loss. It can prevent breakdowns, navigation errors, and other vessel mishaps from developing into more serious incidents, which could result in major pollution or channel and port closures. The salvage industry continues to face immense economic pressures. In general, the incidence of maritime casualties, and thus the need for salvage services, has declined by one-third since 1973. This trend is favorable for safety and environmental protection, but it has a negative effect on business conditions in the marine salvage industry. Additionally, the nature of salvage has changed in the last decade. At least four major trends have been observed: The motivation for maintaining a salvage capability has shifted from a private concern—protecting the vessel and its cargo—to a more public or societal interest in protecting the environment and economy from impacts of a vessel casualty. The traditional dedicated salvage company with fully integrated capabilities has had to supplement its income by utilizing its salvage assets and 1 Fly-away packages consist of specialized equipment, such as firefighting gear, diving systems, or pumps. This equipment is packaged and designed to be shipped on an airplane from storage locations to required destinations.
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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States experienced personnel in more conventional marine business. Salvage has become only one segment of the organization's business. Compensation for salvage has not kept pace with either the changing roles or increased financial risks of the salvor. In the United States, the salvor no longer is in charge of the decision-making process employed in responding to a marine casualty, particularly one involving pollution or the threat of it. Instead, the salvor's role is to assist and provide direction to a Unified Command System involving the federal government, state government(s), and the responsible party (vessel or cargo owner or designee). As a result of these trends, today the U.S. salvage capability is found in a small number of professional salvage companies, some dealing only with a specialized and limited aspect of salvage. Nevertheless, response to vessel casualties that have occurred in the United States since 1982 has been timely and effective. The committee did not identify a pattern of failure to respond because of the lack of salvage capability. NATIONAL SALVAGE POSTURE Despite the good response record of salvors in recent years, the committee perceives possible deficiencies in U.S. salvage capability. Conclusions regarding these potential deficiencies and recommendations for addressing them are outlined in the following sections. COMPENSATION FOR SALVAGE The committee concludes that, because of the change in societal values as they relate to salvage—from an emphasis on preventing or mitigating the loss of vessels and cargo to concern for preventing or mitigating environmental damage and other indirect consequences—the economic basis for rendering salvage services needs to be restructured. The committee therefore recommends: The criteria for determining compensation for salvage in the United States should be updated to reflect changes in the business structure of the salvage industry and in societal values with respect to salvage and to incorporate the criteria delineated in the Salvage Convention of 1989. The Salvage Committee of the Maritime Law Association should promulgate an updated regime of criteria for salvage awards, reflecting current salvage conditions, to be brought to the attention of courts and arbitrators without waiting for a case to be litigated or arbitrated. NATIONAL SALVAGE POLICY The national salvage policy continues to be that stated in the Salvage Facilities Act of 1948: that the public interest is served by maintaining salvage capability to provide for the national defense. In contrast to the fifty-year-old statement of national policy, the committee concludes that the primary public motivation for maintaining a salvage capability has shifted from national defense to include protecting the environment and the economy from impacts of a vessel casualty and that salvage fulfills additional functions in preventing or minimizing marine pollution, providing for public safety, and minimizing the disruption of port activities. The committee therefore recommends:
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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States The Congress should update the national salvage policy to ensure that an adequate level of salvage capability is present in U.S. waters. The policy should clearly delineate the following as goals: to protect national security, to minimize or prevent environmental impacts due to pollution from marine casualties, to protect public safety, and to ensure minimal disruption to the U.S. economy resulting from marine casualties in the nation's ports and waterways. The updated national salvage policy should specifically address the role of government agencies and their relationship to the private sector. At the very least, the policy should clarify the current roles of the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy, as follows: The U.S. Coast Guard should oversee or direct response to marine casualties in which there is peril to life, the environment, or other public interests. The U.S. Navy should advance salvage technology and practice through technical development programs; provide technical assistance in nongovernmental marine casualties requiring salvage; maintain contractual arrangements with private contractors for salvage services in excess of internal capability and make such services available on request; and train U.S. Navy and civilian personnel in salvage. The above government functions are essential to ensure that adequate salvage capability exists in the United States, and that there is adequate salvage response to marine casualties. Implementing this recommendation would, in the main, provide authority for current practice. The national salvage policy should continue to clearly state that government assets will be used only when commercial assets are not available. The 1982 National Research Council study on salvage recommended that the salvage issue be revisited in ten years. This study coincides with that time frame and finds significant changes requiring action that justify the 1982 recommendation. The committee therefore recommends that the national salvage posture be assessed again ten years hence. SALVAGE ASSETS AND SERVICES The committee deems it to be in the national interest to ensure that the U.S. salvage capability remain (at a minimum) at its current level. However, the committee's analysis of marine risks, casualty rates, and salvage business conditions supports the conclusion that the current level of capability cannot be sustained, nor identified gaps filled, without attention to acquiring, maintaining, sustaining, and positioning salvage assets, and training and retaining salvage personnel. Furthermore, the committee concludes that these measures require the direct assistance of both the marine transportation industry and government. The committee therefore recommends: The U.S. Coast Guard, in consultation with the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage, should develop and promulgate a list of active salvors in accordance with the general criteria proposed by the committee. The list could be used to prequalify salvage companies for inclusion in vessel owners' contingency plans for casualty response and may include salvors that specialize in specific aspects of salvage. As a matter of corporate
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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States policy, companies needing salvage services should endeavor to contract for salvage services with professional salvage companies. As new offshore tugs and escort vessels are built, designers and owners should be encouraged to add features to expand the response capability of those vessels to include some aspects of salvage. At a minimum, firefighting capability should be installed, as well as basic salvage equipment lockers. Owners of all commercial vessels should be required to demonstrate that they have considered and are prepared to address, by contract or other approved means, key aspects of salvage capability as it relates to the safe conduct of their vessels in U.S. waters. (At present, this requirement applies only to vessels carrying petroleum as cargo.) TUG AVAILABILITY The committee concludes that geographic gaps may exist in the availability of adequate towing vessels for control and management of stricken ships, particularly in the Florida Straits and in areas of the West Coast. In light of physical and economic limitations to providing dedicated rescue towing salvage vessels, the committee recommends: The U.S. Coast Guard should expeditiously complete studies mandated by OPA 90 on vessel routing schemes and exclusionary zones and vigorously pursue the institution, as appropriate, of the conclusions arising from those studies in both national and international forums. SALVAGE READINESS OF VESSEL AND CREW The voluntary nature of compliance with ''salvage-friendly'' vessel designs, such as that proposed by IMO Resolution A.535(13), has not had the expected result of widespread adoption of such features and the potential increase in the ability to save vessels in distress. The committee therefore recommends: The Coast Guard should urge the International Maritime Organization to proceed with the revision of Resolution A.535(13), "Emergency Towing Requirement for Tankers," as expeditiously as possible and to promulgate the revised resolution in the form of a regulation requiring compliance by new and existing vessels. The Coast Guard should request that the IMO consider requiring emergency towing arrangements on vessels other than tankers. In addition, the Coast Guard should urge vessel owners to incorporate other "salvage friendly" modifications, such as cargo piping system modifications, and institute formal salvage training for vessel crews. TRAINING The committee concludes that, with few opportunities to practice the salvage profession, the next generation of salvors is not being trained or attracted to the industry. The committee therefore recommends: The U.S. Navy training facilities at Panama City, Florida, should be made available to selected industry and/or federal and state agency personnel,
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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States sponsored by professional salvage companies and the respective agencies. Such training could be offered on a total reimbursement basis or financed by the Salvage Facilities Act. The salvage and marine transportation industries should establish salvage training at a maritime institution on a cooperative basis (as was done with maritime firefighting schools). In addition, they should cooperatively develop a career track program within and across their respective industries to attract individuals to the salvage industry. MARINE FIREFIGHTING The committee concludes that marine firefighting experience in port areas is lacking. There are significant differences in marine firefighting capabilities among ports. Of particular concern is the interface between local fire departments and the marine transportation system. The committee further concludes that the location of prepositioned marine firefighting systems relative to vessel traffic patterns is a concern in some geographic areas. Of special concern are ports and areas with high passenger vessel concentrations. The committee therefore recommends: The area planning process within the National Contingency Plan should include a review of local and area firefighting and salvage readiness and capabilities. RESPONSE TO HAZARDOUS CARGO The committee concludes that capability for responding to casualties involving hazardous cargo is limited. The committee therefore recommends: The Coast Guard or another government agency should undertake a study on response to marine casualties involving hazardous cargo and the role of the salvor in the response. JETTISONING The committee concludes that ambiguities in federal and state oil pollution laws have created uncertainty concerning liability for acts of jettison. The committee therefore recommends: The National Contingency Plan should be modified to incorporate criteria that would authorize intentional jettison when necessary. Modifications should also clarify the federal on-scene coordinator's ability to authorize incidental discharges resulting from ongoing cleanup operations, such as decanting from skimmers and pumping of engine rooms, through the daily work plans approved by the Unified Command System where appropriate.2 2 The jettison issue was addressed by the committee in a separate report (NRC, 1994), which appears, with more specific recommendations, in Appendix B.
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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States SAFE HAVENS The committee concludes that, in the absence of predesignated safe havens, the risk is increased of marine casualties having catastrophic outcomes with environmental consequences. The committee therefore recommends: The Coast Guard should promulgate the process by which a "safe haven" is identified. To the extent possible, area plans should evaluate candidate sites for potential safe haven areas.
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