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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
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.