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A Reassessment of the Marine Salvage Posture of the United States
salvage are extremely important, but the dedicated salvage ship waiting on station is no longer the hallmark of the professional salvor. Instead, professional salvage companies have experienced workers available on call and a pool of specialized salvage equipment and are willing to drop routine work to handle emergencies.
Independent salvors are often one-person operations and vary widely in knowledge and experience. They seek opportunities for salvage but maintain little equipment, preferring to rent it for each job. Often they advise the shipowner on equipment that should be obtained for a specific casualty.
General marine contractors may provide salvage on an ad hoc basis, pursuing salvage work in a local area but not dependent on it. Such contractors are used mainly for non-time-critical salvage, such as wreck removal and marine repair. They may supplement their resources by subcontracting with other salvage providers in the region.
The use of independent salvors and general marine contractors, in combination with the declining casualty rate, have put immense financial pressure on the professional salvor. Independent salvors and general contractors often charge shipowners less than professional salvors because they don't have high overhead costs for specialized salvage equipment and personnel. Moreover, independent salvors and general contractors take the lower priority harbor clearance work that used to be the professional salvor's bread and butter, offsetting the expense of maintaining otherwise underutilized equipment.
Revenues generated by such ships often do not offset costs, which have driven salvage ships from their former stations at key points in shipping lanes with a history of accidents. As an alternative, salvors have developed rapid response capability, drawing on experienced, trained personnel and equipment from central bases and strategically located equipment stockpiles. Salvors often find it practical, expeditious, and economical to charter needed ships and lease common equipment locally, so that they purchase and carry only specialized equipment. By changing their mode of operation to meet altered conditions, professional full-time salvors have narrowed the gap between the two. This shift also has blurred the distinction between the professional and the independent salvor. In both the Mega Borg and the Exxon Valdez incidents,1 the salvors (or salvage company) had years of experience but were viewed as operating as independent salvors.
The growing emphasis on environmental protection complicates the salvage business, but doesn't necessarily produce additional income (NRC, 1994). The traditional criterion for success in salvage has been the saving of property. The definition of success has changed as environmental protection has assumed increasing importance. Indeed, environmental concerns often govern operational decisions during salvage, and environmental protection has become—in addition to the saving of property—a determining factor in the success of salvage operations. Frequently, environmental protection is best achieved by saving the property in peril—the vessel.
Commercial salvage transactions must be covered by a contract that is fair to all parties and ensures adequate rewards for the service provider. The "no cure, no pay" open form contract has been most common in the international salvage industry. A number of these contracts exist: Lloyd's Standard Salvage Agreement, frequently called Lloyd's Open Form (LOF), is the most common and best known. This type of contract is not favored by American salvors, particularly those on the West Coast, who may deploy equipment long distances and, on arrival, find the casualty so deteriorated
All instances of salvage in U.S. waters reported to the committee are listed in Appendix E.