The Financial Express

Diving deep into marine salvage nitty-gritty

Recent accidents in the Chittagong Port channel and anchorage area. Recent accidents in the Chittagong Port channel and anchorage area.

As the saying goes, ship salvage is a science of vague assumptions based on debatable figures taken from inconclusive instruments, performed with equipment of problematic accuracy, by persons of doubtful reliability and questionable mentality. Still marine salvage is an issue that cannot be ignored in view of its importance and the effect on the environment. These days, saving the environment from a ship in peril or its cargo has become more important for coastal communities.

Marine salvage involves different technical aspects. It encompasses analytical salvage engineering, deep water search and engineering, recovery, rescue towing, refloating a grounded ship, shoring, patching or repairing it, firefighting, lightering, stability and stress management, jettisoning cargoes and post-casualty risk assessments.

'Search and rescue' and 'salvage' are two related but independent activities. Both activities may overlap in any casualty instance but there are some big differences: Saving a life at sea is an obligation but salvage is not. Salvage people can be rescuers and rescuers can be salvage people. However, they are both professionals in their own right with different skills and training. Salvage people are professionals from many spheres who work together to save a ship and any cargo. They are risk managers, environmentalists and even volunteers. Causes of marine casualties are varied. Marine casualties like fires, explosions, running aground, collisions, cargo shifting etc. can be caused by any human error, weather, machinery failure and terrorism.

Professional salvors are experienced persons. They are salvage masters, engineers, divers, naval architects, technical specialists and operations personnel. Professional salvors invest in dedicated emergency response equipment, training, research and development. They share their skills and experience with the people in the industry and other professional bodies. They participate in drills with owners, operators, port authorities and coast guards to prevent and mitigate marine casualties. They face many operational difficulties including communication, geographical location, environmental issues, risks to personnel, financing salvage operations, politics, container ships, car carriers and LPG carriers.

There are Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) the main purpose of which is to provide the first line of environmental defence in coastal areas and protection of the environment by assisting vessels in distress. Their secondary functions include assisting in search-and-rescue operations, surveillance operations (Sea Traffic Control, Customs, etc), assisting in oil spill recovery operations and supporting underwater recovery operations.

There remain risks to Bangladesh's coastline, environment and port infrastructure due to severe marine casualties. A lot of such risks arose during marine accidents that happened in the past in Bangladesh. A list of them is as follows: An explosion occurred at an anchorage, the vessel Banglar  Shikha ran aground at the Mongla Fairwar Buoy 10, the Dredger Khanak partly sank after a collision at a river mouth blocking a channel partly, the Hyang Ro Bong sank at an anchorage after a collision, the MV Gladys ran aground at a river mouth with 700 TEUs of containers, MV Moshak sank at the Dock Office Jetty  keeping it blocked, MV RIMA 3 sank at the river mouth blocking a channel partly, MV Gazi and MV Samir collided at a cement clinker jetty resulting in a serious damage  to an under-construction vessel and the MV High ran aground at Sonadia Island off Cox's Bazar.

It is likely that the harbour tugs serving the ports have some fire-fighting capabilities. The pollution containment equipment includes containment booms (ocean and harbour) and basic clean-up equipment like skimmers of various types that can pick up oils. When it comes to cargo transfer pumps and hoses in the event of any casualty involving a tanker, one will have to be able to discharge the products or crude either to a shore facility or another tanker. In that case a portable Inert Gas (IG) system is fairly expensive and not a very common system. It is then required to safely transfer low flashpoint cargoes. Fenders of various sizes will be required to complete an STS operation. High capacity pumps are required to dewater damaged tanks. The pumps can be either electrically or hydraulically driven and will need the corresponding power or drive source.

In any marine accident, diving is an important part of the rescue work. Diving equipment is intended for completely shallow water. This comprises dive hats, communications panel, umbilical, compressors, air-banks etc. suitable to have two divers in the water simultaneously. Divers are an integral part of a salvage team.

A full set of patching equipment will be required while the emergency towing gear must be a reliable, very strong and floating tow rope. Though most ocean-going tugs have their own, the harbour tugs that will probably be the first tugs on the site do not come equipped with this. To support any type of marine operation one will require PPE and safety equipment (SCBAs, PFDs, gloves, coveralls, boots, medical kits etc). Portable salvage equipment includes generators, lighting, compressors, communication packages, computers etc.

Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) are very useful for salvage response as they can provide dedicated resources that can be called in to perform a tow, act as a work-platform or even just be used to transport salvage equipment from the shore to the casualty. Heavy-Lift Sheerlegs with a 2000-tonne capacity are very useful for wreck-removal and lifting sunken passenger vessels rapidly. It is also very useful as well for harbour and port clearance work. Water crafts like those for workboat support and pollution response of various sizes may be required to support operations. Smaller, faster boats are required to get the first team on board with larger boats and tugs supporting or serving as the work or dive platform.

A salvage master is usually a master mariner or engineer or naval architect or senior diver who heads the salvage team. It is his knowledge of vessel construction, cargoes, dangers involved that will help put in place an initial response or salvage plan. A salvage engineer is usually an engineer with sailing or shipyard experience. He knows the vessel's propulsion, cargo handling and engine room systems inside-out. A complete dive team includes a superviser to assist the salvage master with tasks both top-side and underwater as required. Management staff members include one or two people dedicated to ensuring the salvage operation having the funds, equipment, supplies and spares they require to meet the operational objectives. When not directly involved with a salvage project or response, the team can work on maintaining and servicing the inventory of dedicated salvage equipment.


Engr. Md. Golam Sarwar is Managing Director of Prantik Group.

Email: [email protected]

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