In the public’s mind, Salvors are probably thought of some sort of poor cousin to pirates. You know what I mean, families of opportunistic farmers, peasants and fishermen steeling through the Cornish night to wreck and plunder the bounty of castaway sailing ships. No, actually there were called Wreckers.
Salvors operate in a world of high stakes, ”all or nothing” bets of successfully reclaiming some tangible value from maritime catastrophes. Prominent on the first page of the Lloyds Open Form agreement are the words “No Cure, No Pay”. If nothing of value is salvaged, the Salvor gets nothing - irrespective of how much outlaid in time and money.
When the images of penguins and seals covered in heavy fuel oil galvanised world opinion against oil pollution (there, mentioned a penguin), regulators were faced with a vexing problem. How could Salvors be sufficiently incentivised to apply their significant resources to preventing oil pollution when faced with ‘No cure, No pay’? The significant evolution of salvage ‘custom as practice’ has been that the Salvors can make a claim on the pollution compensation funds for ‘salvaging’ the environment (see the Convention Liability posting) as separate from the salvaging property (the vessel and cargo).
Environment now always takes first preference to ship and cargo – often frustrating the Salvor’s first instinct to try to get the ship ‘off the beach’ quickly and intact. Rena’s salvors will have been contracted with these two prioritised objectives – to minimise oil pollution by removing as much fuel, lubricating and hydraulic oil as possible and to salvage the ship and cargo.
The first task, now successfully completed, has been evident by the actions of the Salvors, the bunker barge ‘Awanuia’ and ‘GO Canopus’. The systematic pumping out of the heavy fuel oil in the Rena’s bunker tanks, fuel and lubricating oil from the Engine Room and hydraulics from the mooring equipment and steering gear have significantly reduced the future impact in the Bay of Plenty’s coastline when Rena inevitable breaks in two (or three) in the next good northerly blow. While the media loves being able to tell the public that all oil has been removed, the laws of physics means there are unpumpable or urecoverable residues for nature to bio-degrade later. The Salvors now have the basis for a claim on the oil pollution compensation funds, and will have an army of accountants documenting what they believe is a fair and reasonable amount for their skill, risk and expertise (including the appalling conditions in which they had to work.
The salvage award will be submitted for settlement from the compensation fund. These claims tend to be settled pretty quickly – no one wants to get offside with the Salvors if the prize has been the preservation of wildlife, pristine beaches and coastline.
Back to the high stakes table, and the focus now on salvaging all or part of Rena and her cargo. As reported in the media, work has started on unloading containers while the weather is benign.
A great photo has been received of the salvors removing empties two at a time to the deck of ST-60 and then to GO Canopus. Container ships like carry the 'empties' - containers being returned or repositioned in the trade to be filled with cargo - behind the bridge and accommodation because they are light and and be stacked high without affecting foward visibility. The salvors are cutting the twist locks, which lock the container stack with an oxy-acetylene cutter and landing the containers for the short final voyage to Tauranga.
There is the real possibility that the part of the Rena still afloat could break free – either at visible fracture at the No.2 hatch or forward of the accommodation. If Rena breaks at No.2 hatch, the Antipodean Mariner speculates that there may be sufficient residual stability for Rena to remain afloat and (near) upright. However, if Rena breaks forward to the accommodation the hull shape in this part of the ship is what is called ‘fine’ – narrow and shaped to permit water to flow cleanly into her large, single propeller.
Again speculation, but the inherently stable flat side and flat bottom of the hull will no longer be attached to the fine and heavy (that’s where the main engine is) accommodation and engine room.
The salvors will have naval architects working on this problem and estimating their chances of success under ‘No cure, No pay’.
The Antipodean Mariner
18th November 2011
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