Marine salvage is the process of recovering a ship and its cargo after a shipwreck or other maritime casualty. Salvage may encompass towing, re-floating a vessel, or effecting repairs to a ship. Today, protecting the coastal environment from spillage of oil or other contaminants is a high priority. Before the invention of radio, salvage services would be given to a stricken vessel by any ship that happened to be passing by. Nowadays, most salvage is carried out by specialist salvage firms with dedicated crew and equipment.
The legal significance of salvage is that a successful salvor is entitled to a reward, which is a proportion of the total value of the ship and its cargo. The amount of the award is determined subsequently at a "hearing on the merits" by a maritime court in accordance with Articles 13 and 14 of the International Salvage Convention of 1989. The common law concept of salvage was established by the English Admiralty Court, and is defined as "a voluntary successful service provided in order to save maritime property in danger at sea, entitling the salvor to a reward"; and this definition has been further refined by the 1989 Convention.
Originally, a "successful" salvage was one where at least some of the ship or cargo was saved, otherwise the principle of "No Cure, No Pay" meant that the salvor would get nothing. In the 1970s, a number of marine casualties of single-skin-hull tankers led to serious oil spills. Such casualties were unattractive to salvors, so the Lloyd's Open Form (LOF) made provision that a salvor who acts to try to prevent environmental damage will be paid, even if unsuccessful. This Lloyd's initiative proved so advantageous that it was incorporated into the 1989 Convention.
All vessels have an international duty to give reasonable assistance to other ships in distress in order to save life, but there is no obligation to try to salve the vessel. Any offer of salvage assistance may be refused; but if it is accepted a contract automatically arises to give the successful salvor the right to a reward under the 1989 Convention. Typically, the ship and the salvor will sign up to an LOF agreement so that the terms of salvage are clear. Since 2000, it has become standard to append a SCOPIC ("Special Compensation - P&I Clubs") clause to the LOF, so as to circumvent the limitations of the "Special Compensation" provisions of the 1989 Convention (pursuant to the case of the Nagasaki Spirit). [clarification needed]
In 219 BC, the Chinese Emperor Qin Shihuang (r. 221-210 BC) assembled an expedition consisting of a thousand people for the salvage of the Nine Tripod Cauldrons. The tripods were considered important artifacts, Chinese legends credit a Xia dynasty emperor with their construction. The tripods were lost in Sishui River in present-day Anhui Province. The salvage attempt was ultimately unsuccessful. Carvings in Han Dynasty tombs depict the salvage attempt. In the 11th century AD, a successful underwater salvage operation in Song China (960-1279) would employ the use of buoyancy. The Chinese understood the concept of buoyancy by at least the 3rd century AD; the short-lived child prodigy Cao Chong (196-208) weighed a large elephant by placing it on a boat in a pond and measuring the rise of the water level, then matching this weight with a boat loaded with numerous heavy objects which could be measured separately. Between 1064 and 1067, the Puchin Bridge near Puchow, a floating bridge built some 350 years earlier across the Yellow River, was destroyed in a flood. This bridge was made of boats secured by iron chains which were attached to eight different cast iron statues located on each river bank, cast in the shape of recumbent oxen. The flood pulled the oxen from the sandy banks into the river, where they sunk to the bottom; after this loss, the local officials issued a proclamation for submission of ideas on how to recover the statues. The plan of the Buddhist monk Huaibing was accepted, which is described in the text Liang Chi Man Chih of 1192, "he used two huge boats filled with earth, cables from them being made fast to the oxen in the river bed (by the drivers). Hooks and a huge counterweight lever were also used. Then the earth in the boats was gradually taken away so that the boats floated much higher and the oxen were lifted off the river bottom."
In the Early Modern Period, diving bells were often used for salvage work. In 1658, Albrecht von Treileben was contracted by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to salvage the warship Vasa, which sank in Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628. Between 1663-1665 von Treileben's divers were successful in raising most of the cannon, working from a diving bell. In 1687, Sir William Phipps used an inverted container to recover £200,000-worth of treasure from a Spanish ship sunk off the coast of San Domingo.
The era of modern salvage operations was inaugurated with the development of the first surface supplied diving helmets by the inventors, Charles and John Deane and Augustus Siebe, in the 1830s. Royal George, a 100-gun first-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, sank undergoing routine maintenance work in 1782, and the Deane brothers were commissioned to perform salvage work on the wreck. Using their new air-pumped diving helmets, they managed to recover about two dozen cannons.
Following on from this success, Colonel of the Royal Engineers Charles Pasley commenced the first large scale salvage operation in 1839. His plan was to break up the wreck of Royal George with gunpowder charges and then salvage as much as possible using divers.
Pasley's diving salvage operation set many diving milestones, including the first recorded use of the buddy system in diving, when he ordered that his divers operate in pairs. In addition, the first emergency swimming ascent was made by a diver after his air line became tangled and he had to cut it free. A less fortunate milestone was the first medical account of a diver squeeze suffered by a Private Williams: the early diving helmets used had no non-return valves; this meant that if a hose became severed, the high-pressure air around the diver's head rapidly evacuated the helmet causing tremendous negative pressure that caused extreme and sometimes life-threatening effects. At the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in 1842, Sir John Richardson described the diving apparatus and treatment of diver Roderick Cameron following an injury that occurred on 14 October 1841 during the salvage operations.
Pasley recovered 12 more guns in 1839, 11 more in 1840, and 6 in 1841. In 1842 he recovered only one iron 12-pounder because he ordered the divers to concentrate on removing the hull timbers rather than search for guns. Other items recovered, in 1840, included the surgeon's brass instruments, silk garments of satin weave 'of which the silk was perfect', and pieces of leather; but no woollen clothing. By 1843 the whole of the keel and the bottom timbers had been raised and the site was declared clear.
"Salvors" are seamen and engineers who carry out salvage to vessels that they do not own, and who are not members of the vessel's original crew. When salving large ships, they may use cranes, floating dry docks and divers to lift and repair submerged or grounded ships, preparing them to be towed by a tugboat. The goal of the salvage may be to repair the vessel at a harbour or dry dock, or to clear a channel for navigation. Salvage operations may also aim to prevent pollution or damage to the marine environment. Additionally, the vessel or valuable parts of the vessel or its cargo may be recovered for resale, or for scrap.
The refloating of ships stranded or sunk in exposed waters is called offshore salvage. In this type of salvage, vessels are exposed to waves, currents and weather and are the most vulnerable and difficult to work on. They also tend to deteriorate more rapidly than such vessels in protected harbors. Offshore salvage may provide only a short window of opportunity for the salvage team due to unusually high tide or inclement weather for instance. The work window may not come around again for as long as weeks or months and in the interim, the vessel will continue to deteriorate. As a result, it is often imperative to work quickly. Typically, offshore salvage is conducted from pre-outfitted salvage tugs and other tugboats. In addition, portable diving facilities may be transported by helicopter or small boat to the work area. From a tactical point of view, working in unprotected waters is less hospitable for floating cranes, construction tenders, dredges and equipment barges. Plus, it is often difficult to depend upon a stable workforce (welders, carpenters, etc.) as all personnel must be present on site for the duration
The term harbour salvage refers to the salvage of vessels stranded or sunk in sheltered waters. Such vessels are not normally subject to the same deterioration caused by marine and weather conditions as offshore salvage vessels are. In addition, unless the vessel to be salvaged is obstructing navigation, then there is no need to work as swiftly as in offshore salvage. Also, harbour pre-salvage survey and planning stages tend to be less time consuming and environmentally dependent. It is also easier to gain access to local labour resources and heavy equipment such as floating cranes and barges.
Saving the cargo and equipment aboard a vessel may be of higher priority than saving the vessel itself. The cargo may pose an environmental hazard or may include expensive materials such as machinery or precious metals. In this form of salvage, the main focus is on the rapid removal of goods and may include deliberate dissection, disassembly or destruction of the hull.
Wreck removal focuses on the removal of hazardous or unsightly wrecks that have little or no salvage value. Because the objectives here are not to save the vessel, the wrecks are usually refloated or removed by the cheapest and most practical method possible. In many cases, hazardous materials must be removed prior to disposing of the wreck. The most common techniques used in wreck removal are cutting the hull into easily handled sections or refloating the vessel and scuttling it in deeper waters.
The salvage of a vessel that is damaged but still afloat is called afloat salvage. This type of salvage is mostly unobtrusive and involves primarily damage control work such as hull welding, stabilization (rebalancing ballast tanks and shifting cargo) and structural bracing. In some cases, the vessel can remain underway with little disruption to its original purpose and crew.
Clearance salvage is the coordinated removal or salvage of numerous vessels in a harbor or waterway. It typically follows a catastrophic event such as a tsunami, hurricane or an act of war (e.g. Pearl Harbor). There may be multiple vessel obstructions with varying degrees of damage due to collision, fire or explosions.
Tools used in marine salvage
Salvage projects may vary with respect to urgency and cost considerations. When the vessel to be returned to service is commercial, the salvage operation is typically driven by its commercial value and impact on navigational waterways. Military vessels on the other hand are often salvaged at any cost--even to exceed their operational value--because of national prestige and anti-"abandonment" policies. Another consideration may be loss of revenue and service or the cost of the space the vessel occupies.
There are four types of salvage:
In contract salvage the owner of the property and salvor enter into a salvage contract prior to the commencement of salvage operations and the amount that the salvor is paid is determined by the contract. This can be a fixed amount, based on a "time and materials" basis, or any other terms that both parties agree to. The contract may also state that payment is only due if the salvage operation is successful (a.k.a. "No Cure, No Pay"), or that payment is due even if the operation is not successful. By far the commonest single form of salvage contract internationally is Lloyd's Standard Form of Salvage Agreement (2011), an English law arbitration agreement administered by the Council of Lloyd's, London.
In the United States, in pure salvage (also called "merit salvage"), there is no contract between the owner of the goods and the salvor. The relationship is one which is implied by law. The salvor of property under pure salvage must bring his claim for salvage in a court which has jurisdiction, and this will award salvage based upon the "merit" of the service and the value of the salvaged property.
Pure salvage claims are divided into "high-order" and "low-order" salvage. In high-order salvage, the salvor exposes himself and his crew to the risk of injury and loss or damage to his equipment in order to salvage the property that is in peril. Examples of high-order salvage are boarding a sinking ship in heavy weather, boarding a ship which is on fire, raising a ship, plane, or other sunken property, or towing a ship which is in the surf away from the shore. Low-order salvage occurs where the salvor is exposed to little or no personal risk. Examples of low-order salvage include towing another vessel in calm seas, supplying a vessel with fuel, or pulling a vessel off a sand bar. Salvors performing high order salvage receive substantially greater salvage award than those performing low order salvage.
In order for a claim to be awarded three requirements must be met: The property must be in peril, the services must be rendered voluntarily (no duty to act), and finally the salvage must be successful in whole or in part.
There are several factors that would be considered by a court in establishing the amount of the salvor's award. Some of these include the difficulty of the operation, the risk involved to the salvor, the value of the property saved, the degree of danger to which the property was exposed, and the potential environmental impacts. It would be a rare case in which the salvage award would be greater than 50 percent of the value of the property salvaged. More commonly, salvage awards amount to 10 percent to 25 percent of the value of the property.
Private boat owners, to protect themselves from salvage laws in the event of a rescue, would be wise to clarify with their rescuer if the operation is to be considered salvage, or simply assistance towing. If this is not done, the boat owner may be shocked to discover that the rescuer may be eligible for a substantial salvage award, and a lien may be placed on the vessel if it is not paid.
Several navies have Rescue Salvage vessels which are to support their fleet and to come to the aid of vessels in distress. In addition they may have Deep Salvage Units. A DSU (salvage) is an attached unit to the US Navy . Technical diving marine salvage units which can operate in depths unworkable by civilian divers, and which requires saturation diving or trimix (breathing gas) diving techniques. This type of unit is at times formed by a commercial diving company contracting to government via the Baltic Exchange.
When certain vessels are lost in an unknown area, a potential salvor might discover and plunder the wreck without knowledge of the wreck's owner. Salvaging a foreign navy's vessel is against international law.
At the height of the Cold War the United States raised a portion of Soviet submarine K-129 in the Western Pacific Ocean. The CIA, who conducted the salvage under the guise of "mining the seafloor for manganese nodules" with a commercial vessel, spent over $800 million (1974 dollars) on the clandestine operation now known as Project Azorian.
Salvage law has as a basis that a salvor should be rewarded for risking his or her life and property to rescue the property of another from peril. Salvage law is in some ways similar to the wartime law of prize, the capture, condemnation and sale of a vessel and its cargo as a spoil of war, insofar as both compensate the salvor/captors for risking life and property. The two areas of law may dovetail. For instance, a vessel taken as a prize, then recaptured by friendly forces on its way to the prize adjudication, is not deemed a prize of the rescuers (title merely reverts to the original owner). But the rescuing vessel is entitled to a claim for salvage. Likewise a vessel found badly damaged, abandoned and adrift after enemy fire disabled her does not become a prize of a rescuing friendly vessel, but the rescuers may claim salvage.
A vessel is considered in peril if it is in danger or could become in danger. Examples of a vessel in peril are when it is aground or in danger of going aground. Prior to a salvage attempt the salvor receives permission from the owner or the master to assist the vessel. If the vessel is abandoned no permission is needed.
The amount of the award depends on, in part, the value of the salved vessel, the degree of risk involved and the degree of peril the vessel was in. Legal disputes do arise from the claiming of salvage rights. To reduce the amount of a claim after an accident, boat owners or skippers often remain on board and in command of the vessel; they do everything possible to minimise further loss and seek to minimize the degree of risk the vessel is in. If another vessel offers a tow and the master or owner negotiates an hourly rate before accepting then salvage does not apply.
Some maritime rescue organisations, such as Britain's Royal National Lifeboat Institution, do not insist the crews of their lifeboats renounce their right to claim compensation for salvage., but should they choose to make a claim, they must pay for the use of the lifeboat and make good any damage suffered by her. Claims for salvage by lifeboat crews are rare. Jetsam are goods that were thrown off a ship, which was in danger, to save the ship. Flotsam are goods that floated off the ship while it was in danger or when it sank. Ligan or lagan are goods left in the sea on the wreck or tied to a buoy so that they can be recovered later by the owners. Derelict is abandoned vessels or cargo.
In the United Kingdom under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, jetsam, flotsam, lagan and all other cargo and wreckage remain the property of their original owners. Anyone, including recreational divers and beachcombers, removing those goods must inform the Receiver of Wreck to avoid the accusation of theft. As the leisure activity of wreck diving is common, there are laws to protect historic wrecks of archaeological importance and the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 protects ships and aircraft that are the last resting place of the remains of members of the armed forces.
The 1910 Brussels Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules with Respect to Assistance and Salvage at Sea reflects the traditional legal principles of marine salvage. The 1989 International Convention on Salvage incorporated the essential provisions of the 1910 Convention, and added some new provisions besides. The 1989 Salvage Convention entered force on 14 July 1996 with nearly twenty parties in agreement. For states which are parties to both conventions, the 1989 Convention takes precedence over the 1910 one where their provisions are mutually incompatible.