Marine salvage is the job of removing and recovering a ship and its cargo after an accident at sea. Any number of accidents can lead to the necessity of salvage work, including collisions, a capsizing or sinking accident, or even just a mechanical failure that prevents the ship from going back to port. The work can be dangerous and ship salvage accidents may lead to injuries or even fatalities.
Marine Salvage and Salvors
A salvor is a person that works in ship salvage. They are generally considered seamen, as they spend much of their working hours on vessels that salvage others.
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Marine salvage is typically done by companies and workers that specialize in this kind of work, not by the workers that crewed the ship that needs salvaging.
For ships that are simply experiencing mechanical failure and cannot head back to port under their own steam, the salvage team must tow it back.
Many cases of ship salvage are more complicated, though. If the ship has sunk, capsized, or run aground, the salvage team has to float it, right it, or remove it carefully from rocks or reefs so that it can be towed to a shipyard, a port, or a ship-breaking facility.
Types of Ship Salvage
The kind of work salvage companies do depends on the situation:
- Offshore salvage refers to rescuing a ship that is out to sea and has sunk, capsized, or become stranded. This is particularly dangerous work because it is not near land.
- Harbor salvage, salvaging ships within the waters of a port or harbor, poses its own risks due to the high traffic nature of these areas.
- Wreck removal means that there is nothing to salvage, but the ship needs to be moved from its current location.
- Cargo salvage refers to the salvage of the cargo, or sometimes the equipment of a wrecked ship. The ship itself may or not be removed depending on the circumstances.
The Dangers of Ship Salvage Work
The more complicated the work of a salvage job, the riskier it is for the salvors. There are many dangers that these workers face, including all the risks of working at sea that all seamen face:
- Falls overboard
- Fires and burns
- Being struck with falling equipment or cargo
- Being injured by cranes and other types of heavy equipment
Workers in salvage face additional and greater risks of being hurt in these kinds of accidents because they work with a lot of heavy equipment, like cranes and floating dry docks.
The risk is also greater because they often do the difficult work of lifting and refloating huge ships in the water, where the movement of the water and the weather pose further risks.
If a salvaged ship is leaking oil or contains other chemicals that are flammable or toxic, the salvors face the risk of being burned or poisoned by inhalation.
A lot of salvage jobs require specialty workers in the form of divers. Salvage divers face particular risks on the job. They work in dangerous environments, and do it while underwater. An equipment failure or an unstable wreck or part of a ship that suddenly moves can be dangerous and even fatal.
Examples of Ship Salvages and Accidents
The biggest, most expensive salvage job in history was the removal of the cruise ship Costa Concordia from the Mediterranean Sea.
The tragic accident that grounded this ship in 2012 killed 32 people. It occurred when the captain made an error in judgment and steered the ship too close to shore. The ship hit rocks and ran aground. It capsized and remained partially sunk in the waters off the coast of an Italian island.
The job of salvaging the Costa Concordia was enormous and cost over $1 billion. It took more than two years due to the delicate nature of the work and ensuring that by moving the ship, the waters and its ecosystems would not be contaminated any further.
Thousands of people worked to salvage the ship by doing dangerous jobs, including diving in, below, and around the precariously capsized ship.
In fact, one of those salvage workers ended up losing his life doing the job. The diver had been working on installing tanks to the side of the ship to float it and bring it right side up. The worker cut his leg on a piece of metal and became stuck there.
By the time another diver was able to free him and bring him up to the surface, he had bled excessively. He died soon after the incident.
In another salvage accident, no one was hurt or killed, but workers caused an oil spill that contaminated the English Channel. A car carrier called the Tricolor sank in the channel in 2002, along with thousands of cars, after colliding with another ship.
The Tricolor was stuck in a busy shipping area and posed a risk to other ships. It had to be salvaged as quickly as possible.
Several salvage companies were responsible for the work. A tug from one of those companies collided with the wreck and knocked off a safety valve that caused a big oil spill. The spill did a lot of damage to the local ecosystem, including killing thousands of birds.
Ship Salvage Accidents and the Law
Most ship salvage workers are considered seamen and under maritime law are covered by the Jones Act. This is a law intended to give rights to injured maritime workers and the families of those killed on the job.
If you do get hurt on the job and you believe that your employer was negligent in some way and caused your injury, you have a right to file a claim through the Jones Act to receive compensation.
That compensation may cover your medical bills, your lost wages, lost future wages if you become permanently disabled, pain and suffering, and more.
If you die on the job due to some negligence, your dependent family members can sue on your behalf and seek compensation to replace your income and for other expenses.
To file a ship salvage accident claim be sure to rely on the guidance of a maritime lawyer. This experienced professional understands maritime law and knows how to make a case to get you the compensation you deserve. Don’t trust your future to anyone other than a true professional.