Marine casualty salvors face perils afloat and red tape ashore
A BREAKFAST briefing on marine casualty response at Hong Kong's Foreign Correspondents Club last week revealed the dangers afloat and the difficulties ashore persuading civil servants to shoulder responsibilities for disasters at sea that must be faced.
No matter what the wind and weather, salvage crews do what they can to save lives and property and stabilise the situation at sea, said Singapore-based Simon Burtham, a director of London-based consultancy TMC Marine.
"Once the situation is stabilised the next big problem is finding a port of refuge," he said while pointing to his PowerPoint display.
This showed a number of marine casualties - which are rising every year - and how long stricken ships must remain at sea before being finally allowed a berth as one country after another evades responsibility.
One vessel took 44 days and another 90 days before owners were able to negotiate a berth in a port of refuge.
"The longer the ship is out there, the greater the danger the situation will get worse," said Mr Burtham, recalling a wreck removal when a ship was sunk in 48 metres of water with "strong currents".
That was in the stormy Bay of Biscay, off the French coast near the northern Spanish border with the French refusing to take responsibility or allowing the ship to land.
"The ship was eventually taken to Spain in the Port of Bilbao," said Mr Burtham.
Also speaking was Ex-Royal Navy officer, Simon Ward, now a loss prevention executive at MatthewsDaniel, which like TMC Marine, is a subsidiary of Paris-based Bureau Veritas, a firm engaged in testing, inspection and certification (TIC), founded in 1828, and with 1,400 offices worldwide today, 69,000 employees and annual revenues of US$5.42 billion.
Mr Ward said there was much that could be done to avoid losses. Faults lay partly in cost cutting, he said. There were times when head office procedures surpassed best practice standards only to fall down at the shipboard inspection level.
"Marine superintendents are often given responsibilities for too many vessels in the interest of cost reduction," said Mr Ward.
"Then there was a problem on a diamond mining ship where fires had broken out. One could see that the oily bilge water was a clear fire hazard, but the men at become to used to it that no one noticed until it was pointed out as a fire hazard," he said.
Mr Ward said most take his advice and criticism positively, even welcoming a fresh view from outside.