World - The Year in Salvage: Ever Bigger
The grounding of the Ever Given put a spotlight on the challenges of today’s salvage operations.
The grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal brought shipping to the sudden attention of the general public – as large vessel casualties often do. The shutdown captivated newsrooms and Twitter feeds for six long days in March and delayed tens of billions of dollars in trade.
Long after the limelight faded and the backlog cleared, the vessel and her cargo remained in detention. The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) filed damage and salvage claims totaling an astonishing $900 million – well in excess of the true fiscal impact. The authority eventually settled for far less, but the dollar figure of the claim is worth noting: That asking price could have looked like a bargain if circumstances had been different.
In several ways, Ever Given was lucky. She went aground in soft sand, in a readily-accessible location, and right by a large concentration of tugs and dredging equipment. Within days, the SCA deployed its own giant cutter suction dredger, a pair of track hoes, a dozen tugs and 600 people to the site. With help from the dredging and salvage experts at Boskalis, the response team had everything it needed to pull the ground out from under the ship, then pull the ship off the ground.
This asset-heavy response might not have been an option if Ever Given had gone aground somewhere less hospitable. Moving specialty equipment to a remote site takes time, and in a grounding every change of the tide can change the circumstances.
"All of the salvage assets in the world were available right there,” says Lindsay Malen-Habib, Manager of Client Services at Resolve Marine Group and President of the American Salvage Association, “and it was still very complicated to refloat Ever Given. If you put one of these very large container vessels in the middle of a remote location, you would have a delay in deploying assets and personnel. And that’s going to threaten the environment and escalate the cost. For example, the Rena cost more than $400 million to remove from Astrolabe Reef, and that was a small ship."
To ensure the availability of equipment and skilled talent, some salvors have talked about setting up a shipowner-funded salvage retainer system, similar to the U.S. OPA 90 requirement for a designated spill-response contractor. As it stands now, there’s no way for a salvage company to make financial projections in a boom-and-bust business.