Marine salvors are a rugged and independent lot—more at home refloating ships, pumping oil, putting out fires, and dealing with other maritime emergencies, but this week hundreds of professional salvors, spill responders, and marine fire fighters came to Washington, D.C., to participate in the National Maritime Salvage Conference and Expo. The annual conference is sponsored by the American Salvage Association, an alliance that focuses on salvage and firefighting response in North America.
I presented on NOAA’s work on derelict vessels and historic shipwrecks, and the conference included updates on federal legislation and regulations, case histories of recent salvage projects, and innovations in salvage engineering. But despite the suits and business attire, PowerPoint presentations, and conference venue, it was easy to recognize that this wasn’t a typical D.C. meeting. The presentations brought home the dramatic and often dangerous work that salvage firms conduct on a routine basis.
Historically, the role of the salvor was saving property (i.e., ships and cargo) lost at sea, but in recent years the focus has shifted to include environmental protection. For example, the tanker Exxon Valdez was loaded with over 40 million gallons of crude oil, and the salvage experts kept 30 million gallons on the ship and out of the environment. In many ship accidents, the salvors are the first line of defense against oil pollution—securing the source and keeping a bad situation from getting worse.