NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

Salvors: Unsung Environmental Protectors of the Sea


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.

Tug Gladiator and Cougar Ace ship on its side in Wide Bay.

In August 2006, the "Cougar Ace", a 654-foot ship transporting over 4,800 automobiles from Japan to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, nearly capsized in the North Pacific Ocean near the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. The ship had over 180,000 gallons of fuel onboard. Salvors managed to tow the vessel to Dutch Harbor and keep it from sinking and spilling its fuel. Credit: J. Brown, Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

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.

Author: doughelton

Doug Helton is the Regional Operations Supervisor for the West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, and Great Lakes and also serves as the Incident Operations Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Emergency Response Division. The Division provides scientific and technical support to the Coast Guard during oil and chemical spill responses. The Division is based in Seattle, WA, but manages NOAA response efforts nationally.

2 thoughts on “Salvors: Unsung Environmental Protectors of the Sea

  1. Weather window closing without action in Tauranga NZ .
    RENA on Astrolabe reef and haemoraging.

  2. Great to see that the environment is thought of as a key item to protect as well as salvage and property. Professional salvors do a great job managing all three.

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