Members of the International Salvage Union (ISU) provided 186 services to vessels carrying 2.6 million tonnes of potentially polluting cargo and fuel during operations in 2022, clearly showing the critical role of professional salvors in protecting the marine environment. The data come from the results of the ISU’s Annual Pollution Prevention Survey for operations in 2022.

President of the ISU, Captain Nicholas Sloane, said: “We are all now so much more aware of, and careful about, the environment. But we all need shipping and incidents like the Suez Canal blockage demonstrated that reliance. The shipping and insurance industries recognise their responsibilities and the importance of maintaining their “licence to operate” and the availability of emergency response services is a critical part of meeting those responsibilities.

“The number of services fell last year and each year there can be significant variations of the quantities of pollutants in each category. But, overall, the amount of pollutants has stayed consistent. The number of containers is lower than last year but, after bulk cargo, still represents the most significant category with our members providing services to vessels carrying 50,000 TEU amounting to some 747,270 tonnes of cargo. It compares with 141,000 tonnes of crude oil, confirming the shift over the past decades as oil trades have become safer. Boxes stuffed with harmful and dangerous goods including plastic pellets (nurdles) represent one of the biggest threats to the marine environment. They are potentially very damaging and, with the added issue of misdeclaration of contents, dangerous to deal with.”

Captain Sloane added: “The ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) agenda is so important for shipowners and insurers and we need to ensure that the capability, and willingness, of commercial salvors to provide vital services around the world is valued and not eroded.”

Cargoes of refined oil products in 2022’s numbers were similar to crude oil at 144,808 tonnes. Chemical cargoes rose to 79,319 tonnes in 2022. Bulk cargoes increased significantly to 1,235,741 tonnes in 2022 compared to 424,719 last time. This category includes products such as coal, scrap steel, grains, soya and cement. A number of bulk cargoes are not included as potential pollutants and ISU members also provided services to bulkers carrying 113,926 tonnes of non- hazardous dry bulk – mainly metal ores.

11 cases had more than 2000 tonnes of bunkers on board and the total of bunkers involved was 108,112 tonnes. A number of the services noted in the survey did not record the quantity of bunkers or the cargo-type meaning the reported totals likely represent a more modest total than the reality.

ISU is transparent about the fact that not all these potential pollutants were at immediate risk of going into the sea. Some cases will have had limited danger, but others will have carried a real risk of causing substantial environmental damage. In an era of “zero tolerance” of any pollution, even the smaller cases represent a significant concern.

2021 ISU Pollution Prevention Survey Results (tonnes)

  2022 2021
Number of services 186 226
Bunker fuel 108,112 89,456
Crude oil 140,900 103,408
Refined oil


144,858 182,232
Chemicals 79,319 24,126


1,235,741 424,719
TEU – tonnes equivalent 747,270 (49,818


15 tonnes/TEU

1,559,025 (103,935


15 tonnes/TEU)

Other pollutants 34,946 2,793
Totals 2,605,072 2,595,216
Bulk, non-polluting 113,926 209,457

The 186 services in 2022 included 12 wreck removal/marine services contracts; 16 Lloyd’s Open Forms. 38 towage contracts; 4 Japanese Forms; 4 Lump Sum, Day Rate 5 contracts; 84 other contracts (including commercial terms and common law salvage) and 23 Turkish Forms.

The survey was first conducted by ISU in 1994 and the methodology was updated in 2014 to include a wider range of potential pollutants including containers and hazardous and dirty bulk cargoes. In the period 1994 to end-2022, ISU members have provided services to casualty vessels carrying 41,478,058 tonnes of potential pollutants, an average of 1.4 million tonnes per year.