Mike Lacey, Secretary General, the International Salvage Union

The International Salvage Union in 2009

The International Salvage Union is a trade association which represents the mutual interests of organisations which engage in marine salvage. Members are drawn from around the world and are a mix of large, international firms, regional operators and smaller nationally-based companies. Many members also undertake harbour towage, ocean towage, and offshore support work in addition to their salvage activities.

The ISU is believed to have been founded in 1934, however early records were lost in flooding in the Netherlands in the 1950s and therefore knowledge of the early activities of the ISU is incomplete. But details of Membership from a 1963 publication shows that there were 22 Members, of which all were European with the exception of Nippon Salvage in Tokyo and Eastern Canada Towing of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

In 2009 there are 57 Full Members of the ISU based in 30 countries. ISU also has reciprocal membership with 11 other organisations such as Intertanko and BIMCO as well as 43 Associate Members from 13 different countries. The Associate Members are typically companies, law firms, P&I Clubs, marine consultants, underwriters and so on with an interest in or involvement in marine salvage but which do not engage in salvage activity in their own name.

Objectives of the ISU

The principal objective as set out in the rules of the Union is:

To promote the saving of life and salvage of property in danger at sea and while doing so to prevent or minimise damage to the environment.

The ISU also seeks to create a good working relationship and spirit of mutual co-operation between all of its full and associated members; to unite marine salvors in order to consider and, when desirable, take joint action on matters affecting the marine salvage industry. The ISU also works to improve and, where applicable, standardise contracts and other documentation relevant to the marine salvage industry and cooperates with other Associations working in the interests of the marine salvage industry.

Governance and Administration

The ISU is governed by a President, Vice President and 10 other Executive Committee Members, all of who are drawn from the senior management of Full Member companies. Day to day affairs are dealt with by the ISU’s Secretary General, assisted by a Legal Adviser, Communications Adviser and Business Development Adviser. There is an Annual General Meeting of the Full Members and at which formal business that requires the agreement of Full Members is conducted.

The ISU also organises an Associate Members’ Day each year in London usually in March/April, which is an opportunity for Associates, Affiliates and Full Members to meet, hear updates on the work of the ISU, listen to guest speakers and exchange views on relevant issues.


Since 1978 ISU has collected data on the salvage operations carried out by its Members. During this period services have been rendered to nearly 5,500 shipping casualties, with a total value of nearly US$ 37 billion.

What might seem surprising is that during this period the gross revenue for this vast number of salvage operations has averaged only just over 6% of the values salved.

Pollution prevention

The ISU has conducted an annual survey of its Members in respect of pollution prevention, and the survey for 2008 showed a dramatic fall in the tonnages of pollutants salved in that year by ISU members compared with the previous year.

The total figure for 2008 reduced to just over 667,000 tonnes recovered during 256 salvage operations carried out worldwide to vessels with cargoes and bunkers where there was an actual or potential risk of pollution (a fall of 6% on the 283 casualties recorded in the 2007 survey when the figure was 1,101,440 tonnes). This amounts to a decrease of nearly 40%. However the amount of potentially polluting products which were salved still represents 18 times the 37,000 tonnes of crude spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.

Achievements of ISU

The ISU is recognised worldwide as the legitimate voice of the professional marine salvage industry. Governments, coastal states’ agencies, the EU, the marine insurance industry, shipowners and the UN’s International Maritime Organisation are amongst the organisations that recognise ISU as the body representing the marine salvage industry. The ISU has official observer status with IMO and the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund.

ISU participated in the drafting of the International Maritime Organisation’s 1989 Salvage Convention and has represented the salvage industry in the drafting of all recent editions of Lloyd’s Standard Form of Salvage Agreement (LOF) which is the single most commonly used salvage contract. ISU also worked with BIMCO in producing the International Towage Agreements, TOWCON and TOWHIRE, recently revised as TOWCON 2008 and TOWHIRE 2008. And its standard wreck removal/special services agreements, WRECKFIXED, WRECKSTAGE and WRECKHIRE ISU was also a major contributor to the discussions which led to the creation of the Special Compensation P&I Club (SCOPIC), Clause in 1999. This was introduced at that time as an alternative method of assessing any Special Compensation due to a salvor under the terms of the 1989 Salvage Convention.

ISU continues to work with the IMO, the EU, the CMI and other organisations in all matters relating to marine salvage and the protection of the marine environment – recently, for example, proposing changes to update the 1989 Salvage Convention.


The ISU is an active and, successful trade organisation effectively representing its members and respected in the international marine community. It supports a fair and competitive salvage market and its members stand ready to assist vessels in distress around the world to save life and property and to protect the marine environment.