Issued 25 October 2010

The International Salvage Union (ISU) today renewed its call for changes to the regime governing marine salvage to enable payment of environmental awards which recognize the environmental benefit conferred by salvors.

President of the ISU, Todd Busch, set out the salvors’ case at the global marine lawyers’ Comité Maritime International’s Colloquium at Buenos Aires today.

Mr Busch noted that society is much more concerned today with protecting the environment and that the ISU supports initiatives which help to safeguard the environment. But the current system does not provide proper encouragement to salvors to assist vessels that threaten the environment but which do not represent a potentially valuable salvage service.

The ISU believes that its members should be properly rewarded for work that they do in salvage operations which help to protect the marine environment. In many marine casualty situations it is only the professional salvors that have the expertise and equipment on hand to prevent serious environmental consequences from the casualty vessel and its cargo.

ISU believes that the present regime, including the Scopic clause, does not adequately reward salvors for the environmental protection they provide and does not encourage long term investment in personnel and equipment which helps to protect the environment.

Mr Busch said the case for change is threefold:

Firstly, much has changed since the Salvage Convention was published in 1989. Environmental issues now dominate every salvage case and what may have been a satisfactory “encouragement” then is no longer so today. Further, there is more risk to the salvor from tougher regimes which can criminalize the actions of well-meaning salvors.

Secondly, while salvors have an obligation to prevent or minimise environmental damage whilst carrying out salvage operations, they are not fully rewarded for the benefit they confer.

Thirdly, salvors and marine property insurers believe it is not fair that the traditional salvage reward that currently takes into consideration the salvors’ efforts in protecting the environment is wholly paid by the ship and cargo owners and their insurers without any contribution from the liability insurers, who cover the shipowners’ exposure to claims for pollution and environmental damage.

At the same meeting, ISU’s former Legal Adviser, Archie Bishop, explained how the necessary change could be brought about by amending Articles 1, 13 and 14 of the 1989 Salvage Convention. ISU has worked with others to produce drafts of the amendments.

ISU recognises that there are many different interests associated with this issue, including property insurers, P&I Clubs, national governments and international marine law bodies. ISU believes that rewarding salvors for protecting the environment during salvage operations will be, overall, less costly to insurers than the huge cost of an environmental catastrophe.

Concluding his speech Mr Busch said: “We believe the “case for change” has the merit of being both persuasive and fair given the way concern about the environment has properly increased since the original work on the Salvage Convention began some thirty years ago. We also believe there is a sensible way to amend the existing framework to enable the change. We know that not all parties agree with our position and we stand ready to work cooperatively with the Comité and other stakeholders to continue to discuss and to work on this important matter. Being proactive on further protection of the environment will benefit everyone.”

Notes to editors

The International Salvage Union conducts an annual survey of its members’ efforts to prevent pollutants from casualty vessels going into the sea.

In 2009 (latest figures) the total of all pollutants salved was 1,022,730 tonnes from 244 services performed.

The average annual figure over the past 15 years is over a million tonnes per year.

By comparison the US Administration estimates that some 700,000 tonnes of oil entered the Gulf of Mexico following the loss of the Deepwater Horizon.

For more information contact:

James Herbert, Communications Adviser, ISU: +44 (0) 1423 331096 / +44 (0) 7979 855126