ISU members provide a unique emergency service for shipowners and insurers. Casualty response, the industry’s “dry salvage” activity, is founded on rapid intervention by highly skilled salvage teams. Salvage Masters, salvage engineers, salvage crews and divers, and technical specialists are ready to mobilise around-the-clock, every day of the year. They confront situations such as:


A shipboard fire is a terrifying situation. The fire may be too serious to be dealt with using the vessel’s own firefighting resources and, therefore, salvage assistance will be required. Salvage tugs are equipped with powerful firefighting systems. In recent years, ISU salvors have dealt with a number of very serious fires involving laden oil and chemical tankers, container ships and passenger vessels.


Despite the many advances made in the area of radar and other electronic navigational aids, collisions continue to occur every year, even in clear weather conditions. In some cases, the force of the collision leaves the vessels firmly locked together and they cannot be separated until salvage experts decide it is safe to do so. The immediate concerns include the potential for structural failure and serious pollution. The salvage priorities include damage assessment and the speedy completion of temporary patching and other emergency repairs, in readiness for a tow to a safe haven.


Groundings are the second largest cause of marine casualties after machinery breakdowns. Some groundings occur in areas of great environmental sensitivity. The salvage team arriving at the scene must make a rapid assessment of the casualty’s condition and the potential for refloating without further hull damage and loss of cargo. In some instances, it is necessary to discharge all, or part, of the cargo, in order to free the ship. Much depends on the nature of the grounding site (sand, mud, rock, coral, etc), the extent to which the hull is aground, the degree of damage and a wide range of other operational factors, especially the weather. A forecast deterioration in the weather can have a major influence on the salvage strategy adopted.


Machinery breakdowns are the most common cause of a marine casualty but most occurrences are not serious enough to disable a vessel for any length of time and are less frequent than 10-15 years’ ago. However, every year salvage tugs go to the assistance of vessels left helpless after a major failure of propulsion or steering systems.