Looking good for Salvage Association

Apr 15, 2003
Author: P&S

The Salvage Association (SA) recently published its 2002 Annual Report, in which it reveals how it has gone from strength to strength after undergoing a period of consolidation and transformation under new ownership, and has resumed its position as one of the leading firms of marine casualty surveyors.

Throughout this period of consolidation the Salvage Association maintained a core of staff surveyors and naval architects in the UK and throughout the world, including South Africa, who were on hand at a moment’s notice to offer technical advice to the marine insurance markets and back up to their worldwide network of surveyors.

The following report comes from Durban-based Ken Lowes, Salvage Association’s principal surveyor in South Africa, and is an excerpt taken from the numerous reports presented by surveyor offices throughout the world, each documented in the annual report.

The full report is available on the Salvage Association’s website at


The workload in Southern Africa, in common with marine surveying worldwide, has declined over recent years, but we remain competitive in our local market and we are broadening the range of the services we offer.

One highlight was when we were asked to attend a rig discharge in Argentina. Despite making strenuous efforts to ensure our surveyor arrived in Bahia Blanca in plenty of time for the discharge, the shipowner did not update the ETA until the vessel requested the pilot for docking. Needless to say, our surveyor was a bit like the sweeper-up after the Lord Mayor’s Show in London, but at least he was able to attend another survey while in Buenos Aires.

Load-outs and towage approval can be difficult and the surveyor has to exercise great care and investigate numerous aspects of the particular requirements before be can issue a survey certificate.

We had a case on a floating crane loaded onto a barge for towage from Montevideo to Jakarta. Unfortunately, SA had no connection with the original approval survey or we might have been able to prevent what happened. During the passage the crane jib, which was some 60 metres above deck, together with the support tower, total weight about 440 tonnes, parted company with the rest of the crane. The bulk of the jib structure disappeared over the starboard side, causing damage to the barge and the crane pontoon. It is easy to point fingers after the event; however, it would be safe to say that a considerable number of requirements for the preparation of the tow had been overlooked. The voyage ended in Cape Town.

Whilst in Cape Town, with all deliberations by the various parties in progress, the worst storm in 50 years struck the Cape, causing further damage to the carrying barge.

The local salvors in Cape Town, Smit Marine, were kept busy as one loaded cargo vessel was driven ashore on the Cape Peninsular and another vessel southwest of Cape Town had developed a severe list. Both operations were on LOF terms. The ship with the list was taken in tow and salvors requested permission to bring the vessel into more sheltered waters.

Permission was denied and after towing the vessel up and down the South African coast for a week it was scuttled.

After refloating, permission to bring the other vessel into sheltered waters or port was denied by the authorities. This casualty also had to be scuttled.

It seems to be a worldwide pattern that government and other authorities are reluctant to give refuge to damaged vessels for fear of pollution. They do not seem able to understand that in sheltered waters the damage to the vessel can be controlled and dealt with. Pollution can be minimised and confined to a small area, instead of being spread over hundreds of miles.

During the remainder of the year, surveyors attended casualties in Tema, Mombassa and Reunion. The Reunion case was fire damage to a cable-laying vessel. Originally the vessel was built as a mobile drydock for Russian submarines like something from a James Bond movie. The cause of the fire was a simple case of crew negligence. A fuel leak had developed on one main engine and the leaking pipe was changed, but unfortunately it wasn’t tightened properly.
When the engine was started again fuel sprayed over the exhaust trunking and ignited.

A number of our surveys were in West Africa and it very difficult to obtain a visa to travel to the casualty. In Africa this difficulty seems to be inversely proportional to the country’s importance as a world power.

On the warranty/project cargo front, we were instructed for a load-out of a heat exchanger manufactured in South Africa, for a power station in the USA. Four load-outs were supervised successfully.

During March the most interesting survey was a supply boat, which drydocked in Lobito, Angola. To say that the floating drydock was not the best is an understatement. Bottom damage was caused to the vessel as the block heights were all different, and the capping was missing.

The repair yard generally was a bit daunting as the dock next to this one had sunk and a larger dock had sunk in the middle of the bay. There were major floods during the docking which did not assist progress with repairs. The only road bridge between the airport and city was washed away, and it was necessary to walk carefully across the adjacent railway bridge with the other hundreds of people, crossing the swollen river. The bridge consisted of open sleepers and no sides, but the attending surveyor was able to hold the middle ground between the lines.

During the same month a container vessel lost half of the semi-balanced rudder. The vessel had only completed an in-water survey some weeks before, to postpone the dry-docking for another two years. So much for in-water surveys. If the vessel had drydocked, as it would have done before commercial pressure caused the rules to be amended, the rudder would not have been lost.

We seemed to have had more than our usual quota of towage approvals during 2002, the most difficult being two catamaran ferries from the service between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar and were being relocated to the Arabian Gulf. These vessels were not intended for towing and great care had to be taken. Needless to say, there were frayed tempers before they finally departed. The tows arrived safely in the Gulf.

We had two major casualties in July. A loaded tanker operating on the South African coast grounded on the “Wild Coast” – really, that is the name of the area. The tanker grounded at 14 knots but was successfully refloated by Smit Marine. The subsequent repair in Durban at 950 tonnes was the largest steel repair carried out in South Africa. There are limitations on steel repairs in South Africa as the size of the drydocks and cranage available prohibit major prefabrication of units. The repairs were carried out on a piecemeal basis in the Eldock floating drydock, a joint venture with the two major repairers in the port.

At the same time as the tanker was going aground, another drama was playing itself out further south. A cargo ship was being driven ashore in very rough seas at East London.
The port was closed due to the weather and tug assistance was not available. The vessel became a total loss but fortunately the crew were rescued by helicopter. The vessel had newly-issued ISM certificates, dated a few days before the vessel sailed from Durban. The fact that there were no cleats on the hatch covers or that the cross-joints were sealed with tarpaulins wedged between the pontoons was obviously not relevant – the ISM certificates were correct and valid.

A surveyor has now been appointed in Cape Town and present indications are that work which was lost when the office closed is returning.

I am optimistic that the overall workload in South Africa will gradually increase during 2003. There are major improvements being carried out in the ports of Durban, East London and Cape Town, where a floating dock is to be located at the expense of one of the ship repairing companies. A new port is to be constructed at Coega, which is just north of Port Elizabeth, and as the war is now over in Angola I anticipate more work in that area.

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