Marine salvage is essentially the procedure of retrieving a damaged boat and its cargo following a maritime accident or other catastrophe. Salvage can encompass re-floating an empty boat, towing a boat to shore, or making repairs on a boat that has capsized. Nowadays, protecting the coast from further spillage of offshore oil or other toxins is a top priority. A lot of the oil and other hazardous materials that have made their way into our coastal waters are a result of oil trawling, and other types of commercial and industrial activities. There are many instances where a badly damaged boat has floated harmlessly for days, weeks, months or even years at a time, only to be rescued and brought back up to running condition by the very people who caused the problem in the first place.
While there have been several well documented cases over the years of boats being deliberately sunk for their valuable cargo, more often than not, accidents occur when barges or large ships are being rented or operated by inexperienced or unprofessional crew members. In these situations, it is easy to see how cargo and passengers could easily become casualties. It is also true that most ocean freight operations are primarily government-sponsored so accidents of this kind are not all too common. Regardless, a damaged or sinking vessel can represent a real and present danger to anyone who is sailing, docking, or operating any type of watercraft in a waterway. As a result, the International Maritime Organization and its member nations have been working hard for several years to develop international marine salvage law so that such hazards can be prevented and fully utilized.
The lack of knowledge about maritime disasters and the legal responsibilities of owners and operators of watercraft represents a major cause for the accident and resulting fatalities. Many maritime accident investigations and judicial proceedings have proven fatal, because they relied on too small of a case load to prove negligence or incompetence on behalf of the operator of a specific vessel. As a result, countless lives could have been saved had the investigating agencies involved been more thorough in their investigation techniques. Furthermore, the oil tanker Deepwater Horizon explosion in April 2021 served as a stark reminder of the risks associated with operating tall ships in high water. When properly maintained, most modern vessels are designed to be much more resistant to weathering and to accident damage than vessels of the past. The lessons learned from this accident should serve as a lesson to all vessel operators, but especially to those in the oil tanker industry.