The maritime industry is full of professionals who are experts in their own fields. However, upon encountering another aspect of the industry when attending to some operations it is important to note that experts know more about their own profession therefore less about aspects not in relation to them. Therefore, leaving a conclusion that working in the maritime sphere does not necessarily guarantee full knowledge about all relevant aspects; a business consultant working in this sphere will be an expert on legal, business matters but lack knowledge of technical aspects of shipping. Finally, it is also wrong to follow assumptions and misconceptions therefore the main idea to come will be to establish clear explanations for professionals of all spheres in maritime.

Firstly, the main idea behind salvage is fortunately known by many working in maritime; process of search and recovery of disabled or shipwrecked vessels, their cargo and other properties. Logistics are also well-known across the industry with towing, refloating, patching holes in the hull; with special priorities given to environmental conservation and protection from possible contaminants in modern times. However, the reason to conduct salvage operations varies and thus not known on a wider scale of the industry professionals.

An average employee of any industry, unfortunately goes on stereotypes accumulated for a variety of reasons ranging from common incidents to word-of-mouth interactions; missing important points about the process altogether. For instance, salvage process involves an array of equipment from cranes to barges therefore warranting different expertise and certain adjustments to plan of operations and demand of an assortment of specialists to do the relevant jobs. Along with that, the purpose of conducting said operation altogether also differs depending on the vessel to be salvaged.

Right off the bat, a vessel requiring salvage is automatically assumed to be shipwrecked; disregarding purpose of the operation and what should be done to maximise efficiency and avoid negative aftermath. Examples of salvage operations range from recovery of cargo, certain ship parts for re-sale/re-use to environment conservation. Alongside the categories of salvage operations which range from offshore, harbour and cargo, equipment to simple wreck removal.

Offshore salvage involves refloating of stranded, sunken ships in exposed waters; vessels stranded in waters exposed to currents and weather thus harder to carry out as salvors have to work quickly due to the rapid deterioration of the wrecks which itself gives less opportunity to begin the operation altogether. Such operations are conducted from salvage tugs and portable diving facilities.

Harbour salvage is radically different as vessels to be salvaged from protected water, not subject to deterioration as vessels stranded in exposed waters. Along with that, provided the wreckage is not interfering with navigation work does not have to be fast.

Cargo salvage, another category is mostly of top priority compared against the vessel itself as the cargo maybe hazardous to the environment or valuable. Considering environmental damage, wreck removal is another type of salvage operation conducted in the modern maritime sphere.

Salvage is done for a variety of reason across the globe and thus has significant influence and impact; warranting legal attention. Laws are passed to control activity in order to avoid damage to surrounding environment and personnel working and inhabiting within said environment alongside ensuring adequate payment for partaking within said operation.

Salvage law also breaks down into several dimensions relating to the type of salvage operation conducted; whether contract salvage or pure salvage. Contract salvage is when salvors and property owners enter an agreement prior to the operation itself, presenting conditions to be met alongside material compensation/wages which itself is awarded either only if the operation is successful or awarded regardless; depending on the contract.

Pure/merit salvage however does not involve any contracts/agreements but a relationship that is implied by law; salvors should present their salvage claims to court which has jurisdiction within said working area. Pure salvage claims are divided into high and low order where the salvor exposes himself and his crew to the risk of injury and loss or damage to the equipment in order to salvage is the high order; whereas salvors exposing themselves to little-to-no personal risk to the above factors partake in low order salvage.

Boarding a sinking vessel in heavy weather therefore exposing crew into danger and possible fatal outcomes is classified as high-order salvage. Low-order salvage is simple towage of a stranded vessel through calm seas or any similar operations. However, this is not the only danger involving salvage operations as there also exists danger which is not immediate or absolute. Enter burden of proof where a salvor is obliged to prove the presence of real danger to the salvage to be determined by the court of arbitrators.

Considering the legal scope of salvage operation rewards/compensations; the right to be paid/rewarded is under common law based on equitable principle and public policy. Historically, salvage is a legal right when a person volunteers, (without contractual obligations) and thus preserves or contributes to preserving cargo, vessels and freight at sea; reward is issued by Court of Admiralty sitting at Prize Court.

Laws, in theory should provide solutions that benefits both salvors and property owners where the right to salvage may not arise from contract work but instead can be a legal liability that arises from the fact that lost property at sea has to be recovered.


However, another aspect to consider regarding salvage is how it is perceived and what is regarded as “salvage” in mainstream opinion; usually considering cargo, freight payable and bunkers carried onboard where all are seen as property in danger. Another, relatively controversial update to the legislation of salvage operations is not considering saving lives as salvage, but protection of the environment.

Salvage also is a commodity where it is re-sold upon completion of the required operations at sea; pointing to another reason for conducting such operations. This presents a theoretical alternative to the mainstream perception of salvage which makes rescued property a commodity/source of revenue which itself creates a possibility of capitalising on maritime disasters; blurring the line between salvors and marauders.

Marauders profit and capitalise on disasters by picking up what is left from said disasters; ranging from valuables from a burnt-down house to equally valuable cargo from a sinking ship. Along with that, marauders can also be contractually obliged to do this since criminal syndicates may also take advantage of the disasters. Finally, the introduction of marauders to the maritime sphere makes significant impact on salvage operations as it also creates competition for legitimate salvors who are now under a potential threat as marauders can be armed and therefore use their arsenal to open fire in order to eliminate competition.