Costa Concordia: speeding up the salvage and protecting salvors

Work on pumping the remaining fuel out of the Costa Concordia’s tanks began on 2 February. SMIT Salvage, one of the leading salvage et oil recovery companies responsible for the Costa Concordia, is facing a major problem: the weather. The pumping phase should normally last about one month, but sea conditions are preventing progress. Removing the pollutants from the Costa Concordia also represents a risk for the SMIT Salvage teams. Maritime passive safety features offer a solution to the double challenge of speeding up pollutant recovery in order to protect the environment while ensuring that operations remain safe.

Before they can extract the fuel from Costa Concordia’s tanks, the SMIT Salvage divers have to install valves on the outside of the hull, then drill holes through the hull to reach the fuel tanks  and, finally start pumping.

These operations are particularly delicate in terms of the divers’ safety, because they rely to a great extent on good luck. Accurate plans of ships’ fuel tanks are, unfortunately, only rarely available and very often the divers themselves do not know the precise location of the tanks and pipes that they have to drill through. Even more seriously they are not aware of the contents of the tanks and pipes. Petrol? Gas? Other dangerous substances? When working with this degree of uncertainty, drilling through the hull becomes a very sensitive operation and an accident can occur at any time.

The IMO is deeply concerned about the dangerous nature of these operations, and aims to guarantee the safety of salvage teams working at sea, especially during operations to re-establish control over sources of pollution carried by damaged vessels.

Passive maritime safety features, and particularly the Fast Oil Recovery (FOR) System, put an end to the danger of salvage operations by speeding them up thanks to standardization of the process and making it safe for salvage workers and the marine environment. The presence of emergency FOR connecters on the decks of vessels offers salvage workers a direct and immediately identifiable point of entry to recover the pollutants without having to drill through the hull. The pre-installation of FOR Systems on ships also goes systematically hand in hand with the drawing up of an accurate plan of the tanks and piping systems on board the vessel, which can be viewed online 24/24 and 7/7.

If FOR Systems are able to offer such major advantages for speeding up operations to recover pollutants while also making them safer, it is partly because leading salvage experts were involved in their development. These technologies exist, they are inexpensive and they are certified by Bureau Veritas. So the double risk – to human life and to the environment – that the recovery of Costa Concordia’s fuel poses today could have been avoided. This is what the awareness raising actions currently being conducted by the Passive Maritime Safety Association for the seagoing community and the IMO are all about.