Apportionment of a salvage award to tug crew

The crew had abandoned ship and the stricken vessel drifted at the mercy of the Arabian Sea’s monsoon weather. The main engine had failed. The ship’s condition, and the risk of her foundering were unknown. The 10,500 tonnes of the vessel’s bulk cargo in four holds was not likely to move, unless flooding occurred. Her not-under-command lights and shapes were displaying.

The AHTS had deviated and a day later now approached cautiously, but it was also approaching nightfall and with the wind around Force 8 with 5-6m of sea running, its master decided to wait until dawn, and to monitor. When it came, the captain asked for volunteers from his 10-man crew.

The chief engineer, second officer, bosun and an AB stepped forward. Their fast rescue craft (FRC) was loaded with heavy shackles and connecting equipment, they took walkie-talkies and torches, donned lifejackets and launched.

The AB had small boat handling experience from the North Sea and served as coxswain on the 8metre, 75hp powered RIB. So far, so good.

The casualty’s main deck was occasionally dipping below water as the bosun boarded first, and he helped the chief engineer who followed, and together they managed to haul the equipment on deck.

The chief engineer went down to the engine room where he found the lights on and a generator running, though he was unable to transfer more fuel to the service tank.

The floorplates were awash with oily water and loose equipment was sliding around. He slipped but was unhurt. He closed a cover to the shaft tunnel as there was water present and he feared ingress. Up on the bridge he started the steering gear and centred the rudder.

Meanwhile, his colleagues began to make up the towing connections on the rolling foredeck. The accommodation was checked but no crew remained on board. Watertight doors to the main deck were closed.

On the tug, conditions on deck were not easy. A messenger and heaving line were taken up and eventually the connection secured – but not before one leg of the towing bridle had slipped overboard the tug’s stern. A later attempt from the FRC to help recover that failed. The five crewmen disembarked and made their way back to the tug. The operation had taken five hours. No-one was hurt, but it had been difficult and risky.

They towed north. Three days later, in more sheltered waters, the crew reboarded the casualty for inspection, closed off sea suction and overboard valves. They also managed to recover the bridle leg and heaved it on board the vessel, finally completing the full connection. The vessel still did not follow well and the next day the crew boarded once again to set the rudder 10 degrees to port.

The flotilla arrived off Fujairah, in the UAE, two weeks later, without incident, and the tug crew boarded again to anchor the vessel. The next day the casualty was redelivered to its owners. It had little value but not so the cargo.

After the negotiation of a salvage award it remained to reward the crew for their efforts. They were not employed on salvage articles (which would mean that their compensation would be an employment contract formula). There was, after the tug owners’ costs and expenses and their main share of the award, some US$200,000 to divvy up between the crew.

One quarter went to the tug master, reflecting his co-ordination of a successful and stressful operation; the remaining sum was divided into two – one half divided up between the crew pro-rata to their salaries and the other awarded on an ad hoc basis to six individuals of the tug’s crew according to their personal contribution and bravery.

Rest assured that the bosun and AB were able to present their families with new kitchens and the chief engineer the same – together with, one hopes, a new car as well.

Rest assured also that underpinning this was good evidence and good legal principles, well applied.

Simon Tatham is a partner at Tatham Law and founder member of the service. He has more than 30 years’ experience of shipping law.

Reproduced with kind permission of International Tug & OSV magazine.