By Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images
Marine salvage law is complex, and perhaps a reader would like to comment. I decided, instead, to look at some previous salvage efforts. I found a great article in Wired Magazine in 2008 called "High tech cowboys of the deep seas: the race to save The Couger Ace."
|The Cougar Ace|
Photo by U.S. Coast Guard
Something went wrong during the procedure and the starboard ballast tanks failed to refill properly. The ship rolled, and just at the wrong time, a large swell hit and exaggerated the roll. The salvage operation was run by Titan Salvage, led by Rich Habib. The crew of such an operation has a wide range of skills--deep-sea diving, computer modeling, underwater welding, engine repair. A key person on this team is the naval architect capable of building digital 3-D ship models to plan and execute salvage procedures, an approach quite different from the Dutch pumping approaches.
Meanwhile, The Cougar Ace was drifting toward rocks on the shores of the Aleutian Islands and was taking on water. The danger was losing the ship, the cars, and 176,000 gallons of fuel in an area of rich wildlife and fishing grounds. The insurers felt that the ship was lost, but then executed a "Lloyd's Open Form agreement" with Titan: if they don't save the ship, they don't get paid. If they save the ship, the compensation is based on the value of the ship and cargo, and is a fortune.
The naval architect, Marty Johnson, took a fall and died during the salvage. The crew eventually built a digital model of the ship and developed a plan for shifting water between ballast tanks. You have to read the full (and long) report to get a feel for the difficulties of the operation. Bottom line is that although they righted the ship and saved all the cars, they had sat at a 60-degree angle for two weeks and Mazda couldn't be sure that there wouldn't be problems. Would the air bags function properly after such an event? Will the engines live out their warranty? After a year, 4,703 Mazdas were loaded one-by-one onto a converyor belt that removed them from the ship and dropped them into a "Texas Shredder," a 50' tall machine that smashed each car to small chunks.