Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Underwater Opportunities: Busy Times in Diving and Salvage


Photo courtesy of Global Diving.

Global Diving uses almost exclusively surface-supplied diving equipment, and has developed procedures that cover nearly every type of work they do.

With aging infrastructure to repair, stricter environmental regulations to observe and bigger ships finding themselves in precarious positions, divers and salvors are finding themselves busier than ever.

AUS Diving services based in Seattle and Spokane Washington is primarily focused on underwater construction, maintenance and repair services for the inland and coastal markets. The company also performs pipeline inspections, dam and bridge services. Clients include large marine contractors, public utility districts and hydro-electric operators, and equipment runs the gamut from a variety of sophisticated sonars and ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to the most advanced commercial dive equipment.

"If a company doesn't have their own divers, they'll subcontract to us to do the underwater portion of their project," says Dave Cleary, Diving Superintendent for the company's Seattle branch. "Diving is usually a small portion of a larger project."

AUS Diving is the primary diving contractor on the new State Route 520 floating bridge being built across Lake Washington. The modernized bridge has been under construction since 2012 and most likely will continue for at least the next year and a half. AUS dive teams have been involved in connecting a series of pontoons together as part of their diving tasks. Each pontoon is 360 feet long and 75 feet wide. Additional supplemental pontoons are bolted onto those longitudinal pontoons to make the floating bridge wider to accommodate six lanes. AUS is assisting in the anchoring system as well.

"They say it's the longest floating bridge in the world," says Cleary. "We're out there almost every week on this project."

In the markets served by AUS Diving, Cleary says there is a core need for diving services for hydroelectric and utilities companies who need maintenance, debris removal and inspection. In the past, the company was heavily involved in the Columbia and Snake River dam modifications in order to assist with fish bypass compliance initiatives, jobs that kept the company busy for about a decade, with some smaller projects still continuing.

Wharves and piers are another area AUS Diving provides services for a variety of clients, including State ferry terminals. Common tasks include installing sacrificial anodes on steel piers to act as a salt-water erosion barrier. Old timber piers are vulnerable to marine borers that eat the wood, so periodically the wood has to be replaced by pile stubbing or posting, e.g. cutting out the bad section and restoring it.

Cleary says one of the biggest technical advances in commercial diving has been the advent of cameras attached to the helmet (or hat). This makes operations safer as the dive supervisor can see what the diver is doing in real-time, plus they can also communicate live by voice, especially since most jobs involve working with surface-supplied air. The dive cameras also have recording functions so dives can be recorded for the logs and also for a client.

AUS Diving has about 20 divers who are on call 24-7. All have to possess a series of certifications from a commercial diving or military program. Safety is always the major focus on every dive job. "It's like any other field. For it to pay off, you have to stick with it," says Cleary. "You have to pay your dues, and you have to have a good work ethic."

Global Diving & Salvage, Inc., with offices in the Pacific Northwest, Gulf Coast, California and Alaska, provides traditional salvage, wreck removal, marine construction, oil field support, and environmental services – both response and preventative, to a variety of clients.

Recently, Global Diving crews recovered a 550-ton anchor structure that was in 215 fsw (feet of seawater) off the coast of Oregon. "We were able to raise it from the seafloor, refloat the vessel and deliver it to the owners at a dock," says David DeVilbiss, Vice President, Marine Casualty and Emergency Response. "It was not a traditional vessel but required all the components of a project that would apply to raising a vessel. We often salvage objects of value that are not vessels such as a hydrogen cracking tower or a ferry dock."

When diving is called for on a project, Global uses almost exclusively surface-supplied diving equipment as opposed to SCUBA since the added benefits of increased safety, unlimited air supply, communications, and cc video usually outweigh the advantages of using SCUBA.

"Global has diving systems for shallow air diving, deep gas diving, and saturation systems that allow us to dive up to 1,000 fsw," adds DeVilbiss. "We also own and operate a fleet of ROVs ranging from small inspection vehicles to light work class vehicles equipped with hydraulic tooling and manipulators."

The company has a fleet of smaller-sized salvage support vessels to support inland salvage work in the regions where their offices are located, plus a larger vessel in Alaska for work offshore. Specialized salvage and diving gear is designed to be portable and can be moved easily. "Our model relies strongly on Vessels of Opportunity," DeVilbiss explains. "For emergency response it is usually quicker to find a vessel close to where the project is and take it on a time charter. Through this model, we use vessels from 21 feet long to 400 feet long, depending on the needs of the project."

The company's robust and interactive safety program is managed by a team whose jobs are solely to develop and implement the safety program. Over the years, Global has developed procedures that cover nearly every type of work they do. If the team is faced with a scenario that they are not familiar with, they have a system to evaluate the risks associated with the work and ways to mitigate those risks.

Safety initiatives, programs and procedures have come to the forefront, in recent years, both at the industry and company levels. "Traditionally, salvage was considered to be potentially high risk to personal safety and part of a salvage award would be based on the level of danger," says DeVilbiss. "Now the industry assesses risk to personnel as something to be avoided if at all possible."

Equipment is now designed and built to be safer, not just more useful. More and more remote controls on deck equipment and pulling devices are being used to keep people away from potentially dangerous areas and much of the equipment and rigging carry certifications that are maintained within a specific program. "This is all designed to add safety to the work," adds DeVilbiss.

You can't mention Houston, Texas' TITAN Salvage without mentioning the Costa Concordia mammoth salvage project the company headed up earlier this year, working alongside a consortium of other marine and engineering-related companies. The parbuckling project was the first of its kind ever attempted – the refloating of the stricken cruise ship, which grounded and partially sank in January 2012, from its rocky bed along the shores of Giglio, Italy and moving it to Genoa to be scrapped.

Months of intense planning and practical work paid off in a successful outcome thanks to what Patrick Keenan, Director of Operations, calls high-tech salvage. Highlights include the use of a complicated ballast control system, including interfaces to strand jacks (linear pullers), pneumatic and electric controls and sensors, all requiring a significant amount of computer coding to work.

Naturally the human element in any salvage job is critical. The ability to organize people and every single detail of a project is paramount. The Costa Concordia salvage job raised the bar very high. "The complexity when it comes to managing people was significant," explains Keenan. "Some 100-plus offshore personnel were involved as well as many more ashore, so managing communications and information flow was quite a challenge but was handled quite well."

Despite the worldwide attention this project and others like the M/V Smart, (a coal bulker that broke up in Richard's Bay, South Africa) and the M/V Rena (a containership that wrecked along New Zealand's Astrolabe Reef in 2011, spilling fuel and containers) has given the industry, Keenan is quick to point out that all salvage jobs have to be approached in the same methodical manner.

The first priority beyond ensuring salvage crews are safe is pollution control and stabilizing a wreck. "The regime that we operate under in many locations is very strict and in complying with environmental regulations, it's not just those regulations but also managing public perception that becomes a large part of our job," says Keenan. "You need to be very cognizant of environmental compliance and stay proactive."

When it comes to salvage equipment, advances in underwater technologies are helping salvors better prepare. The advent of high-frequency scanning sonar that produces a picture that actually looks like a picture and not a sonar scan, can be used to deploy and target equipment onto a location on a wreck. The technology also works to produce visualization of the entire wreck site.

"When a wreck is completely sunk and you have to come up with a plan for removing it but there are storms passing every so often, you may want to perform an initial survey," explains Keenan. "Surveys using some of this new sonar technology at intervals during a long wreck removal process, can reveal what is impacting that wreck and then you can change your plan accordingly. The ability to see that change in relatively real-time has improved."

Real-time safety ensures salvors are up to the task. TITAN's salvage masters conduct daily toolbox meetings to discuss the overall salvage plan so individuals know exactly what their part is and where their safety barriers are. Before each dive, a safety meeting is also held. Salvors work on a 12-hour shift basis – two 12-hour shifts per day, 24/7 – and personnel are rotated depending on daylight or darkness factors or appropriate tide windows.

Workers are given the opportunity to learn on the job. While the organization is made up of salvors, each has their own specialty, such as diving, engineering or acting as salvage masters. There are many job-specific tasks that are performed on a particular job says Keenan. So in addition to a worker's formal commercial dive, firefighting and specific original equipment manufacturer training, a lot of tasks are learned on shift.

In responding to vessel or rig disasters, Keenan says managing the flow of information is critical. "Everything moves fast, so getting information quickly, developing a plan and then relaying that plan rapidly to your team and the client shows that you have the capability to solve the problem."

Photo courtesy of Titan Salvage.

TITAN Salvage raised the M/V Smart, a coal bulker that broke up in Richard's Bay, South Africa.

"One of the biggest challenges for salvors sent out to evaluate a casualty is that conditions are deteriorating and often hazardous. As they're working, they're getting flooded with information and requests for information," adds Keenan. "You have to be able to focus on what's important and prioritize accordingly. The only way to get better at this is to do it over and over again."

With the advent of larger ships, Keenan echoes the salvage industry when he suggests disasters on the scale of Costa Concordia could happen again – there are even larger ships now afloat that could be at risk.

"The salvage industry will be challenged in the future to respond to very large vessels in precarious situations in remote areas," says Keenan. "We'll handle it. The salvage industry is based on innovation because we don't ever see the same exact problem twice. When something occurs that is a significant problem, it's also an opportunity."


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