Volume 15 | Issue 1 | Year 2012

Based in Louisiana, this maritime industry server boasts its own equipment as well as the most experienced personnel, elements that enable it to rapidly respond to emergencies on its region’s waterways. Dan Harvey describes how this enterprise stays afloat in a competitive business.

Inland Salvage Inc. (ISI) is one of the most reliable salvage companies in its region.

Headquartered in Harvey, La., the company was established in 2009 to meet the demand for highly qualified salvage providers on inland waterways and near-coastal waters around the Gulf of Mexico. “Specifically, our coverage area includes the lower Mississippi inland waterways and the near Gulf coast and intercoastal waterways,” says David Grecho, ISI’s chief operating officer and director of operations.

For maritime industry customers, ISI offers complete salvage, demolition and wreck removal services. “We mainly focus on salvage and heavy lift for barge lines and fishing fleets,” says Grecho.

The kind of work the company does – the re-floating and wreck removal of marine casualties – requires extremely specialized equipment and experienced personnel. ISI boasts both. “We own our own equipment – including cranes, support barges, A frames – and that means reduced cost for customers,” informs Grecho. “We also have experienced salvage teams with highly skilled divers and salvage masters. Plus, our people are multi-skilled. For instance, a crane operator can also be a boat captain, and a diver can also be a welder.”

Salvage Masters are disciplined in all aspects of salvage – including survey, naval architecture, diving, heavy-lift operations, patching, pumping and towing.

“Because our people are multi-skilled, we keep our overhead down,” Grecho points out.

In its relatively brief existence, ISI has gained significant knowledge and experience in conducting the most complex operations. Consider one situation: In October, ISI successfully completed the salvage of a hopper barge loaded with iron ore which was damaged and sunk during a collision on the Mississippi River near Waggaman, La. The 195-foot hopper barge was struck by a northbound bulker while tied up in the fleet. The resulting damage caused the barge to sink fully loaded in 65 feet of water.

Once notified, ISI was on site within 24 hours. Its salvage crew removed hatch covers and unloaded the cargo of iron ore. A complex operation became even more difficult when the barge became buoyant on its stern end, which faced up river. River currents made the casualty shift with its bow still on the river bottom. Salvage teams allowed the now floating stern to rotate facing downriver and secured the floating end to a support spud barge. Cargo removal continued until dive inspections revealed that most of the cargo had been removed. ISI moved its A-frame barges into position for lifting the sunken vessel. Once rigged, the barge was lifted completely from the water.

Hull surveys revealed severe damage to the port side tanks, causing flooding of the hopper hold. Salvage teams fabricated a patch and sealed off the hold. The barge was then released from the A-frames and, floating on its own, it was then secured to the salvage spread and pushed up river to dry dock for survey. During the tow, the barge remained watertight. No pumping was required.

It proved to be a well-planned and safely executed operation.

ISI boasts the ability to rapidly deploy salvage equipment and personnel toward emergency salvage situations, as it has positioned these resources throughout the region. Consider another recent operation: In October, ISI completed the removal of approximately 1000 tons of structural scrap steel from a sunken hopper barge and subsequent salvage of the barge, which had been obstructing a loading dock on the Mississippi River.

Once appointed as the salvor, ISI quickly mobilized equipment and personnel and was at the scene in three hours. A dive survey revealed that the casualty had buckled, sitting on the river bottom, and listing to port six feet. There was approximately 35 feet of water over the top of the cargo bin wall. Time was critical, because of previously scheduled incoming vessels. ISI crews conducted 24-hour operations, lightering scrap metal from the sunken barge and performing dive surveys over nine days. Once ISI dive teams and the salvage master determined the majority of scrap had been recovered, rigging was installed and ISI’s heavy lift A frame barges were moved into position. Upon lift and dewatering, the casualty was found compromised and unseaworthy. To clear the dock for incoming traffic, the casualty was moved under hook a quarter-mile downriver. The barge was then lifted and placed on a receiver barge for future investigation. Again, ISI accomplished a well-planned and safely executed operation.

As these operations indicate, ISI’s main services include wreck removal and heavy lift, lightering and cargo removal, pumping and refloat operations, fuel spill response, search and recovery, scrapping and demolition, commercial salvage diving, and marine launching and transport.

ISI also partners with similar companies when necessary, to ensure that projects are accomplished as quickly, safely and effectively as possible. “We work with affiliate companies through service agreements,” relates Grecho. “So, if we need equipment for different areas, we can get that equipment, which helps us mobilize quickly and efficiently. Again, that means lower costs.”

Likewise, ISI will lend or rent its equipment for companies in need. Such cooperative arrangements helped ISI become voted into the American Salvage Association (ASA) as a general member. “We became a general member in October,” reports Grecho. “We went through the application process, which involved submitting letters of reference from other members. We have all of the support equipment and personnel and emergency response capabilities. We have the ability to support salvage and emergency response operations, and we have the equipment available to support a salvage project.”

The ASA was established in 2000 by nine leading salvors, in response to the need for professionalizing the US marine salvage and firefighting response. The organization seeks to ensure open communication and cooperation with regulatory authorities, the environmental community, ship-owners and underwriters to assure effective operations.

Grecho describes an impact that membership will have on ISI. “For one thing, it means we can work together with other association members,” he says. “We’ll consult with them for help on a project, or they will consult with us for help. Salvage is a highly competitive business, but association members often put competition aside and work together, which is important to the sake of the American salvage industry. For us, as well as for other members, it means expanded resources. Equipment we don’t have, another association member might have. Membership represents a great networking opportunity, and it cuts through the kind of cutthroat bidding that often happens with salvage. It’s a handshake kind of thing. If you need a hand, give us a call.”

Since 2009, ISI has grown substantially, and it has expanded. But expansion and growth also translate into consolidation. “We bought a warehousing facility in Harvey,” says Grecho. “We had equipment stored all over the place, so we now have a one-base place, and the facility was a big expansion. We also recently purchased our two A frame barges, another support barge, a tugboat, and we picked up a lot of equipment along the way. So this year, we underwent our biggest expansion so far.”

And the company plans on continued expansion. “We’re working to move into the shallow water, oilfield market,” reports Grecho. “We also want to expand into deeper river water, and deal with the salvage issues that arise there. Barge capabilities were once 55 or 60 feet, and we’d like to have an almost unlimited water-depth range, around 120 feet. The only limitation would be the divers working at that kind of depth.”

Meanwhile, ISI’s divers – as well as its salvage masters – do their job quite well, and the company is confident in their abilities. “We let the field people run the jobs,” says Grecho. “As our divers and salvage masters have a lot of experience, we try not to micromanage projects. Once we got a job, we listen to what the crews tell us and base operations on their information. We don’t run operations from a desk.”

That has been a key to the company’s success, he adds. “We trust our peoples’ judgment. We’ll support them from the office and give them what they need, as far as equipment. The only thing they won’t get is an argument.”

And while the company has experienced large growth, it tries to keep itself small. “We don’t want large corporate overhead,” explains Grecho. “Some companies have 30 people in the office and 15 people in the field. That kind of top-heavy organization isn’t sustainable in the salvage industry. Also, the people in our office have the field experience, so they know what’s going on out there.”

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