Marine Salvage and Types – Everything You Need to Know

marine salvage types

Marine Salvage Types


Marine salvage – it’s a topic that probably evokes many thoughts of rescuing long-lost shipwrecks from the bottom of the ocean, but in reality, it’s often somewhat more banal. Despite this, it’s an incredibly important service, which allows vessel and cargo owners from around the world to be reunited with their property, as well as shipping lanes to remain open and the environment to be protected.

On this page, we’ll be looking at the marine salvage process, showing you the various marine salvage types and what the exact process of marine salvage is. So, keep reading to find out more!

What is Marine Salvage?

Marine salvage is the process of recovering a ship after some kind of maritime accident. It is also the term used for the recovery of any cargo being transported by the vessel. The whole process doesn’t just include refloating a vessel, but can also include ocean towage, bringing the vessel to a location where it can be stored by a ship lay up management company.

Marine salvage is now generally carried out by specialist companies, contracted by vessel and cargo owners to recover their property. There are international laws covering marine salvage, such as the 1910 Brussels Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules with Respect to Assistance and Salvage at Sea, and the 1989 International Convention on Salvage.

The Process of Marine Salvage

There are two main types of marine salvage – pure salvage and salvage using a Lloyd Open Form.

Pure salvage is the process of salvaging a vessel and cargo without having a contract in place. Instead, the salvors must enforce their legal right to recompense for salvaging the ship. The court will then decide on the reward due to the salvor – generally, a reward of 10-25% is given to the salvor.

Factors that can influence the award include the difficulty of the operation, the value of the property, and the potential environmental consequences.

There is then the process of contracted salvage, where salvors enter into an agreement before salvaging the vessel. This is nearly always regulated by a Lloyd’s Open Form, which is discussed next.

Salvage Contract – Lloyd’s Open Form

The Lloyd’s Open Form has been around since the late 19th century and is the most widely used salvage agreement internationally. Quite simply, it sets out the amount of remuneration payable to the salvor once the vessel and/or cargo has been recovered.

The form is administered by the Lloyd’s Salvage Arbitration Branch, and everyone involved in a salvage operation, from the vessel/cargo owner to the salvors, should strongly consider making use of the form to help avoid any disagreements during or after the salvage operation.

Types of Marine Salvage

You might think that there’s only one type of marine salvage, but there are actually several marine salvage types. We’ve listed and explained the most important types of marine salvage below.

Harbor Salvage

As the name suggests, this is the salvage of a vessel from a harbor location. This means that the environment is not likely to be difficult – harbors usually have smoother waters, calmer currents, and are far shallower than the open ocean.

Harbor salvage can be an exceptionally urgent job, as sunken or stranded vessels and cargo can cause serious dangers to other vessels wanting to use the harbor.

Shipwreck Salvage

This is the salvaging of all or part of a vessel that has sunk or become stranded. It can also encompass recovering some or all the cargo being transported by the vessel. This could be a recently stranded vessel or a vessel that sunk hundreds of years ago, such as the when the Nuestra Señora de Atocha was recovered in 1985. The galleon was sunk in 1623 and contained gold and treasure worth around $400 million.

As you might imagine, the variety of conditions that could be experienced by salvors is extreme, and these can make recovery tough, or sometimes even impossible. But nowadays salvors are able to do some remarkable things, such as recovering the fuselage of a downed Seahawk helicopter from a depth of 5,814 metres in 2021, which is a record.

Equipment Salvage

Sometimes, the value of the equipment on a vessel is worth more than the vessel itself. This means that salvors can be asked to simply recover what they can of the vessel, such as the engines, along with any valuable cargo that was being transported.

Afloat Salvage

This is when the vessel is still afloat but is incapacitated for some reason. One of the better-known examples of this is the MV Cougar Ace, which was delivering over 5,200 cars when it lost stability near the Aleutian Islands. Salvors spent significant time stabilising the vessel, before they then towed it to a safer position. The vessel was eventually saved, although most of the vehicles on board were later scrapped.

Clearance Salvage

This type of marine salvage isn’t so much concerned with recovering the vessel or its cargo, but instead removing them from the water to create safe passage for other vessels, or to ensure the environment is protected.


Marine salvage is the recovery of a vessel or cargo that still has value, whereas with wreck removal, it has usually been agreed that the vessel and cargo are a total loss.

Most types of marine insurance include salvage within the terms, therefore those looking to recover a vessel or cargo will need to liaise with their insurance company to do so. But please be aware that not all insurance policies will cover salvage, so double check before taking out a policy.


As you’ve read, there are many types of marine salvage. At Dexter, we’ve assisted with the salvage of many vessels, often smaller operations that international companies tend to ignore. If you’re looking for marine salvage services in Dubai – or, indeed, any other services we offer, such as ship chartering or tug boats for hire, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today.

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