For an example of how to base a business on disaster, look no further than Resolve Marine Group’s Joshua James Response Center in Fort Lauderdale.
The 33,000-square-foot warehouse, named for a historic life saver, bursts with fire pumps, hydraulic power units, roller bags, dive helmets, pullers, boats, anchors and countless other pieces of equipment that could be sent around the world at a moment’s notice.
Or it would burst if the 32-year-old company weren’t working on projects across the globe at the moment.
“A week ago we were doing one job,” said chief operating officer Farhat Imam. “Now I have five on my table.”
Such is the nature of the salvage business: global, demanding, unpredictable.
Resolve Salvage & Fire is one of two South Florida companies, with Pompano Beach-based Titan Salvage, that have grown from tiny operations to multinational corporations large enough to compete for the world’s most high-profile projects. A third major firm, Netherlands-based Svitzer Salvage, has a regional headquarters in Miami.
The majority of the world’s salvage companies focus on specific geographic areas, said Mark Hoddinott, general manager of the International Salvage Union. The London-based trade association has 64 full members from around the world.
He said just a handful or so would describe themselves as international salvors — but that number includes Titan, Svitzer and, more recently, Resolve. That is crucial for the American companies’ survival because there are fewer emergency response cases and wreck removal projects in the U.S.
Titan, which like Resolve was founded in 1980, was acquired by Jacksonville-based marine transportation and logistics firm Crowley Maritime Corporation in 2005. The salvage company expanded to the UK and Singapore more than 10 years ago and added a base in Australia two years ago.
Resolve, with about 125 employees, expanded its global operations much more recently, adding a London location five years ago and expanding in Singapore in 2010. In addition to the main revenue generator of salvage, Resolve has a marine firefighting education arm, a maritime academy, an engineering office, simulator training for cruise ship officers and crew and an oil spill response office in Shanghai that opened last year.
Joe Farrell Jr., the company’s founder and owner, marvels at the growth. Before starting the company, he worked as a Coast Guard diver in the Arctic, explosives adviser in Vietnam and torpedo recovery diver at a weapons range in the Bahamas. Eventually he started running a tugboat to tow vessels in trouble, which led him to start the company.
“I just kind of learned it backwards, really on a wing and a prayer,” said Farrell, 61, whose company is working at the moment in Taiwan, Singapore and Caribbean. “Now I’m amazed, quite honestly...We’ve arrived.”
That international growth put both companies in a position to respond to the most famous salvage job in recent history: the recovery of the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy.
The ship had departed from Civitavecchia, a port near Rome, when Capt. Francesco Schettino took an unauthorized course too close to the island of Giglio and struck a reef. In the chaos that followed, 32 people died. The 952-foot vessel came to rest on its side on a rocky seabed near shore, where it remains today.