“Each one is different and that’s why there’s no book or blueprint to say, ‘Oh, we’ve got a salvage job, let’s do this,’” he said.
While Resolve recently has expanded to global markets, some of its past projects will be well known to longtime South Floridians. After volunteer efforts to sink the retired Navy ship Spiegel Grove off Key Largo to become an artificial reef went amiss in 2002 and the vessel flipped over, the company was called in to finish the job.
The ship went down on its starboard side instead of upright, but it was still declared a success because divers could see the entire wreck — a goal of the project. Three years later, a hurricane turned it upright.
Back in 1996, Resolve was called to collect the wreckage of ValuJet Flight 592, which crashed into the Everglades, killing 110.
Workers sifted through the muck and recovered remains of the victims and pieces of the aircraft and cargo, including the oxygen-generating canisters that were blamed for igniting during flight and causing the crash. The heat, swamp environment and occasional threat of alligators made it a challenging job, Farrell said.
“It was just miserable in more ways than you’d want to imagine,” he said. And more recently, the company was a contractor for oil spill cleanup following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico — not what Resolve typically does in the U.S.. The company was initially called to help the firefighting effort on the rig but ended up spending months on cleanup duty.
Besides Resolve and Titan, another major industry player has a presence locally. Svitzer Salvage, a 175-year-old company based in the Netherlands, has its Americas headquarters in Miami with eight employees. The company, which provides salvage and other service, has been in Miami since 2009 to respond to emergencies and salvage needs in North America and the Caribbean.
Svitzer Salvage Americas recently announced a lease for a nearly 23,000-square-foot warehouse in Dania Beach; the company is busy filling it with standard emergency response equipment.
The industry as a whole has grown in the last 10 years despite a drop in the number of emergency response contracts, said the International Salvage Union’s Hoddinott, who until recently worked for Titan Salvage. The reason: an uptick in the market for wreck removal, especially as environmental concerns over old wrecks have grown.
He described the work as very competitive, difficult to join and capital intensive.
“Marine salvage is quite a high-risk business,” Hoddinott said. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea, to be honest.”
Weather conditions can delay a project. Rough seas can make work difficult. Competition is fierce. In some areas, extra security might be necessary to protect against pirates.And a primary client might be an insurance company, which might disagree with a vessel owner about what kind of work should be paid for.
Although highly cyclical, Hoddinott said the worldwide emergency response business could bring in $100 million in revenue a year and between $300-500 million annually for wreck removal.
For companies, he said, setting budgets can be “impossible.”
Busch, the Crowley executive who oversees Titan, said the amount of money a company nets can range from “a job that loses money to a job that returns a very handsome profit” depending on the level of risk the company assumes, weather conditions, political influences and other factors. While Crowley says on its website that it pulls in more than $1.6 billion in annual revenue, the privately held company does not break down earnings for its subsidiaries.