The colleagues at SMIT Salvage are on standby 365 days a year to provide assistance to ships in distress. Sylvia Tervoort is a salvage inspector who acts as operations manager for the salvage teams. The salvage world is unique and unpredictable, and that makes Sylvia’s work varied and adventurous.
“When a ship is in distress, a team is sent out to it right away. This can mean that everyone has to leave for the airport immediately and jump on the first flight out. Sometimes you can be on a plane within two hours, certainly if it’s a case of emergency response. I always keep a heavy case in the trunk of my car with everything I’ll need if I have to be away from home for a while. Obviously this includes personal protective equipment (PPE): life jacket, helmet, gloves, gas meter, overalls and boots. You never know beforehand where you’ll be going or how long the work is going to take. Which means that self-reliance is a prerequisite.
Salvage what you can.
Once you reach the vessel in distress it can be a case of ‘salvage what you can’ or at least making the best of a bad situation. As a salvage team we play a part in recovering the vessel and its cargo and in protecting the environment. That means: seeing to it that the situation is stabilized, keeping the vessel afloat or putting out a fire, calling in tugs and assessing what needs to be done with the fuel or the cargo. A lot of the work comes down to making snap decisions and acting as quickly as possible. In many cases there is a huge amount at stake and large sums of money involved. Often you also have to deal with a threat to the environment, not to mention perhaps also with a traumatized crew.
You learn this job by doing it. There are no training courses, and so you learn from the experience of your team members. Teamwork is essential in this job. A team usually consists of a salvage superintendent and a naval architect, often complemented with engineers and divers. In the past few years I have headed up countless operations, including the salvage of the Kulluk and the Costa Concordia. You never finish learning in this job because no two operations are the same. Every time the situation, environment, interests and parties involved are different, which is what makes the salvage world unique and unpredictable. It has to be your kind of thing, but you only get one life and I want to live it to the max!”
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