Joe Farrell Jr. is the founder of global salvage specialists Resolve Marine and is the guy to call when your tanker is on its way to the bottom of the ocean...
How did you get into this, Joe?
Probably by mistake! I grew up in the Boston area and then when we moved nearer to the water I ended up working in a little boat rental place and learned a lot about machinery and the ocean. I then went into the military and became a navy diver and I was on the coastguard icebreakers during the Cold War. I was an explosives adviser in Vietnam where I learned a lot about ships and explosives handling, and then some years later a storm blew a ship aground in the Caribbean and I used the tug I was working on to recover it. Then I bought the tug. That’s how I got started, and every day’s an adventure still.
What’s a typical day?
It could be a fire on a container ship, it could be a vessel run aground somewhere or something adrift – we have anywhere from six to 12 jobs going on at any time around the world. Right now we’re gearing up for a big wreck removal in the Gulf of Mexico – a crane barge sank and our job is to raise that and get it out of there.
What are some of the common challenges?
All sorts. Last week we had a big container ship that had the containers fall off it while it was sailing off the US coast. So we had to find them on the sea floor put trackers on them, and then get them out of there with cranes. We’ve just done a big job with the coastguard in the Caribbean where we had 10 crane barges working for a number of months because of the hurricanes down there. That was a mess. Anything can happen.
How have you gone from one man and a boat to one of the world’s largest salvage companies?
I have a great team and that’s the key to my success – selecting the right people. Most recently we added Captain Nick Sloane to the team – he was the Salvage Master on the Costa Concordia and he runs our operation down in Africa. We have done many projects there and recently we have been removing what’s called nurdles, these tiny balls which are used to make plastic. Container loads of these nurdles have fallen into the ocean along about 400km of the South African coast so we’ve had teams down there picking up millions of these things.
Do you ever use local talent?
When we go to a job we’ll hire as many of the locals as we can. It’s our way of doing things – we like to keep some of the money in the countries we work in and we like to train the people because there’ll be another day where we’ll need talent again.
Has your demolitions training been helpful?
Yes, especially in creating man-made reefs such as the world’s largest artificial reef: the ex-USS Oriskany, an old aircraft carrier for the US Navy which is a 1,000ft vessel off of Florida.
How long did it take to sink?
Two years of preparation with 150 men involved – a massive job with a total contract cost of around $20m – and then about 32 minutes to sink it. It’s phenomenal what these things do for the fish habitat and the oceans. I lost my own barge one time and as I was broke I couldn’t raise it; when I finally went back to it after a year-and-a-half there were so many fish around it that it showed me the value of these boats as artificial reefs. A loss for me became quite a benefit.
What was your most dangerous job?
There’s a lot of those, unfortunately. We’ve had a lot of situations where you plan everything and then something goes wrong – an explosion or a fire, or something moves and you’re trapped inside a vessel underwater. You name it.
Was there a single worst day?
Too many bad days – enough to make me go to church every day! Taking risk is always there, with yourself, your personnel and your assets. There are many dangerous elements that are unpredictable and can go very wrong. One time I dropped a wrench, went down a hatch to get it and then I couldn’t get out. Now we make safety our first priority, but back in the old days you’d go non-stop, there were no back-up plans and it was always the sleep deprivation that was the toughest thing.
What makes ships sink in most cases?
They don’t normally just sink, they’ll end up running aground, although there were a number of big bulk carriers coming around Africa in phenomenal waves and they would just break in half without warning. They were relatively new vessels – it was just the way they were built.
Could you raise the Titanic?
Well obviously there’s not a reason to do that, but, sure, we could do it. You could do it with synthetic lines – they’re phenomenal now, instead of a three-inch steel cable they’re half that diameter, they’re stronger and they float!
Any cool cargo stories?
Some years ago we picked up some cargo that had been jettisoned off a ship off the coast of Jamaica and it was an ore from Brazil that was used as an additive for steel. It had been out there a few years but after I had it analysed I realised that the silicon content of it was still valuable enough for me to go back out and pick up a few more hundred tonnes – which more than paid for the trip!