Salvage, Without the Punk
July 10, 2014 4:43 PM Subscribe
“but are we not all wreckers contriving that some treasure may be washed up on our beach, that we may secure it [...]?” - Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod |
posted by whyareyouatriangle (1 comment total)
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A beginning: beating the meteorological odds. Fernand Braudel writes, in his famous study of the Mediterranean in the Age of Phillip, of the “Mediterranean victory over bad weather” – i.e. the advent of year-round shipping. Prior to this win over the seasons, risk could be countered only by physical division: many small ships, so that when things went bad, there was less to be lost. Yet the “victory,” emerging with the Genoese consolidation of maritime dominance and “fairs of exchange” prior to being surpassed by the Dutch, had less to do with new naval technologies than the substantiation and spread of robust insurance underwriting. This both backed riskier ventures (and therefore opened up the chance of larger-scale wrecks) and gave underwriters the rights to that wreckage, to lay “claim to any salvage.”
Braudel’s use of the term “salvage” in line with how we tend to use it now (i.e. gathering what’s still sellable/recuperable from a disaster) is almost anachronistic, because salvage at that time predominantly designated not those soggy sellable remnants but a payment or appropriate portion of goods given to those who stopped the ship from sinking in the first place. (And in English common law, for instance, this “appropriate portion” was often weighed heavily against the sailors who might come to the rescue, covering only their labor and time – and hence giving little incentive beyond vague appeal to human decency.)
However, the situation Braudel describes – underwriters impelled and profited from increased chances of calamity and waste, and they handled this salvage work through the creation of private firms and/or collaboration with independent contractors – remained salient in the centuries to come, long after state and municipal services became more common. And does so today, in the era of Blackwater/Academi: just weeks ago, the imbroglio called the Costa Concordia has just been passed off to a Florida-based salvage company, TITAN, a subsidiary of Crowley Maritime, who will drag the eyesore to Genoa, to be scrapped and melted down to make forks or struts that will pointedly not bear the name of their source.