High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace
Salvage work has long been viewed as a form of legal piracy. The insurers of a disabled ship with valuable cargo will offer from 10 to 70 percent of the value of the ship and its cargo to anyone who can save it. If the salvage effort fails, they don't pay a dime. It's a risky business: As ships have gotten bigger and cargo more valuable, the expertise and resources required to mount a salvage effort have steadily increased. When a job went bad in 2004, Titan ended up with little more than the ship's bell as a souvenir. Around the company's headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, it's known as the $11.6 million bell.
But the rewards have grown as well. When the Titan team refloated that container ship in Mexico, the company was offered $30 million, and it's holding out for more. That kind of money finances staging grounds in southern Florida, England, and Singapore and pays the salaries of 45 employees who drive Lotuses, BMWs, and muscle cars tricked out with loud aftermarket DynoMax exhaust systems. There's also a wall at Titan headquarters with a row of photos of the men who died on the job. Three have been killed in the past three years.