Salvage firm cleans up after Katrina

GULFPORT – With the second hurricane in less than a month bearing down on the Gulf Coast region, firms like Salvage Direct may end up with more business than they know what to do with.

The Titusville, Pa.-based company – a self-described “logistical management firm” – already has a team of more than 12 employees in the Gulf Coast region, helping insurance companies recover, warehouse and often sell their customers’ boats – or what’s left of them. Currently, Progressive Insurance is the company’s biggest customer.

So far, Salvage Direct has been assigned to more than 400 boats in the Gulf Coast region, according to Alan Tate, vice president of sales and customer development. However, he expects to eventually be assigned to well over 1,000 vessels – more than all the hurricanes last year combined.

Right now, the company is working with Sea Tow on boat recovery. Those boats recovered will be warehoused and preserved until Salvage Direct receives the title from the insurance company, at which point it will put the boat up for auction on its Web site, These auctions are not open to the public. You must be a boat or salvage dealer to participate.

A small percentage of the boats recovered are repairable, said Tate, but the insurance companies are increasingly opting to “total out” the vessel.

“A lot of the repair facilities have been damaged,” he explained. “The challenge to insurance companies is that it may be six months [before a boat can be repaired]. Insurance companies are still dealing with the backlash from [Hurricane] Ivan. With Hurricane Katrina, they will probably opt to put the owners in a new boat and move on.”

When a damaged boat is marketed online, over 30 percent of the value of the boat can be recovered, he added. As a result, online sales of salvaged boats are a growing trend.

Salvage Direct sold over 1,000 boats damaged by hurricanes last year, and expects boats damaged in Katrina alone to exceed that number. In the event that other hurricanes hit the U.S. this year, the company will likely see even further sales growth.

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