AK: Salvage

Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB - Unalaska.
Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska.

For more than 30 years, Dan Magone has run around Alaska bailing out vessels in distress. In the process, he’s developed a multimillion-dollar marine salvage business – and a reputation. Magone is a daredevil to some, and a savior to others.

But now, he’s the one being saved. Facing rising debt, Magone is selling his shop in Unalaska to a larger company. It’s enough to keep the lights on, but it’s going to be a big adjustment for the man at the center of Alaska’s salvage industry.

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Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB - Unalaska.
Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska.

The international port of Dutch Harbor is organized chaos. For all the vessels and cargo that are constantly moving through, it’s pretty orderly – until you make it down the road to Magone Marine.

Magone Marine’s shipyard takes up 1,200 feet of coastline that’s mostly covered in scrap metal and the guts of old fishing boats. When owner Dan Magone strides out into the yard, it’s a pretty jarring contrast. Magone is neat and trim – lean, even.

But he’s proud of what he’s built. Until now, Magone says his business stood alone.

“There’s nobody like Magone Marine who’s actually taken and converted barges and boats into salvage vessels and has the capability of getting up to these remote sites with equipment,” Magone said. “So that’s the story; it’s just now starting to change.”

It’s changing because Magone’s sold his business to Resolve Marine Group of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

He went into debt spending millions of dollars to upgrade his fleet. It took a long time, and a lot of money, to get the ships to comply with new safety codes. Magone realized he couldn’t do it alone.

So now, Magone Marine is called Resolve-Magone Marine Group. And Magone’s rusty shipyard is suddenly crowded with shiny new vessels sent up from the south.

“This vessel is the Resolve Pioneer,” Todd Duke, a director for Resolve, said. “She’s a 207 foot long anchor handling tug supply vessel.”

Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska.

He’s been sent up along with some spill response equipment, a heavy barge and this ice-class tugboat.

Duke says he’s in town to help get the new partnership set up.

“A lot of my job is just to look and collect information,” Duke said.

A lot of that information is about Alaska. Resolve doesn’t have a ton of experience in the state, and they’re still trying to figure out what equipment they’ll need.

But some of the intelligence is about Magone himself.

“He tells stories that quite personally scare me; living on the beach in an ice storm?” Duke said. “That’s not for me.”

Duke’s talking about a salvage job Magone Marine did in Akutan a few years back.

Magone remembers it well.

“This is the Icy Mist wreck,” he said.

It was a fishing vessel that ended up on the rocks.

“You couldn’t get on the beach because it was too rough down there and there was no place, so you couldn’t get a boat in there, and you couldn’t land a helicopter,” Magone said.

So every day, Magone’s men rappelled down the cliff to the job site. He shows me a picture of himself in a harness and hard hat.

“Time to go to work!” he said, laughing.

Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB - Unalaska.
Photo by Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska.

But, as Magone tells it, that’s nothing compared to some of his other jobs. He’s salvaged vessels that no one thought could be saved. He lashed together two longliners in a pinch, to double as an emergency response vessel.

“You know, we towed an old Navy tanker into Dutch Harbor backwards in the middle of the night one time because we didn’t have anything else,” Magone said. “But now that Resolve’s involved with this, they’ve got adequate equipment to handle the bigger tows and we’ll handle the smaller stuff.”

Magone’s going to use his own ships, but he’s going to have a lot of other resources at his disposal – courtesy of Resolve.

Joe Farrell runs Resolve Marine Group. He says he’s wanted to expand into Alaska for a while, but he had to find the right partner. When his friend Magone wanted to sell, it seemed like a perfect match.

“Dan and I really seem to have married each other in our backgrounds in terms of taking something from nothing and turning it into something,” Farrell said.

Magone started out as a commercial diver. Farrell was a tugboat operator in the early days.

But as the business grew into Resolve Marine Group, Farrell says he stopped having to do all the work himself. Magone Marine, for the most part, just stayed – Magone.

“The difference between Dan and I is that I’ve had the ability to have a lot more talent available to me down here in the Lower 48,” Farrell said.

There’s a lot of turnover in Unalaska – people come and go. Magone is the one of the few constants. And he doesn’t delegate. That’s why, at 61-years-old, he’s still going out on rescue jobs.

According to Magone, life still consists of, “a lot of wild nights climbing up onto ships and stuff. Saying ok, show me the problem! Where does it hurt!”

And that’s why Joe Farrell is sending Magone some relief. Along with fancy tugboats are barges, Magone is getting a new staff of emergency responders. They’ll rotate in and out of town, but they’ll all be trained to Resolve’s standards.

Magone will still be the boss. The jobs that come across his desk will still be big, and risky. That’s just Western Alaska. But now, Magone won’t have to be the one to take the risks.

He’s not about to go soft, though.

As he closes up the office for the day, Magone tells me he’s headed off to the city pool to do his swimming routine.

“So I do half a dozen crawl strokes and then I do a half a dozen laps or maybe a lap and a half underwater with fins,” Magone said.

It helps prepare him for diving jobs. But it’s also good exercise – and that’s something Magone’s picky about. He’s not a natural runner, and he says he feels silly on a bike.

The water, though – he doesn’t mind one bit.