09 June 2005

Salvage operation launched to save stricken ship

A major salvage operation was mounted off the Eastern Cape coast on Tuesday to prevent a bulk carrier, which was disabled after hitting a reef, from running aground.

The 160-metre-long, 15 000-ton Kiperousa, from West Africa, was passing Port Alfred on Tuesday with a consignment of timber, en route to Durban, when it apparently hit a reef, began taking in water in the engine room and lost power.

The ship was 1.3 nautical miles (about 3km) off Birah Beach, near Hamburg.

There were fears that it would be carried ashore, endangering the lives of its 25 crew and possibly causing a major environmental disaster by spewing fuel along the coast.

With the ship listing in the swell, the National Sea Rescue Institute was first on the scene after receiving a call from a resident in the area who had spotted the ship.

National Sea Rescue Institute Port Alfred Station Commander Keryn van der Walt said she had received a call at 11am from a resident.

"We got confirmation from port control that a mayday call had been received, and we launched our nine-metre boat, Kowie Rescue, as well as our 5.5m rubber duck," she said.

An NSRI crew member climbed aboard the cargo vessel to assess its condition. "They asked us to stand by, but not to evacuate the crew," said Van der Walt.

Also on standby were two NSRI rubber ducks from East London and a four-metre police duck.

The National Ports Authority later sent a tug and a salvage team to inspect the damage and to prepare to tow the vessel further out to sea.

The police, Netcare medical rescue and Marine and Coastal Management officials also arrived on Birah Beach to assist.

The East London-based Netstar Rescue helicopter was dispatched to the scene, but left after the crew indicated that they wished to stay on the vessel.

Although the crew members were not in any danger, Terry Taylor, a spokesperson for the National Ports Authority in East London, said the master was assessing the damage. The hull of the massive vessel had been breached, but the exact cause was not known.

Taylor said the main priority was to secure a tow rope and to pull the ship out to sea, because East London was expecting bad weather.

"There is obviously some damage to the boat, but to what extent, we don't know.

"The salvage team's main objective was to stabilise the vessel and to pump out the water," he said.

"After the damage has been assessed, the owners of the ship will take the necessary actions to get it fixed, or they might decide to temporarily fix it and continue their journey."

Taylor said it would be difficult to tow the ship to the harbour because certain factors had to be considered.

"It is safer to do it this way, because we have to consider the extent of the damage first, and then the position of the ship," he said.

Van der Walt said: "We are waiting to see if we can take the crew off."

She added that the decision to evacuate the crew would be taken by the South African Maritime Safety Association's Capt Peter Kroon, who had spent almost two hours aboard the vessel negotiating with the captain and assessing the damage. A helicopter was on standby in the event of the situation changing.

Source: www.iol.co.za


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