Nick Sloane: SA’s master at sea

2014-05-11 15:00

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About 130m from the idyllic Italian coastline of Isola del Giglio lies the 115?000-ton rotting carcass of the Costa Concordia, three football fields long and twice the size of the Titanic.

The now not-so-luxurious cruise liner ran aground in January 2012, killing 32 people. Two bodies were never found, turning the ship into a veritable graveyard and ruling out any possibility of a standard salvage tactic – to blow it up.

The only alternative was to roll it upright in a dramatic, costly and risky procedure known as parbuckling. The possibility of failure was enormous.

There was every chance the 290m-long ship would buckle and break apart under its own weight, contaminating the water; the support platforms built on the sea floor might slip away; and torrential rainstorms, high winds and rough seas could sabotage operations.

Enter Nick Sloane (52), the freelance salvage master hired by the US-Italian team of Titan Salvage and Micoperi. Sloane’s impressive resume of catastrophes involved vessels on fire, crippled cargo ships and leaking oil freighters.

He had worked in countries as far afield as Pakistan and Papua New Guinea in all sorts of tough conditions, both metrological and political. The first salvage operation Sloane led was on the Brazilian break-bulk carrier Rio Assue that caught fire in the South Atlantic.

He was involved in managing the cargo recovery operation during the rescue of the Brillante Virtuoso tanker, which was attacked and set alight by pirates off the coast of Yemen; as well as on the Jupiter-1 oil rig that sank in the Gulf of Mexico.

He was working on the Rena oil spill disaster off the coast of New Zealand when he received a call about the Costa Concordia. This was to be the biggest salvage operation in history and Sloane could not refuse the challenge.

In an extraordinary feat of engineering, the operation, involving 500 salvage workers including divers, welders and engineers operating 24-hours a day at a staggering cost of $800?million (R8.4?billion), was an unmitigated success.

Sloane received a hero’s welcome back on the island, was lauded by international media as a marine engineer rock star, and described by a CNN journalist as “a cross between Prince Harry and Russell Crowe”.

But Sloane, who is stationed on Isola del Giglio in much the same way as a soldier goes to a war posting, is there until the job is done.

The Concordia, he explains, “has now been exposed to the weather and seas for over two years, has a large cut of almost 60m in length down her port side and two very damaged areas on the starboard side, from where she rested on two reefs. These damages make the final refloat more challenging”.

With a master mariner certificate that allows him to sail any ship of any size anywhere in the world, Sloane will be the de facto captain when it embarks on its final voyage to an as-yet unnamed port of call for dismantling.

After that, he will return to South Africa to his wife of 24 years and their twins (17) and daughter (10). “I love golf, but need a lot of help in that department. So maybe a bit more golf and time with the family?...?until the next call comes along,” he says.

Other heroes and mavericks

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman: Angel of mercy

Earthquakes, tsunamis, famine or war, whatever the crisis, Gift of the Givers dispatches a lifeline to stricken communities.

Since its launch in 1992 in response to the Bosnian War, Africa’s largest relief organisation has donated more than R1?billion worth of aid in 41 countries.

Sooliman, the founder, directs each mission himself. He’s also taken on the cause of individuals such as the Korkies, who were kidnapped in Yemen; and Zayd Dada, who went missing while hiking in Zimbabwe. Last year, the situation in Syria compelled Sooliman to “become an activist” for women and children there.

Crucially, the organisation also offers counselling, self-help schemes, water supply, healthcare, bursaries and the Jumpstart Schools Entrepreneurial Programme. If it wasn’t for Sooliman, his organisation and its donors, there would be a tragic, unthinkable gap in the world.

Mpatheleni Makaulule: Custodian of tradition

Makaulule is a heroine to the people of Limpopo. Having spent years learning the rituals and traditions “passed down by generations of wise elders”, Makaulule and her Mupo Foundation work with indigenous communities to safeguard their land and culture.

Bold campaigns?–?against an Australian coal mining company, against the construction of a tourist resort at Phiphidi waterfall or against the felling of trees in the sacred Thate forest?–?have earned her prominence. She received a Bill Clinton Fellowship Award to do leadership training at Harvard and, in 2012 ,was a finalist for the UN Forest Hero Award.

In New York last May, Makaulule received the Global Leadership Award from the International Indigenous Women’s Forum in

recognition of her work in empowering Venda women as custodians of sacred natural sites. On receiving the award, Makaulule said: “Women need to stand up now as never before.”

Kumi Naidoo: Planet protector

Last year, Greenpeace actions included ascending The Shard in London to protest against Shell, storming a Russian oil rig in the Arctic Ocean, preventing a cargo of whale meat from being shipped out of Hamburg harbour, and setting up a “nuclear emergency camp” on a bridge in South Korea.

Naidoo, the organisation’s leader, has participated in most of these, as well as staging the first-ever walkout at COP-19, the annual UN talks on climate change (admonishing those there to “stop playing political poker with the planet”).

Naidoo is a tireless champion of our planet, a true believer in “people power” and direct action?–?something he learnt in his youth as an anti-apartheid activist. His current concern is to save the Arctic from oil drilling (5?million people have already signed the petition).

It might all seem like an uphill battle but he says: “Every day, somewhere in the world, we’re winning.”

» City Press 100 World Class South Africans is supported by Play Your Part, a nationwide Brand SA campaign created to inspire and celebrate active citizenship. Each South African is encouraged to offer their time, money, skills or goods to make a collective difference to the lives of those in their communities. Follow: @PlayYourPartSA

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