Removal of stricken ship’s coal cargo may take months

2013-08-26 00:00

IT will take a week to transfer the 1 700 tons of oil from the stricken bulk carrier MV Smart that ran aground off Richards Bay last week, but the removal of the ship’s coal cargo may take months.

The tugs Fairmount Glacier from Cape Town; the Subtech-owned tug Reier and another tug from Durban, Teras Hydra, were on hand to assist the operations in choppy seas off Richards Bay yesterday, shipping industry sources said.

Plans to pump the oil out of the vessel were at an advanced stage.

The Department of Environmental Affairs said it was anticipated that the removal of oil from the vessel might take anything between five and seven days, while it may take several months to remove the more than 147 000 tons of coal.

“Furthermore, it is unclear at this stage as to how long it will take for the stricken vessel to be removed,” the department said.

The DEA, along with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and other environmental agencies and local authorities, remain on high alert to provide rapid response in the event of any oil pollution from the vessel.

Meanwhile, the DEA said its coastal oil spill contingency plan remained firmly in place yesterday in the Richards Bay area to protect the environment and marine life.

“Containment booms have been deployed around the vessel to protect the coastline against pollution during the salvage operations. A team of environmental, disaster management agencies and salvage experts are on stand-by to boom off the uMlathuze Sanctuary, Richards Bay harbour and nearby estuaries from any possible oil spills,” the department said in a statement.

The department’s oil spill aerial surveillance aircraft, Kuswag 9 (K9) flew over the area to gather information to be used during salvage operations. The aircraft assists in monitoring and assessing possible environmental threats in the area. The department has also requested samples of the coal on board to determine the impact it may have on the marine environment.

The uMlathuze Sanctuary is important from both conservation and social perspectives, as it is a breeding and nursery area for many fish species.

It is also a home to over 20 000 birds of various types and is an area that provides life-supporting and recreational benefits.

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