Jolly Rubino at mercy of waves

2002-12-16 10:24

Durban - The grounded Italian cargo ship, the Jolly Rubino, was finally left to the mercy of the waves when a controlled explosion opened the ro-ro vessel to the sea.

The ship's owners, Ignazio Messina, announced in October that it would be impossible to refloat or remove the vessel from where it ran aground off the St Lucia coast on September 12. The vessel had since developed several cracks on the hull which, it was feared, would cause the ship to split should an attempt be made to tow it away.

The drama began when a fire developed in the bowels soon after it left Durban en route to Kenya. The crew fought the fire until they realised it was out of control and radioed for help.

The entire crew was subsequently airlifted to safety and the ship abandoned. Battered by strong winds and high seas, the ship eventually ran aground off St Lucia close to the ecologically sensitive estuary where it has lain since.

Of concern was the thousands of tons of fuel oil stowed aboard the ship, which began leaking into the sea threatening marine life. Various measures, including setting up floating booms, were taken to contain the spillage while a special watch was also kept for the containers of hazardous cargo which began washing ashore.

A test explosion took place on Thursday with the final massive explosion being remotely triggered at 13:15 on Saturday. The explosion ripped holes in the sides of the vessel which would allow the sea in and hasten the process of degradation. The accommodation section and superstructure will be set alight this week to make the ship unattractive to looters.

KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife spokesperson Jeff Gaisford said Saturday's explosion releases the remaining sludge oil. He said much of the oil went out to sea, but some came into the bay at Cape St Lucia. There was no threat to the St Lucia Estuary.

Gaisford said the spillage was being monitored by the department of environmental affairs and tourism's Kuswag 1 oil pollution abatement vessel and the Kuswag 7 patrol aircraft. He praised the work of salvors Smit Salvage whose work had ensured minimal environmental impact.

The salvors worked in searing heat with the smouldering fire, fed by strong winds, often flaring up and forcing them to be hastily airlifted.