Scare over Sealand Express cargo

Aug 22, 2003
Author: P&S


After three attempts to pull the stranded container ship Sealand Express clear of the beach in Table Bay outside Cape Town harbour, salvors have turned their attention to removing the 3,700 tonnes of fuel oil on board the 257m long vessel.

Acting on instructions from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), operations to remove the fuel oil began at about 03.00 this morning (Friday) and so far has proceeded at a rate of 50 tonnes an hour. The next attempt to move the ship into deep water is expected to be in about 8 days time during the next spring high tide.

Meanwhile something of a controversy is brewing over disclosures of the ships hazardous cargo. This was after the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEAT) had threatened to take the shipís owners and operators to court and have Sealand Express arrested unless a full disclosure of the cargo was made.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Fuels Corporation of South Africa (Nufcor) revealed that the ship is carrying 50 tonnes of uranium ore concentrate in three containers, which he said was secured in high integrity drums within industrial containers. He pointed out that under normal circumstances these were safely packed and only posed a risk if the ship breaks up or they are lost overboard. Even then the exposure to radioactivity was low.

But Earthlife Africa hit back criticising the fact that the statutory National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) had not known of the uraniumís intended shipment to the United States for processing into nuclear fuel.

It was also disclosed the ship was carrying a substantial number of containers with hazardous chemicals and explosives. One of the containers with a flammable chemical had begun leaking onto the shipís deck but this had been sealed and now posed no danger, according to the salvors.

A spokesman for the shipís owner and operator, US Ship Management Inc said his company was happy to co-operate with authorities, but it was up to the charterer, Maersk Sealand to provide cargo details. Maersk on their part issued two press releases on Tuesday in which they said they had given cargo details to the authorities, but the DEAT announced it would have the ship arrested if these details were not forthcoming.

The port of Cape Town says it does not have audio records of the alleged conversation, widely reported in the local press, between the port control officer on duty and the shipís bridge in which the Sealand Expressí officer on duty was supposed to have been warned his ship was in danger of going aground but had replied that all was okay.

A SAMSA official however says that radar plot data is available that will assist with the enquiry.

Now all eyes are closely watching the weather as another cold front approaches the Cape of Storms this weekend.




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