Plans to remove Sealand Express hazardous cargo

Aug 23, 2003
Author: P&S

Government wants Sealand Express cargo removed
The South African Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism (DEAT) has expressed concerned over reports of hazardous cargo on board the stranded Maersk Sealand container ship Sealand Express, which went aground in Table Bay on Tuesday, 19 August 2003, and has asked the owners of the ship to remove the cargo.

The containers of hazardous material are reported to include uranium ore, fireworks, various corrosive liquids and antimony in an oxide form. However there are doubts about how the cargo of 1,037 containers can be removed from the ship, which is lying within the surf line off Sunset Beach between 150 and 200 metres from the beach and in shallow water. Sealand Express is a fully cellular container vessel with no ships’ cranes to assist with discharging cargo.

The Port of Cape Town has a heavy duty floating crane and there is another available in Durban but using one of these would be regarded as an extremely risky operation. The mass of the containers precludes the use of local helicopters (see below).

Meanwhile, Smit Pentow who has a Lloyds Open Form salvage contract, reports that good progress was made overnight and approximately 1,500 tonnes of oil has been pumped off the casualty. On Friday the team made good use of the good weather and calm seas and by mid-afternoon had removed over 400 tonnes by ship-to-ship transfer to the receiving vessel Pacific Worker. With her tanks full, she returned to the Port of Cape Town to discharge.

Yesterday evening, the Unicorn Tankers coastal tanker Oranjemund was connected up and the pumping operation resumed. This continued throughout the night into Saturday morning and was still in progress as this report was being prepared.

Salvors anticipate disconnecting the hoses, a process that takes 1 ˝ to 2 hours, and halting the ship-to-ship transfer at some point during the course of this afternoon (Saturday), in preparation for the bad weather expected to reach Cape Town later in the day. The weather forecast indicates that high swell conditions will be experienced until late Monday.

While the pumping operation is halted, the salvage team will be on standby to resume should the adverse conditions abate.

The Joint Operations Committee (JOC) reports that a chemical engineer onboard the Sealand Express yesterday supervised the cold cutting of a hole into the container classed as containing hazardous cargo from which leaking was reported and filled it with inert gas (carbon dioxide) so as to render the contents inflammable. This operation was completed successfully by Friday evening.

JOC says that the on-board chemist and salvage team are constantly monitoring all containers classed as hazardous and they are not deemed to pose a threat to the safety of salvage personnel or crew onboard the Sealand Express or the greater public at this time.

“Contingency plans for the removal of the cargo classed as hazardous, should it be deemed necessary, are in place and to this end a powerful Mil helicopter is en route to Cape Town. Whilst the containers are stacked in such a manner so as to make access to most of them difficult, those containers classed as containing hazardous material whose contents can be safely removed will be emptied and their contained contents, of a mass that can be safely transported by helicopter under approved procedures, will be airlifted to an approved and specially prepared facility.”

The appropriate authorities are being consulted and operational details of this plan are being finalised and should be available within the next 48 hours.

Sealand Express rests in a sandy gully approximately 200 metres from the beach. Salvors are monitoring the effect of the forecasted bad weather on the sandbar closely. Renewed attempts to refloat the container vessel will be made once it is deemed that she has been lightened sufficiently. This will entail the removal of the fuel – which also reduces the risk of oil pollution, as well as cargo should this be deemed necessary.

“Following a number of potentially serious incidents during the last 48 hours, during which members of the public placed themselves in harms way and jeopardised the safety of the salvage operation – at sea and in the airspace above the casualty, the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism (DEAT) in consultation with the authorities have agreed to close the area within an 800 metre radius both at sea and ashore to the public. Further details of the closure will be made available by DEAT in due course.”

Sealand Express is a USA flagged container ship owned by U.S. Ship Management, Inc (USSMI) and was built in 1980. She has a length of 257m and is 30 metres wide. Smit Marine South Africa (Pty) Ltd, a Smit company, was awarded a Lloyds Open Form salvage contract with respect to the grounded container vessel. The 32,926-dwt Sealand Express ran aground at 07.30, 200 metres off Sunset Beach, north of the Port of Cape Town on Tuesday 19th August in severe weather and wave conditions during a typical Cape winter’s storm. The vessel was en route to Cape Town from Durban.

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