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Ports & Ships Maritime News

27 July 2011
Author: Terry Hutson


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Today’s news consist of a single report on the grounding of the tanker Phoenix off the KZN North Coast



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Monday afternoon, 25 July. The salvage tug Smit Amandla has the tanker Phoenix under tow and is attempting to keep clear of the KZN North Coast. Picture by Jacques de Rauville

The tanker PHOENIX which featured in our news nearly three weeks ago when she almost went aground off the Eastern Cape coast near Hamburg, has become shipwrecked on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast at Sheffield Beach, just north of Ballito. There seems little likelihood of the vessel being successfully salvaged and she will most likely have to be broken up where she is, as yet another shipwreck on the long South African coastline.

See those earlier reports HERE and HERE. Use your Back Button to return to this page.

In a combined rescue effort on Tuesday (26 July), the helicopters of the South African Air Force 15 Squadron, based at the Durban Air Base, the South African Police Services and Transnet National Ports Authority (Richards Bay) lifted to safety all 15 of the crew on board the stricken vessel.

The rescue by helicopter was undertaken during adverse weather conditions including strong gusting winds and driving rain with aircrew fighting to stabilise their aircraft during the winching efforts. During the rescue operation, sea swells crashed over the tanker but all of the ship’s crew were safely landed on the nearby beach.

During the exercise salvage teams from Durban’s Subtech Salvage were airlifted onto the tanker to assist SMIT Amandla Marine with attempting to secure the tow to the salvage tug SMIT AMANDLA.

The salvage attempt was being monitored closely by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

Prior to this SAMSA’s Capt. NT Campbell, Regional Manager: Southern Region issued the following statement:

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Tuesday morning, 26 July and the Phoenix has gone aground. It is during this period, with seas washing over the deck of the vessel, that the helicopters began airlifting to safety the 15 Indian crewmembers. Picture by Clinton Wyness

The vessel [Phoenix] aground at Salt Rock north of Durban

Subsequent to the vessel being removed from the coast off East London, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) was in communication with the owners to have the MT Phoenix removed from the South African Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The owners made many promises to secure a tug to take over the tow from the Smit Amandla and continue the voyage to the scrapyard.

When the owners stopped responding to our directives, SAMSA found it necessary to approach the Kwazulu-Natal High Court for the detention, seizure and sale of the vessel. This was necessary in order that the vessel could leave the South African EEZ and that the considerable expenditure incurred in preserving the vessel, safeguarding the lives of the crew and removing the pollution threat could be recouped.

The order was granted on 22 July. The High Court was scheduled to make the order final, having complied with the legal process, on 4 August. Purchasers for the vessel had been identified and had submitted offers for the vessel which are to be presented to the High Court.

While awaiting this process the weather conditions deteriorated considerably and on the evening of 25 July the vessel started dragging her anchor and despite the most valiant attempts by the crew of the Smit Amandla to reconnect the tow, the vessel grounded at Salt Rock north of Durban this morning.

A second tug the Smit Siyanda was also despatched to the scene.

The 15 Indian crew members were airlifted, by a South African Air Force helicopter, off the vessel and have been landed ashore in Durban and at the same time a salvage crew from Smit Amandla Marine was landed on board the vessel to assess whether the vessel can be re-floated or the oil should be pumped ashore. Shore based resources; a large helicopter and anti-pollution equipment are currently being deployed to the scene.

At this stage the hull is secure and there appears to be no oil leaking into the water. The vessel has approximately 400 cubic metres of marine gas oil (diesel) on board and fortunately no heavy oil.

SAMSA is engaging with the local authorities and the Department of Environment Affairs when considering the available options.

The owners of the vessel are currently not responding to any communications from SAMSA.

The operation is being directed by the SAMSA Western Regional Manager Captain Saroor Ali.

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As swells engulf much of the grounded ship, the Transnet port helicopter from Richards Bay swoops in to lift off another seaman from the deck of the Phoenix. Picture by Jules O’Toole

NSRI on standby

Earlier, the NSRI in Durban had been placed on standby throughout Monday night, following reports that the 164-metre Phoenix was in danger of going aground north of Durban.

According to Clifford Ireland, NSRI Durban station commander, the tanker was making its way along the South African coast under its own power and had gone to anchor offshore of the KZN North Coast to wait out some inclement weather on Monday, 25 July.(In fact the tanker was at anchor off the KZN coast as a result of a court instruction – see report above from SAMSA.

“A cold front pushed through during Monday bringing up to 4 metre swells and a 25 to 30 knot wind with rough sea conditions,” Ireland said.

He said that the NSRI had sent a deep-sea rescue craft to be on stand-by during the salvage operation. Once the crew had been safely lifted off by helicopters the NSRI stood down and returned to Durban.

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Another view of the ship being pounded by the seas. Picture by Rogan Ward

Accompanying this report are a number of photographs of the tanker Phoenix going aground on Sheffield Beach, which is near Salt Rock as mentioned in the above report. These dramatic pictures were taken mostly by people living in the area.

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This picture gives a perspective of just how close in to the shore is the tanker Phoenix. Picture courtesy Willem Kruk

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The heroes thus far, the helicopters of the SA Police Services (left) Transnet National Ports Authority (right) and South African Air Force 15 Squadron (out of picture) for expert and brave flying in poor weather conditions as they rescued the crew of the shipwrecked tanker Phoenix, which we fear is unlikely to live up to its name and rise from this latest calamity. Picture by Jules O’Toole





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