Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Container ship runs aground near East London

East London port authorities and salvagers were locked in a desperate battle to free a container ship which had run aground on a sandbank in the harbour and was lodged just 50m off the rocky breakwater. The drama began late on Monday as the SAF Marine Agulhas, a 23 000-ton dead weight container vessel, was leaving for Durban, when the ship suddenly lost power. Heavy winds and crashing swell swept it towards the treacherous wall of dolosse next to the harbour entrance. They threatened serious damage to the hull. Fortunately, the huge vessel bumped on to a sandbar, where it came to rest - a stone's throw from disaster. On Monday night, Terry Taylor, East London's National Ports Authority spokesperson, described the situation as "delicate"."There is nothing much we can do," he said last night. "The tug was attempting to assist her but they are making slow progress." He said a salvage team had attempted to tow the vessel out to sea and out of danger, but an outgoing tide had stymied them. Taylor said they had battled through the night to fasten a tow line to the ship and had eventually begun towing the stricken vessel. But, to their dismay, the cable had ripped free. "Our pilot boat tried on numerous occasions to re-attach the line, but huge swell and sea conditions prohibited it from getting close enough to shoot a cable across the bow," he said. He said early this morning: "We're re-assessing at first light. A salvage team is also on its way up from Cape Town to help." The salvage tug, the Smit Amandla, has been dispatched from False Bay to assist in the operation. Taylor said a helicopter would be used to try to drop tow lines on to the ship. Two lines would be attached to two tugs, with a third back-up line held by the pilot boat. The trio would attempt again to tow the ship off at the next high tide, aided by the ship's own engines. Taylor said they had not been alerted to any possible hazardous material on board. The 22 crew members are still on board.

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