Saturday, January 19, 2008

Drifting cargo ship sinks

Severe weather was today hampering attempts to salvage the sunk cargo ship Ice Prince which was abandoned by its crew after it got into difficulties in the English Channel. The Greek-registered ship, which was carrying a cargo of 5,258 tons of sawn timber, sank in rough weather off Portland Bill in Dorset at 12.45am. Salvage experts and Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime, Salvage and Intervention Hugh Shaw were to discuss ways of recovering the crewless cargo ship at a meeting in Portland this morning. Gale-force winds and torrential rain stopped a Coastguard counter-pollution aerial surveillance aircraft flying over the stricken vessel, whose stern was on the sea bed and bow was above the water this morning. A Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) spokeswoman said: "There are force nine gales so it's not safe to fly. "As soon as the weather abates, we would like to get the plane up there taking some footage and assessing the situation." The surveillance aircraft will be able to see how much cargo has been lost and the extent of any pollution.French Coastguard tug Abeille Liberte and a further JP Knights tug, the Anglian Earl, were guarding the Ice Prince and vessels in the area have been alerted to the shipping hazard. Salvors are aboard both tugs. An MCA spokesman said: "Just before she sank, the crew of the Abeille Liberte reported that further deck cargo had been lost to the sea and that the angle of the list had increased, but that visibility is very poor at present in very rough weather." The 6,395-ton Ice Prince, which is more than 328ft (100m) long, sent out an emergency call at 7pm on Sunday after getting into difficulties. Twenty crew were rescued by helicopter and lifeboat in storm conditions before midnight on Sunday after the vessel's cargo of timber shifted and she listed to 40 degrees off the Devon coast. A Portland Coastguard helicopter, India Juliet, airlifted 12 of the crew, including a 41-year-old Greek man with a broken leg, while the remaining eight were taken to safety by two volunteer RNLI lifeboat crews from Torbay and Salcombe.They battled against gale-force winds and rough seas with 16ft (5m) swells to evacuate the men in a mission one lifeboatman described as a "once-in-a-career" rescue. The operation was co-ordinated by Brixham Coastguard in cooperation with the French authorities. It is understood Ice Prince's crew were all foreign nationals and were wearing lifejackets and immersion suits when rescued. The MCA said police forces were aware of the sinking but any impact on the shoreline might take some days. An MCA spokesman said the vessel was carrying 5,335 tonnes of sawn timber in 20ft- to 33ft-long (6m to 10m) bundles, which had all gone overboard. "All the cargo has been lost," he said. "The wood is in bundles but they may break up in these weather conditions." The cargo ship has now completely sunk and is lying 190ft (58m) deep on the seabed. Gale-force winds up to force nine were forecast to die down to force five later today, he added. The cargo ship was also carrying lubricating oils in the engine space and around 313 tonnes of intermediate fuel oil.

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