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Published: Tuesday 6th January 2015 by The News Editor
An attempt could be made tomorrow to refloat a car carrier which was deliberately stranded on a sandbank next to a busy shipping lane to prevent it from capsizing, according to the salvage firm appointed to rescue the vessel.
The 51,000-tonne Hoegh Osaka was grounded on the Bramble Bank between Southampton and the Isle of Wight after it sailed from the Hampshire port with its cargo of 1,400 luxury and standard cars as well as 80 pieces of construction equipment.
The vessel began to list as it left the port, forcing the captain and the pilot to take the emergency action of beaching it on the sandbank to prevent it turning over into the sea.
The incident prompted a major rescue operation with the 24 crew members and a pilot having to be taken to safety by coastguard helicopter and RNLI lifeboats.
Two people suffered non-life threatening injuries and were taken to hospital.
The 180-metre Singapore-registered ship is listing at 52 degrees and the salvage operation is expected to take days, possibly weeks.
A 200-metre exclusion zone has been set up around the ship to prevent small vessels interfering with the tugs and other shipping.
The cargo on board includes 1,200 Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles, 65 Mini cars and 105 pieces of JCB construction equipment.
Bram Sperling, of salvage company Svitzer, said a decision would be made tonight on whether the bid to refloat the vessel would take place on tomorrow’s high tide which would be at about midday.
He said that they had two possible courses of action, to attempt a refloat tomorrow or anchor it to the sandbank while plans are made to right it in its current position.
He said: “We may decide tonight to choose option one or option two. Option one is to refloat her like she is now. This morning she moved a little bit because of the high tide, she turned a little bit meaning she is very light on the ground, she is just stable during the tide.
“If we decide to refloat her, she has a 50 degree list, it takes a lot of steps and difficult calculations to bring it back into an upright position.
“If we are going that while she is sitting on the sand bank she can be damaged further.
“Another decision can be that we keep her on the sand bank and we look to deploy some anchors to keep her there.”
Mr Sperling explained that if the vessel is successfully refloated tomorrow, it would be towed by two tugs to an area of sheltered and shallow water.
He said this would be only at a speed of one or two knots and would not be a great distance in case something goes wrong and it needs to be brought back to the sand bank again to keep it from capsizing.
He said: “When the vessel is doing what it’s expected to, we will take it to deeper water. If anything changes we can do the same thing and put her on the sand bank again.”
He said members of his 18-strong team had been on board the vessel and inspected the cargo, most of which had remained in place.
He said: “We have not looked in detail at the cargo, we have only looked if we have some displacement of the cargo and we have seen a few vehicles, big ones, that have.”
However he said that an excavator had shifted on the sixth deck knocking a hole in the hull which they had since repaired.
Mr Sperling said: “There is some water on the vessel down in the hull, we will have to take care of that.”
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said: “Over the last 24 hours the salvors have been making an on board assessment of the vessel.
“The cargo is still in position. On one deck plant has moved and caused a slight crack in the hull. There has been a small ingress of water below the water line but this was rapidly dealt with when discovered by the salvors and there is no evidence of pollution.
“The salvors are continuing with their assessment and depending on the outcome of their findings today the salvors will either work to secure the ship in preparation for the expected bad weather or, if the opportunity arises, to refloat it.
“We do not expect to be in a position to confirm which of these options will happen before first light tomorrow morning.”
Hugh Shaw, Secretary of State’s representative for Maritime Salvage & Intervention (Sosrep), said at a press conference in Southampton, that a decision had been made to keep the 500 tonnes of fuel on board the vessel to prevent any leakage while attempting to remove it.
He said: “Our main priority has been the protection of the environment, every effort is being made to refloat the ship and to return her to her owners without any damage to the environment.
“There has been no disruption to the flow of traffic in or out of the port although there may need to be a temporary closure during the refloat itself.”
Mr Shaw said that once refloated and righted, the ship’s integrity would be assessed before it was towed back to port.
He said: “She would remain in position until we were satisfied the vessel was stable before any attempt was made to tow her back.”
Mr Sperling explained that the cargo of vehicles could not be removed while the vessel was listing as they would have to be brought off by means of a ramp from the rear doors.
He said: “The cars would be loaded and discharged by means of a ramp, with a 52 degree list we cannot use the ramp, it’s practically not possible.”
He added once refloated, the operation to right the ship would involve external ballast systems as the ship’s own mechanisms would no longer be working.
Bramble Bank is a well-known sandbank in Southampton Water and is the scene of an annual cricket match between two yachting clubs when the sands are exposed in low spring tides.
In November 2008, the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 with 1,700 passengers on board ran aground on Bramble Bank but was able to continue its journey on the rising tide after four tugs pulled it clear.
Published: Tuesday 6th January 2015 by The News Editor