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Smart coal dumping begins

Transfer of MV Smart coal for dumping at sea begins

BAD weather has slowed salvage efforts but it is now all systems go for the removal of coal from the hatches of the stricken MV Smart, which ran aground off Alkantstrand on 18 August 2013.

‘The dump barge, Lady Gina, is now alongside the wreck, using bilge pumps to transfer coal from hatches three and four to create buoyancy,’ Capt Saroor Ali of lead authority SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority) told the Zululand Observer on Tuesday.

‘The coal will be discharged about 8km offshore at a location approved by the Department of Environmental Affairs, after a risk assessment was completed.’

Capt Ali said inspections had shown that sections of the hull had deteriorated badly and many cracks had appeared.

The lengthy salvage process is scheduled for completion in November 2015.

Once the cargo has been removed, it is anticipated that the bow section comprising of the cargo holds one, two and part of three will be refloated and scuttled in an approved deep water location.

The remaining section of the vessel between holds four and seven, which is completely submersed and heavily damaged, will be removed by cutting into smaller parts and taking away piece by piece.

Meanwhile, Capt Ali said gathering of all factual information, concerning the cause of the vessel running aground, has been completed and submitted to authorities.

Court cases running into billions of rands are expected to result.

31 DECEMBER 2013

Smart salvage contract awarded to US companies

SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority) announced on Tuesday that wreck removal operations for the forward and mid sections of the MV Smart have commenced.

This following the awarding of the salvage contract to Titan Maritime LLC and T&T Salvage LLC.

‘Extensive use will be made of local contractors and resources to perform one of the largest and most challenging wreck removal operations in South African history.’

The fully laden coal carrier MV Smart ran aground off the port entrance during a fierce storm on 19 August when her rudder and propeller were damaged after hitting the sea bed.

All fuels on board were removed by 2 September and the stern section was successfully towed to sea and scuttled on 5 October under a separate contract performed by Smit Marine South Africa Pty Ltd and Subtech Pty Ltd.

‘In September, the Owner tendered for the removal of the remaining sections of the vessel and the cargo and in December a joint venture of two US based salvage companies, Titan Maritime LLC from Miami and T&T Salvage LLC of Galveston, was selected after a detailed technical and commercial evaluation of the five participating bids,’ said SAMSA.

‘Following approval by SAMSA of the methodology, the wreck removal contract was signed by the Owners of the MV Smart on 11 December 2013.

‘The wreck removal operation will commence with the removal of the remaining cargo of coal from holds 1, 2 and 3, and disposal in an approved offshore location, under the supervision of the South African Environmental Authorities (DEA).

‘Thereafter it is anticipated that the bow section comprising of the cargo holds 1, 2 and part of 3 will be refloated and scuttled in an approved deep water location.

‘The remaining section of the vessel between holds 4 and 7, which is completely submersed and heavily damaged, will be removed by cutting into smaller parts and taken away piece by piece.

‘Titan Maritime and T&T Salvage have awarded Subtech of Durban a contract to supply a tug and barge with a dredge pump and a dive team.

‘The wreck removal operation is scheduled to take approximately 550 days to complete. It is recognized that prevailing weather and sea conditions will limit the available working days.

‘Nevertheless it is anticipated that work on the bow section will be completed by May 2014 before the onset of winter following which operations will be suspended until the summer when work to remove the mid section can be safely resumed.

‘All wreck removal operations should then be complete by November 2015.

‘All works will be closely monitored by the Owners in consultation with the various departments of the South African Authorities including SAMSA, the Department of Environment Affairs and the Richards Bay Port Authority.’


21 OCTOBER 2013

Smart moves on hold

NO decision has yet been taken on the way forward with the disposal of the fore section of the coal carrier MV Smart which ran aground outside the Richards Bay harbour entrance on 19 August.

This after the aft section was refloated, towed out to sea and scuttled earlier this month.

Speaking to the Zululand Observer on Saturday, Capt Saroor Ali of lead authority SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority) said risk assessments of proposals received from three salvage operators shortlisted after the tender was advertised, were still being evaluated in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Affairs.

‘It is still our intention to lift and remove the front of the vessel as we did with the stern section,’ said Ali.

‘We cannot take a chance. It might move with time and cause a hazard to shipping.

‘Time is on our side as the shipwreck poses no imminent danger, and we can afford to think this through carefully.

‘While reduction of weight is an aim, we have no plans to use explosives to do this.

‘That would have to be an extreme last option to assist in cutting up the vessel if the worst came to the worst.’

Ali, who has flown to London to meet with other international authorities, said there would be clarity on the next phase of the salvage by the end of the week.

There she goes!   The aft section of the MV Smart had lifted significantly by Saturday as her buoyancy increased and at mid-afternoon the powerful super tug Smit Amandla succeeded in pulling it free and towing it to its watery grave 28 miles east of the harbour   PHOTO: Dave Savides
There she goes!
The aft section of the MV Smart had lifted significantly by Saturday as her buoyancy increased and at mid-afternoon the powerful super tug Smit Amandla succeeded in pulling it free and towing it to its watery grave 28 miles east of the harbour
PHOTO: Dave Savides


Smart scuttle completed

THE aft section of the MV Smart was freed on Saturday afternoon and within hours was scuttled in 1200 metres of water, 28 miles due east of the harbour.

For two days, the powerful salvage tug Smit Amandla had wrestled to loosen the section of the giant coal carrier, embedded in sand since running aground on 19 August.

The sealed aft section became buoyant after coal slurry was pumped from her holds and it was ‘just a matter of time’ before the potent salvage tug would muscle it free.

When it happened at around 3.30 on Saturday, bystanders were stunned by the speed at which the ship was towed over the horizon, this despite a strong northeast wind and rough seas.

Ironically, the Smit Amandla was previously called the John Ross – a name with strong links to Richards Bay.

Capt Saroor Ali of lead agent SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority) had correctly predicted on Friday that weekend afternoon spring tides would be the most likely time the MV Smart would become free.

‘This is now the conclusion of the second of three major exercises, the first having been the safe removal of all the fuel and other contaminants from the vessel.

‘The last – and longest – task will be the disposal of the fore section, for which a full risk assessment is being conducted to ensure maximum mitigation.

‘Although time is of the essence, safety and protection of the environment override all other considerations, including cost,’ said Ali.

‘It is a changing scenario as only Hatch 1 is now completely intact and it appears the covers of Hatch 2 have fallen inside the hatch.

‘We need to know what technology the tenderers are intending to use and it will take another two weeks to determine the strategy.

‘It is almost certain the front section will also be towed out to sea.

‘We cannot leave it where it is for fear it will at some time drift north onto the effluent pipelines or south into the harbour entrance.’

Ali reiterated that the salvage of the MV Smart is an ‘extremely technical’ one.

‘The vessel’s size, the magnitude of cargo (147 000 tons), proximity to the port entrance, environmental concerns, severe weather and the blue flag status of the beach make this a unique operation.

‘Lots of specialised equipment had to be imported and there are many parties who must give input.’



MV Smart on the move

LIKE a loose tooth being pulled, the aft section of the MV Smart is close to being yanked off its sandbank grave by the powerful tug Smit Amandla.

It might break free over the weekend and if it does, it will be towed due East to a final deepwater resting place.

Update to follow



New moves on board

WITH a crane now mounted on a platform aboard the MV Smart, pumping operations to clear coal slurry from Hold 9 are progressing well.

According to Capt Saroor Ali of SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority), almost half of the 10 000 tons of slurry in the hold had been removed by lunchtime on Friday.

‘We first had to create special holes to pump water into the hold so that the pump could suck up the slurry.

‘The on-board crane does away with the need for the services of the crane ship Armada Condor, which had worked alongside the stranded vessel.

‘Once all the coal is removed from holds 8 and 9 we will have to seal the aft section, including the areas where the steering section was damaged.

‘The plan is still to scuttle the aft section once it is lightened and buoyant in at least 1 000 metres of water out at sea.

‘Weather permitting, it will be about two weeks before an attempt can be made.’

Ali said this was one of the most technical salvages ever on the South African coast, with many different parties involved.

Tenders for the salvage of the fore section will be finalised by the end of the week, according to Ali.



FIVE national and international companies are vying for the salvage of the aft section of the MV Smart after tenders closed on Thursday.

Although the section has ‘some commercial value’, the only viable solution is to lighten, float and scuttle it, according to Capt Saroor Ali of SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority).

‘While the vessel’s generators are still in operation and the engine room remains watertight, even the engine will be dumped at sea,’ Ali said on Friday.

‘The ship is in fact built around the engine, so it cannot be removed.

‘The working platforms at the aft end are nearly complete, so soon we will have an extra pump on board.

‘A couple of days of good weather over the weekend would see significant progress as the pumping of 10 000 tons on coal slurry from the aft section continues.

‘Bad weather and high tides have slowed down the operation and it will be a few weeks until the vessel is buoyant.

‘On the positive side, the coal dust plume has diminished.’

After wide consultation, the Department of Environmental Affairs gave approval for the coal – considered inert and relatively harmless – to be dumped alongside the vessel.

Meanwhile, stresses have caused a number of cracks in the fore section of the ship, and hatches 3 to 8 are now flooded.

‘We are looking to fill the forward-most hatch to maintain stability of the section.’

Ali said the close proximity of the MV Smart to harbour, rescue and service facilities has been a major positive during the salvage operation.

‘Our first priority when the incident took place on 19 August was to get the crew safely to land and the second was to remove all the fuel oil and diesel without environmental pollution,’ said Ali.

‘Both targets were achieved and the removal of coal and scuttling of the ship are the present priorities.

‘Simultaneously, the investigation into the cause of the grounding is continuing’.



Coal dust watch for dolphins

PROTECTIVE measures should be taken to prevent as much coal dust as possible from entering the marine environment when the cargo from the stricken MV Smart is removed.

That’s the plea from the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which is concerned about the possible effect of the coal dust plume on the resident Humpback Dolphin population.

The EWT, in collaboration with the University of the Witswatersrand and the University of Pretoria, has done extensive study to understand how these dolphins use the harbour mouth area, close to where the ship ran aground.

‘This study left no doubt about the importance of the harbour entrance to Humpback Dolphins; it forms the core of dolphin’s feeding area.

‘Threats to this area, and the marine and estuarine fish and other creatures that form part of their food web, threaten this apex predator,’ the EWT said in a media release on Friday.

‘Direct effects of coal dust on the health of Humpback Dolphins are probably minimal – though, like in humans, it could cause constipation.

‘Of greater concern are the indirect effects: the coal particles may block the gills of fish, essentially suffocating them, further diminishing the dolphin’s prey which is already pressured by overfishing and habitat degradation.’

EWT congratulated the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Subtech Group, SMIT Salvage and Towage, and the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs for the swift and efficient action taken to protect the shoreline after the wreckage of the MV Smart, a ship laden with coal and just refuelled.

‘All oil on board the vessel – an estimated 1,769 tons of fuel oil and 129 tons of diesel – has been removed, without spillage, ending phase 1 of the salvage.

‘This is good news for the dolphins and the marine ecosystem in general.

‘Preparations are underway to discharge about 10 000 tons of coal slurry from the MV Smart’s broken No. 9 hold and then remove the 137  650 tons of coal that remains in the other, apparently still watertight hatches.’

Ship was sound

MV Smart owners MTI International said on Sunday ‘…there is no evidence to suggest failure of vessel engines and / or steering system until the grounding occurred.

‘It is also confirmed that vessel was in sound structural condition upon her departure from the port.

‘On the basis of the investigations carried out so far, the cause of grounding appears to be a result of slamming of vessels stern on the sea-bed while encountering exceptional swell.’

MV Smart (2)


Heavy work to recover rudder

IT will take a crane to lift and recover the 25-ton section which broke off from the rudder of the MV Smart after it ran aground near the harbour entrance on 19 August.

After hitting the sea bed in the entrance channel, the ill-fated ship suffered major damage to the propeller, rudder and steering mechanism which, combined with resultant engine failure, caused it to end up on the sandbank where she still lies.

According to Capt Saroor Ali of SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority), some three-quarters of the rudder section is lying in close proximity to the Cape-sized vessel.

‘Divers have buoyed the sunken rudder segment in preparation for its retrieval,’ but this is not our priority,’ said Ali.

‘We are concentrating now on sucking coal slurry from the ruptured aft hatches of the vessel.

‘We started on Thursday morning but had to abort the effort due to teething problems and high seas; we resumed on Friday morning when all went well.

‘We are looking to erect a working platform on the ship for more stability, and then to introduce a second pump to get rid of about 10 000 tons of slurry in the aft hatches.

‘Thankfully, not much of a coal dust plume has resulted from these operations.’

A decision on what will be done with some 80 000 tons of coal in the still watertight fore hatches is still to be made.

‘Engineers are examining ways to get the vessel on an even keel and to get buoyancy in the fore and aft sections to enable possible movement of the sections,’ said Capt Ali.

He reiterated that investigations into the cause of the wreck are continuing and will be intense, ‘not just to see what went wrong but to prevent a further such occurrence’.

Meanwhile, Ali described an incident last week when a crew fell out of a lifeboat that was being removed from the ship and which then fell on them, as ‘relatively minor’, adding, however, that SAMSA would still require a full report.

‘All four were taken to hospital as a precaution and one was kept overnight but they were all back at work the next day,’ said Ali.




Fuel oil smartly recycled

FOLLOWING relief that fuel oil from the wrecked MV Smart had been removed safely and without damage to the environment, comes more good news.

The fuel which the salvor barges discharged at the FFS Refiners tank farm in the Richards Bay harbour, is to be recycled back up to fuel oil quality, further minimising the environmental impact of this incident.

‘Last Wednesday night we started receiving about 1 500 tons of fuel oil at our depot,’ said FFS’s Andrew Canning.

‘We had to quickly make storage for 1 000 tons available, and we then brought 15 of our road tankers into play to transport the fuel to our Jacobs refinery.

‘There, the fuel will be re-refined to remove any sea water and other contaminants.

‘All this would not have been possible without our depot, which is adjacent to the Tuzi Gazi Small Craft Harbour.

‘It is proving to have been a crucial link in the chain to avert a potential marine disaster and to dispose of the bunkers and other fuels safely.’



Beach re-opened

NEWARK Beach, located between Alkantstrand and the small pier to the south, was re-opened to bathers and surfers on Friday.

However, adverse sea conditions meant that bathers were not allowed in the water and only surfers and body boarders enjoyed the privilege.

Shark nets had been removed following the running aground of the MV Smart, where strict ‘no go’ rules were put in place to give salvage teams unhindered access.

Fishing along the immediate coastline is still banned and all water-based activities are still not permitted at Alkantstrand.




MV Smart fuel transfer goes without a hitch

EMERGENCY oil pollution standby teams can breathe easy after the last of the about 1 800 tons of fuel was successfully transferred from the stricken MV Smart at around midnight on Wednesday.

But they won’t be leaving in a hurry as most of the 140 000 tons of coal on board still poses an environmental risk.

According to SA Maritime Safety Authority regional manager: Southern region, Nigel Campbell the combined Smit Salvage/Subtech operation went off without a hitch.

‘By lunchtime today (Wednesday) 1 400 tons of fuel had been pumped from the ship onto the barge, and was on its way to being discharged at the FFS bunkers in the port.

‘The second barge will take the remaining 300 odd tons and all fuels should have been totally removed by midnight,’ Campbell told the Zululand Observer.

Meanwhile, insurers say every attempt will be made to refloat both the stern and bow sections of the ship, which split apart on the sandbank.

‘Architects and engineers are already looking at the possible way ahead,’ said laywer Michael Heads of P&I Associates.

‘A model is being run to determine what could be done, but of course any plans are subject to SAMSA approval.

‘We would need to see what damage has been done to the hull of the vessel.

‘Right now the priority was fuel transfer, after which we look at removal of the cargo, then what happens to the vessel itself.’



Crash cause under scrutiny

WHILE the investigation into the cause of the grounding of the MV Smart could take more than a year to complete, speculation is rife that the ship was damaged when the propeller touched bottom as she left the port on 19 August.

A huge swell was pouring into the harbor entrance at the time – well documented by photos and videos taken by members of the public who were already out viewing the stormy conditions.

While the ship has a draft of 17.4 metres and the harbor channel is 22 metres deep, extreme movement of the ship may have seen the rudder and propeller hit the sea bed, stalling the engine.

During attempts to free the ship off the sandbank, smoke billows could be seen emerging from the funnel as attempts were made to restart the engine.

‘The enquiry began on day one and a verdict could be made over a year from now; these are complicated and thorough investigations,’ said SA Maritime Safety Authority regional manager: Southern region, Nigel Campbell.

‘We have a lot of evidence, statements and witness accounts to go through.

‘This includes looking at electronic evidence from the ship’s own data recorder.

‘The investigation will cover every facet, including looking at possible human error, weather conditions and the sequence of events.’

The Zululand Observer has been inundated with photos, calls and comments concerning the incident.

Big speculation point is why the port remained open during the intense conditions.

And while the initial Transnet National Ports Authority media release stated that the vessel was ‘not under pilotage’, the TNPA marine pilot appears to have still been on board during the incident.

The time it took for the tugs to arrive at the side of the ship to offer assistance is also being questioned, as is the speed at which the MV Smart was leaving as she exited. With the bill for the shipwreck and the resultant costs for actions and reactions both on board and ashore certain to top R100-million, there will undoubtedly be no short cuts in the investigation process.




Oil transfer starts

WITH all precautionary measures in place, work was due to start on Sunday afternoon to safely remove around 2 000 tons of fuel from the stricken MV Smart which ran aground off Alkantstrand a week ago.

‘The barge ‘Jumbo’ has arrived alongside and all the necessary equipment such as pumps, hoses and fending is on site; with the tug ‘Teras Hydra’ in attendance we are almost ready to start,’ Capt Saroor Ali of SAMSA (SA Maritime Safety Authority) told the Zululand Observer on Sunday morning.

‘We started the boilers and the oil on board has been heated, and the booms are at the ready in case of spillage.

‘We will work on the sheltered port side, closest to the beach as we want to be comfortable in the swell.

‘Only once we get going will we get an idea of how much we can pump each day and therefore how long the operation will take to complete.

‘But we will be working 24/7,’ said Ali.

He said investigations into the cause of the incident were still at an early stage.



Pollution priority

AS work began today (weather permitting) to transfer fuel, diesel and other possible pollutants from the stricken MV Smart, pollution watchers are praying for the best and planning for the worst.

Should all go well and Mother Nature play her part, offloading of the fuel onto a barge should be completed over the weekend.

If not, and the ship breaks apart, some 1 800 metric tons of heavy fuel oil could pollute the Zululand coastline.

Major plans are already in place to cope with a ‘worst case scenario’.

Two working groups were soon assembled after Monday’s incident.

One, under the leadership of SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety Authority) is dealing with actions on the water; the other, headed by the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, is tasked with shoreline protection.

Preventing a disaster is the top priority, and some 600m of heavy duty boom as well as masses of cleaning equipment are at the ready in the shoreline group’s plan of action.

Top of the list is protecting the vulnerable estuaries north and south of the harbour, as well as mangrove beds and other environmentally sensitive areas within the port.

New Mouth, uMlalazi and Nhlabane estuaries and the Mfolozi River (St Lucia) are receiving special attention, with hazardous material clean-up service providers Drizit (port) and Spilltech (estuaries) on standby.

Not moving

Inspections on Tuesday showed that the vessel is firmly grounded amidships in about 13m of water, with the bow and stern afloat .

Experts said it was in no danger of moving from its present position.

The engine room was all clear, with no breeches or water ingress.

There was no oil visible inside the vessel and the fuel was intact.

The oil is contained in tanks below the superstructure, 50m astern of the separation point and in no imminent danger of rupturing.

Sandbanks have already formed inside the wreck, which lies 450m from the effluent pipeline which carries industrial waste to the marine environment.

Spillage from the totally compromised cargo holds 6 and 7 has already seen some 43 000 metric tons of coal deposited on the ocean bed, and the coal could be washed onto the beach.

Plans to remove this are also advanced.

Coal recovery from the ship and the actual salvage of the vessel will be later priorities.

The latter could take as long as a year to complete, with what remains forming an artificial reef and dive attraction.

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Restrictions at beach

In addition to a ban on swimming and surfing due to the shark nets having been lifted, salvage efforts will also impact on the public as salvers will need to access the beach with vehicles and rubber ducks.

•No craft of any kind will be allowed within 0.5 nautical miles of the wreck. This includes paddlers, skiboats, kiteboards and yachts.

•Shore fishing in the immediate area is banned until further notice.

•While Palm Beach (kiteboarding area) will be open to the public for viewing, the area south of this to beyond the dredger pipe will be closed off with barrier tape.

•The pier (northern headway/dolosse) will be closed to the public but the Alkantstrand parking lot and the main beach itself will be open.

•The Port Control lookout point can only be accessed on foot.




LOCALS – including this reporter – who went to Alkantstrand on Monday to catch the sight of eight-metre waves pounding the shoreline were witness to higher drama as they watched the fully-laden coal carrier MV Smart run aground just outside the harbour.

And the tragedy could get worse as authorities prepare to deal with the possibility that more than 1 000 tons of fuel oil and 200 tons of diesel could spill onto the beach.

The 230m vessel battled as it exited the main channel shortly after 2pm, being rocked back and forward and side to side as big waves poured into the port entrance, and soon came to a stop about 700m from the beach.

It was obviously in trouble as there was no sign the engines were functioning and as three National Ports Authority tugs tried in vain to move it, it was apparent the ship was stuck on a sandbank.

Smoke could be seen from her stack on two occasions as engineers battled to restart the engines.

The NPA chopper and NSRI rescue craft Spirit of Richards Bay were on scene when the back of the ship broke at around 3.45pm, by which time the seas had moderated somewhat, and all 23 crew aboard were lifted safely to the helicopter base as the ship was abandoned.

As news of the incident spread, hundreds of locals sped to the beachfront and lookout point, and traffic officers stepped in to control the situation.

‘The vessel, built in 1996, had loaded 147 650 tons of coal at RBCT and was no longer under TNPA pilotage when the incident occurred,’ said chief harbour master, Captain Rufus Lekala.

‘TNPA is closely monitoring any impact on the environment and there is no anticipated economic impact on the Port of Richards Bay.

‘The entrance channel is safe for shipping however, due to current adverse weather conditions ingress and egress to the port has been suspended until further notice.’




One Comment

  1. Good day,
    Please advice, locals wants to know when the beach will be open for swimming again?


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