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Thu 1 Feb 2007 12:00 AM

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Major salvage operation in English Channel

Heavy storms holed a ship laden with 2400 containers in the English Channel last month.

Heavy storms holed a ship laden with 2400 containers in the English Channel last month. All 26 crew of the UK Flagged MSC Napoli were rescued by helicopter after the vessel developed two long gashes on each side, just above the water line. The decision to beach the stricken vessel was taken by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to prevent the vessel breaking up in deep water when the severity of the structural failure was realised.

Two French coastguard tugs have been deployed to hold the vessel in place, however 40ft containers are known to have broken loose, and cargo has been found washed up on the southwestern English coast.

The financial implications are yet to be calculated, but high value containers are known to have beached, and looting has taken place. One container is known to have washed up contained hundreds of thousand of pounds worth of motorbikes.

At the time of going to press, the number of containers lost from the ship stood at 103, most of which were lost during heavy storms. Of these, 50 had been positively identified on the shore; 20 were still afloat and will be recovered by boat. The remaining 33 were unaccounted for, and presumed sunk. The owners of the ship have charted a vessel to locate the sunken containers using sonar. A fixed wing aircraft performed reconnaissance over the shipping lanes to ensure that no containers could be problematic to shipping.

Despite attempts to quickly isolate the oil leaking from the vessel, a slick 30 metres wide and several kilometres long had formed within the week. Work is continuing to pump 3500 tonnes of viscous fuel oil from the ship, and although hindered by rough weather salvors reached a rate of 30 tonnes per hour.

However, the owners have released a statement indicating the fuel transfer is likely to take up to two weeks, subject to weather conditions. The most recent estimates suggest over 200 tonnes of oil have leaked from the vessel. Booms and dispersant have been used to dissipate the heavy oil.

Over 275 tonnes had been removed from portside tank 6 and preparations were underway to start pumping oil from portside tank 5. The process of pumping oil is an uncomfortable and challenging one. The salvors are working in extremely difficult conditions, for example having to climb through small manholes in the deck, wearing breathing apparatus to insert hoses and move them about within the structure of the tank in order to suck out the oil. The salvors must rest for health and safety reasons; therefore they are unable to work between midnight and first light.

The 275m, 62,000 tonne MSC Napoli is owned by Zodiac Maritime Agencies in London, and currently leased on time charter to Mediterranean Shipping Company. The owners announced that two barges would arrive on scene to undertake the discharge of containers from the MSC Napoli. A large barge, equipped with two cranes (500 and 250 tonnes lift capacity), had been despatched to the scene.

The barge will lift off containers and place them on board a second barge, which will land the containers.

The programme for discharging the containers will be shaped by two priorities: to recover 161 containers designed for carriage of chemicals and, secondly, to lighten the vessel and reduce stresses on the hull to prevent further deterioration and losses.

Hapag Lloyd, Lloyd Triestino and Senator Lines also had cargo onboard the MSC vessel.

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