Dredger sinks at Coega

Lee-Anne Butler butlerl@avusa.co.za

IN a dramatic maritime rescue in the early hours of New Year’s Day, quickthinking emergency workers helped avoid a multiple drowning tragedy and a potential oil spill when a large Chinese dredger sank at the Port of Ngqura.

A rescue call went out at 2am on Sunday from the vessel, brought in from China to work on the expansion of the port by constructing a second harbour quay.

About 15 people were rescued from the sinking vessel.

Port manager Captain Neil Chetty said the situation was under control and there was no risk of oil pollution in the harbour.

“There is no risk to port operations and no risk to ships entering or leaving the port. The vessel is lying on the sea-bed floor but salvage teams have arrived and salvage operations are under way,” Chetty said.

Top Transnet officials, including group chief executive Brian Molefe, flew into Nelson Mandela Bay to assess the situation.

Molefe, who was on site yesterday, is heading a team to “address any possible impact on the environment as well as the salvage of the dredger”.

According to people at the scene, one of four supports used to prop up the vessel while it dredged the harbour gave in.

Transnet, which contracted the vessel for the harbour expansion, said yesterday it was still investigating exactly why it sank and what impact this would have on the port’s expansion, originally expected to be completed in June.

A salvage team member, who did not wish to be named, said a floating boom had immediately been set up around the vessel to ensure no contamination occurred during the salvage operation.

He said the operation was being carried out with the assistance of the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa).

“There has been no spillage of oil at the port and the situation is contained,” the team member said.

Transnet insisted there was no risk of an oil spill. It also said sea traffic to and from the port – which opened in October 2009 – had not been disrupted by the accident.

Transnet spokesman Mboniso Sigonyela said the vessel sank a few metres from the construction site for the expansion of the Ngqura container terminal.

As soon as the rescue call went out at 2am, “Transnet immediately activated its emergency measures and all crew members were evacuated successfully”.

Sigonyela added: “We are in constant contact with maritime authorities and our recovery teams, led by Brian Molefe, are on site to address any possible impact on the environment as well as the salvage of the dredger.”

Sigonyela said booms had been deployed around the vessel and the teams had started draining diesel and hydraulic oil.

Transnet and the manufacturers of the dredger are investigating the exact cause of the incident as well as the extent of the damage to the dredger.

Sigonyela would not disclose the name of the vessel or its country of origin yesterday. The Ngqura container terminal has an operational berth that is 800m long.

The terminal is able to handle about 800000 containers – referred to as twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) – a year.

The expansion is intended to increase the berth length to 1300m with a capacity of two million TEUs.

“The impact of the incident on the schedule will be determined once all the investigations are concluded. The incident will not affect the normal operations of the terminal,” Sigonyela said.

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