Smit has executed more than 25 salvage operations worldwide since the beginning of the global coronavirus pandemic
The tug owning and salvage subsidiary of Boskalis group has also increased its market share of US Oil Pollution Act OPA90 operations to 50% after jointly acquiring Ardent Americas with Donjon Marine.
Smit Salvage managing director Richard Janssen said emergency response and wreck removal was not halted because of Covid-19, although operations were more challenging.
“It is a testimony to the dedication of all our staff across the globe who, despite the uncertainty and challenges and adherence to our strict travel and quarantine protocols, continue to help shipowners in distress,” he said.
“Like many organisations, specific protocols needed to be quickly introduced and open communication became paramount in keeping up to date with this global health crisis that was changing daily.”
Mr Janssen said Smit personnel had introduced strict health measures to ensure salvage work could continue unabated, and were evacuated if there were higher risks.
“We could continuously assess any potential risks and at the point when the safety of our people and specifically, the medical support response, could no longer be guaranteed, we extracted the team – chartering planes if required – to bring them safely home,” he said.
Coronavirus challenged Smit to maintain the short period between an accident being reported and deployment of salvage teams. “The preparations required to ensure the speed in which we respond to international emergencies is certainly far more complex now due to additional quarantine regulations,” Mr Janssen continued.
“Therefore, it is more important than ever that we continue with an agile approach and respond accordingly to the changing nature of this crisis in the months to come.”
Wakashio salvage operations
This year, Smit assisted on one of the most high-profile salvage projects to date. Capesize bulker Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef offshore Mauritius in July, releasing almost 800 tonnes of fuel oil into the sea. Smit mobilised a team of 30 personnel to the site and removed more than 3,000 tonnes of the remaining bunker fuel, despite bad weather and high waves.
Bunker fuel was transferred to a chartered tanker or pumped into large portable tanks on the deck, which were taken away by helicopters when the tanker could not remain alongside the casualty due to high seas. Around 85% of the original bunker oil was removed, said Smit.
A connection was established by drone between the grounded ship and tug Boka Expedition to enable a fast reaction if Wakashio started to break up.
This happened on 15 August, causing the bow section to separate from the stern. A towing connection was then rigged up to a second tug, Boka Summit.
These tugs, each with 205 tonnes of bollard pull, refloated the bow section on 18-19 August. Smit said the bow was then “towed to a location designated by the authorities, where it was scuttled in a controlled way in accordance with the instructions of the client and the authorities”.
Salvage work continues, with Smit sanitising the stern section and determining the removal of the stern that remains grounded on the reef.
Also this year, Smit refloated 75-m offshore support vessel (OSV) Ramco Crusader, which sank 45 km off Fortaleza, Brazil in 2013.
This vessel was upside down on the seabed at a depth of 25 m. Divers had to apply patches to make tanks airtight and install a network of pipes and connections to the various compartments in 2019.
Wreck removal work was suspended due to weather, but Smit returned this year and completed a complicated refloat of the OSV.
In the US, DonjonSmit’s first OPA90 salvage (after the acquisition of Ardent Americas) involved refloating general cargo vessel Nomadic Milde, which had run aground in the Mississippi River in Louisiana in May.
In France, Smit salvaged 120-m inland vessel Pampero, which had collided with one of the gates of the Sablons lock on the Rhone River. It was carrying 2,000 tonnes of vinyl chloride, a highly flammable cargo, which local organisations were not equipped to deal with. Smit removed this safely and advised insurers and the authorities of the measures needed to prevent a disaster.
During Q3 2020, Smit completed a complicated wreck removal in the northern part of Svalbard, Norway.
Deep into the Arctic, fishing vessel Northguider grounded and partially submerged in December 2018. Bunkers from the vessel were removed by Ardent Global in 2019 and Smit was awarded the wreck removal contract in June 2019. This contract was based on preparing, parbuckling and patching the hull for a supported refloating of the wreck.
Smit and partner Multraship attempted the wreck removal in Q3 2019, but halted operations when it became clear damage to the hull was far more extensive than anticipated. Operations were also hampered by the worst ice season in 30 years.
In July 2020, Smit returned by mobilising a fleet of nine vessels including tugs, two barges and an accommodation vessel, plus 40 salvage and demolition personnel, heavy machinery and other equipment.
Smit mitigated the impact of high winds and low temperatures on personnel and machinery. It maintained compliance with IMO’s Polar Code for vessels and dealt with ice in the water and inside the wreck. The team successfully cut up the wreck and loaded it onto the barges for transportation and disposal.
Information sourced from International Salvage Union (ISU) quarterly newsletter Salvage World. Richard Janssen is president of ISU.
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