One year on from crashing on a Pacific Ocean reef, a container ship wreck still remains there, broken and difficult to remove. One of the longest-running salvage projects this decade, Kea Trader’s removal has turned into an arduous and challenging task, but the owner Lomar Shipping said progress had been made.
This Malta-registered, 25,293 dwt ship ran aground on 12 July 2017 on the Durand Reef in New Caledonia, loaded with 782 container units and flat-racks. This 2,194 TEU ship had only been delivered in January 2017 and was sailing from Papeete, in French Polynesia, to Nouméa in New Caledonia.
Salvage work was started by Ardent and then transferred to Shanghai Salvage Company (SSC) in March for wreck removal. But Kea Trader remains on the reef in two pieces after starting to break up in storm conditions in November 2017.
A Lomar spokesman told Tug Technology & Business that “tremendous progress had been made” in the past 12 months to safely remove Kea Trader. “However, these efforts have been stymied by horrendous conditions on site.”
In the past 12 months, 1,009 m3 of heavy fuel oils, diesel and other lube oils, and more recently oily polluted water has been removed. So has 697 of the original load of 782 containers and flat-racks on board. But progress has been hampered by storms and sea swells.
“It will continue to take time to complete but the safety of those involved and the protection of this marine environment must remain our priority,” said the Lomar spokesman. “We are moving forward with every passing month.”
Four offshore vessels continue to work on site, while also monitoring the ocean for any floating debris and pollutants.
Airbags have been used to remove larger pieces of hull structure off the reef bed and onto the 19,000 gt Ju Li, a logistics support and command platform that is now co-ordinating SSC operations on site.
Kea Trader broke into two halves after six months of storm force conditions affected the vessel. Weather had slowed the onsite work, frequently preventing access to the wreck. This year, operations were further hampered by two cyclones in February and March, and persistent storms that lasted until the end of May.
Storms affected the hull structure, moving the forward section on multiple occasions and causing a 20˚ list. It also moved the aft section, which had a 12˚ list. This has made wreck removal more complex.
Storms have damaged containers that remain on the wreck, with five empty container shells remaining on the fore section deck and eight remaining below deck in the flooded cargo hold.
Lomar’s spokesman said SSC was focusing on collecting the residual oily polluted water from pipes, reservoirs and hydraulic circuits. It is also recovering any other remaining flotsam. By mid-July around 399m3 had been removed to date.
Attention also switched in May to recovering debris on the reef that detached during the storms. A new bathymetric survey was conducted in May to determine surface conditions and highlight the precise location of debris.
This enabled a shallow draught workboat to move around the reef for divers on board ready to collect metal fragments. Recovered material and debris will be recycled by local businesses in New Caledonia.
Lomar and SSC plans to recover “more substantive pieces of hull from the reef”. To do this, SSC has mobilised more heavy-lift resources to the site. Lomar said this formed “part of a revised methodology for removing the vessel”, which was required because of the changing condition of the wreck and to safeguard salvors and the local environment.
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