Salvage work on the stern of Wakashio in Mauritius has again been delayed due to bad weather, as the court case continues to determine how this huge bulk carrier grounded on the Indian Ocean island reef
Chinese salvage company Lianyungang Dali Underwater Engineering Co is contracted to remove the stern section by deploying its Hong Bang 6 crane barge and support vessels. Plans to begin this work in January were thwarted by adverse weather, as the crane barge was unable to anchor by the wreck, but work had started mid-February.
Minister of Blue Economy, Fisheries, Marine Resources and Shipping, Sudheer Maudhoo visited the project site on 17 February to witness salvage of the superstructure of the wrecked bulker.
But by 23 February, Hong Bang 6 had been moved from the site due to poor weather for temporary anchorage off the Tamarin Coast of Mauritius. The salvage effort was expected to take around 25 to 30 days on a 24-hour basis, subject to good weather conditions. Assisting Hong Bang 6 are two tugboats, three barges and other workboats.
Mr Maudhoo said the wreck removal plan, including barge anchorage sites in Tamarin, Riviere Noire and Port-Louis Harbour during adverse weather, was validated by the National Crisis Committee. He said the salvage plan involves removing the 7,500 tonnes of stern that is left of Wakashio, which ran aground off the coast of Pointe d’Esny on 25 July 2020. Salvage work will take into consideration the protection of the marine environment.
The stern removal will be carried out in up to five phases, with segments of the wreck cut and then lifted on to barges which will be towed by tugs to a local port where wreck sections are to be decontaminated and then recycled.
This plan is different to the removal of Wakashio’s bow section, which was refloated and sank in deep waters far out in the Indian Ocean, despite environmental organisations’ protests.
During the stern wreck removal, booms are deployed to contain any oil pollution remaining, although salvors think all the oil was pumped from the vessel.
Mr Maudhoo said additional damage to Pointe d’Esny reef was unavoidable during the removal project, because remaining Wakashio sections are embedded in the reef and Hong Bang 6 anchor positions.
All this is happening as Wakashio officers blame each other in court for the bulker’s grounding, Mauritius’ worst maritime disaster.
Many of the details resulting in the accident have emerged during the pre-trial investigations, with statements from the ship’s operator Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL) and the flag state of Panama.
MOL said the reason Wakashio changed course from the approved passage plan to within two nautical miles of Mauritius, was for a better communication range for its mobile phones. MOL also revealed bridge officers were using a nautical chart without sufficient scale to confirm the accurate distance from the coast and water depth and said its seafarers neglected appropriate watchkeeping, both visually and by radar at the time of the accident.
Evidence from Wakashio’s voyage data recorder was heard during the court case and the ship’s officers have been testifying. Wakashio’s captain confirmed he ordered the bulker to be steered closer to the Mauritius coast to obtain a better mobile phone signal. He admitted this had been done multiple times in past voyages for a signal from the island’s 3G network for communications.
The ship’s chief officer disclosed he was directed by the captain to make the course change. The captain admitted leaving the bridge to attend a crew member’s birthday party and drinking before returning to the bridge. He said he did not want to intervene in the navigation. According to the chief officer, the captain was in the master’s chair trying to obtain a mobile phone signal when Wakashio grounded.
Since this maritime accident, Wakashio’s owner and shipmanager have implemented new procedures and safety policies to address the navigation and onboard cultural deficiencies for safe operation of other ships in their fleets.
Communications and vessel navigation issues will be discussed in depth during Riviera’s series of virtual conferences and Webinar Weeks during 2021 - use this link to view details and to register for these events