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From Dispatch -

Agulhas snaps after ‘almighty bang’

The doomed Safmarine Agulhas has finally snapped in two on the western breakwater of the East London harbour.

South African Maritime Safety Association (Samsa) spokesperson Captain Peter Kroon said the 17000-ton ship’s final death-knell was signalled at 7am on Saturday by “an almighty bang that could be clearly heard”.

“The 184m-long ship is now in two pieces. There is probably a good three to four metres between the for’ard and aft section, the latter clearly listing to port. In other words towards the open sea. The for’ard section seems to be remaining fairly upright,” Kroon added.

Kroon said the break occurred amidships opening up holds two and three to the sea.

“We have been extremely lucky so far. There has been very little pollution. We are aware of one container which washed out of the ship on Saturday – probably because its contents were buoyant – but it drifted towards the stern and sank.”

The German-owned, Liberian-registered Agulhas was carrying around 700 tons of fuel oils and 581 cargo containers when she came to grief on the night of June 26 when she lost her engines while exiting East London for Durban.

During earlier salvage operations which failed to dislodge her from the seawall salvors successfully discharged all but around 90 or so of the 581 containers the vessel had on board. The bulk of its approximately 700 tons of fuel oils and lubricants were also pumped ashore.

The Agulhas salvage scenario changed from a refloating one to wreck removal after the integrity of the ship’s hull had deteriorated to the point where it was declared a write-off almost a fortnight ago.

At that stage Cape-based international marine salvors Smit Salvage who had been working on site demobilised all but a small four-man team to maintain a watching brief on the wreck while the tender process for a new “total wreck removal salvage contract” was being completed.

“The team will hand over to whoever wins the new contract,” Kroon said.

Tenders for the job close on Wednesday.

Kroon said yesterday he was aware of at least four international marine salvage groups showing interest in the Agulhas job.

“To my knowledge Smit Salvage itself is interested. Another company is the Dutch Cape-based SvitzerWijsmuller group which you will recall was also involved in the Kiperousa (log ship) salvage. Triton, an American group, is also showing interest and then there is a fourth company the name and details of which I am not yet fully acquainted with,” he said.

Kroon earlier said it could be expected that the ship’s underwriters would require a large financial guarantee “possibly as much as $50 million” from the potential wreck removal contractor.

“This is to make sure that if something goes wrong that there is money in the kitty to get someone else in to complete the job,” Kroon explained.

He said he had no idea how long it would be before the wreck removal contractors would be on site. “But we have set the end of February as deadline for the wreck to be gone and the site cleared,” Kroon said, adding that the contract would in all likelihood involve the dismantling and stripping of all remaining valuable equipment and materials and then the cutting and breaking up of the vessel’s superstructure and hull. “Samsa will monitor the work. Our bottom line is for the wreck to be removed entirely right down to the keel,” Kroon said.

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