“Curiouser and curiouser”

One cannot help but feel a certain affiliation to poor Alice (in Wonderland) when one reads the latest statement from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) regarding the beaching of the MT Phoenix off Durban. With hints at a deliberate beaching; the possibility of a mystery stowaway still hiding onboard; uncertainty as to the true identity of the owners and even that the vessel was scrapped in India last year – the situation is certainly becoming “curiouser and curiouser”.

Describing the attempts undertaken by the Smit Amandla to reconnect a tow – the SAMSA statement intimates that the casualty was less than cooperative and that the crew seemed inexperienced in the basic actions required to stabilise the vessel’s position.

“It would not be the first time that an unscrupulous ship owner was prepared to sacrifice a vessel in attempt to realise the insured value,” SAMSA states.

I am not sure, however, how this relates to the fact that Lloyds Casualty Intelligence can find no record of the vessel, but reports that a vessel of “the same type, size and name” was scrapped in India in November 2010. Curiouser and curiouser indeed.

That there is uncertainty about the vessel’s owners is a little confusing. In a previous statements SAMSA is clear about their communication with the owners. Who were they communicating with if there is now doubt as to who actually owns the vessel?

And then – just to add a little more human drama to the situation – it is suspected that a stowaway may still be hiding on the vessel. Alerted by missing medical supplies, the salvage crew believe that there is still another person on the vessel and the South African Police Services will search the vessel shortly.

On a more positive note, operations to remove the pollutants from the vessel seem to be progressing and it is expected that the remainder of the fuel will be removed by tomorrow. In addition the vessel’s bow is being strengthened and preparations are being made to reconnect her to the Smit Amandla.

Oh – and just to make things a little more interesting – the Smit Amandla was called to stand-by as another tug towing a bulk carrier requested assistance off the Durban coast.  With main engine problems the Mahaweli faced gale force south westerly winds with eight metre swells. Fortunately she regained her engine power and was ordered to clear the coast.

It certainly seems that the Salvage Season has started in South Africa!




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