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Cape Town - The Western Cape High Court will on Wednesday officially order the owners of a ship which ran aground on the southern Cape coast near Knysna to make all the vessel’s documents and its crew available to the owners of the cargo it was carrying, for the sake of preserving evidence.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the cargo owners and insurers also plan to investigate the circumstances of the sinking and its relationship to an application by the ship’s German owners, Finja Schiffahrtsgesellschaft, for insolvency in Germany, shortly before the ship ran aground.
The owners of the cargo of high quality long grain white rice from Vietnam, a company called Hippo Ltd, have instructed South African attorneys to act on their behalf and obtain the documents and the crew’s testimony for an investigation, the results of which could be used during arbitration proceedings on insurance payouts later.
The bulk carrier Kiani Satu ran aground at Buffels Bay earlier this month. It was pulled off the beach by the salvage tug Smit Amandla on behalf of the South African Maritime Safety Authority and last week it sank 200 miles off the coast.
It sank with its cargo of 15 000 tons of rice, believed to be worth about R70 million. The rice was being taken to Gabon.
The initial cause of the ship’s loss had been given as “mechanical failure” which led to a complete loss of power that left the ship at the mercy of the sea and weather during a vicious storm.
A salvage tug, the Fairmont Glazier, had offered assistance and attached a tow line, but lost it in stormy weather. Early on Thursday, August 8, the vessel ran aground at about 7am. Its crew abandoned ship about two hours later with the help of National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) volunteers.
Advocate Michael Wragge SC, instructed by Gavin Fitzmaurice of Webber Wentzel, on Friday applied to the high court for the ship’s documents and the crew’s testimony to be preserved as evidence, reportedly to be used during arbitration hearings on behalf of the cargo’s owners and its insurers.
On Tuesday, Judge Willem Louw informed all parties of his decision to order that the ship’s owners make the records, documents and crew available for the process. He will also order that a special commission, led by advocate David Melunsky, be set up to run the process.
“We are fully investigating the circumstances surrounding both the insolvency and the sinking,” Fitzmaurice said on Tuesday. “We anticipate that the commission will begin hearing evidence early next week in Cape Town,” he said.
When approached for comment on the issue, the ship owners’ representative attorney in Cape Town, Edmund Greiner of Shepstone and Wylie, said he did not have permission from his client to speak to the media on their behalf. Greiner was asked for comment on the court application, why the ship’s owners opposed it and also why the sinking of the ship so soon after its owners’ application for insolvency should not be treated as suspicious and investigated.
The ship’s crew had remained in Cape Town after the sinking, as Webber Wentzel had obtained a court order preventing them from leaving shortly after they had abandoned ship, Fitzmaurice said.