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Richards Bay - The stricken coal ship straddling a sandbank off Richards Bay posed no immediate pollution threat to the coastline, maritime and environmental authorities have said.
The MV Sharp, which had almost broken in two in rough waters on Tuesday, was leaving Richards Bay harbour on Monday afternoon when it struck a sandbank and broke its back in 10m swells.
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) executive manager for the east coast, Captain Saroor Ali, said the ship’s potentially hazardous fuel was safely sealed, though, and that there was no immediate danger of its leaking out.
“There is an estimated 1 769 tons of fuel oil, and 129 tons of diesel oil, but there is no threat to the engine room,” said Ali.
He said the disaster management team assembled for the salvage operation had already begun its work, which would see the fuel removed first, followed by the 148 000 tons of coal the Smart was carrying.
The Ezemvelo marine conservation officer for Richards Bay, Kevin Green, said that although there was no fuel leaking from the ship, some of the ship’s payload had begun to shift out.
“There is coal dust coming out of the ship, which our scientists are currently evaluating to assess the threat,” said Green.
He said the coal did not pose an immediate threat, however, and the main focus was on keeping the fuel contained.
The Durban-based maritime services company, the Subtech Group had been appointed to head the salvage operation, which Green said would take at least a month, before the issue of the wreck could be dealt with.
Ali said that the maritime authority had a “plan A, B, and C” when it came to salvaging what remained of the Smart, but that it all depended on the weather.
Samsa said the Smart was owned by an “international company” which had $1 billion (R10.15bn) in pollution cover and unlimited cover when it came to wreck removal.
Andrew Zaloumis, the chief executive of the nearby Isimangaliso Wetland Park and World Heritage Site, said that at this stage there was no concern of the park’s being affected by the wreck.
“We are part of the disaster management team and have our own standard contingency plans in place,” he said.
Zaloumis said the next two days would be crucial while fuel was removed.
At Alkantstrand, the stretch of beach close to where the ship is stranded, a crowd had gathered on Tuesday to watch a helicopter and small boat begin to ferry cargo off the Smart.
With its control room facing out to sea and its bow parallel to the shore, waves broke over the middle of the ship as the salvagers battled the strong winds, with bystanders taking photos from the beach.
The Transnet National Port Authority manger for Richards Bay, Preston Khomo, said all shipping operations at the port had returned to normal by Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the doomed Kiani Satu cargo vessel was still afloat off the Southern Cape coast early on Tuesday evening, at a point where the ocean was at the 1 000m depth required for the ship to submerge safely.
The ship began sinking on Monday after the bow sustained severe damage about 30 nautical miles off Buffels Bay, where it ran aground on August 8.