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Durban - Should the MV Smart have been allowed to leave Richards Bay harbour in heavy swells and high winds last Monday or did those in charge doom the ship by giving it the green light to sail?
Coastwatch - an affiliate of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa - chairwoman Di Dold posed these questions on Tuesday, in addition to asking whether the cost involved, if it had been decided not to depart, contributed to the decision to send it out.
“The ship should not have been let out of the harbour. It was a bad judgment call by the captain and the harbour master,” said Dold.
The MV Smart, which was carrying 148 000 tons of coal when it broke its hull while stuck on a sandbank outside the harbour, was too heavily laden to sail in the 10m-swells last Monday, as the risk was too high, she said.
“The vessel was drawing 17.4m of water and was sailing out of a 22m channel,” said Dold, adding that this resulted in a very small margin of error in rough conditions.
“Nothing can be done now, and we must minimise the environmental damage, but hopefully for the future they have learnt a lesson,” she said.
Dold said the shipping business was very competitive and most players operated on low profit margins, which may have seen the Smart not want to delay its voyage because of harbour charges.
South African Maritime Safety Authority manager for the east coast, Captain Saroor Ali, said they would release a report on how the ship came to “break its back” on the sandbank, but would only do so after a full investigation.
“The investigation may take a long time to complete, a few months, and is under way,” said Ali.
Ali said the crew of the Smart had provided statements to the maritime authority after being rescued.
“The oil pumping is going very well,” he said.
More than 50 percent of the potential pollutant had been safely extracted by Tuesday afternoon.
The Smart was carrying 1 830 tons of fuel oil when it ran aground. The salvage operation to remove it was expected to be completed in the coming days.
Richards Bay harbour master Vernal Jones could not be reached for comment.