The Phoenix slips beneath the sea after being scuttled off the South Coast. Picture: Smit Salvage/SAMSA

Terry Hutson

Shipping Correspondent

THE South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) has closed the books on the ill-fated tanker Phoenix, which went aground off Sheffield Beach in July and was eventually refloated and taken into deep waters off the South Coast and scuttled.

Captain Nigel Campbell, Samsa’s executive manager for the southern region, said there was no point in pursuing the ship’s owners for payment of salvage efforts.

The Phoenix was not covered with Protection and Indemnity insurance to offset the costs of preventing oil pollution from the vessel and the subsequent wreck removal.

“Having this cover in place is the norm in international shipping practice… In such instances the costs of protecting South Africa’s coastline are borne by the state,” said Campbell.

The cost had turned out to be a whopping R39 million, said Samsa’s regional manager for the East Coast, Captain Saroor Ali.

This amount covered the cost of removing the bunker fuel and other oils from the ship, the cost of the salvage team to prepare the ship for refloating, the hire of helicopters to help with oil and equipment transfer and to charter the tugs used in towing it off the rocks and to its final resting place out at sea.

He said there was nothing to recover from the ship – what oils had been removed cost more to collect than they were worth.

Samsa said it undertook an intensive inquiry to discover whether the owners and/or managers, Noha Marine Services of India, had sufficient assets available for a court action to be brought in South Africa by means of an “associated vessel”, or assets that could be linked to the vessels, owner or managers in another state.

The investigation was conducted on Samsa’s behalf by an internationally renowned Dutch company that specialised in this type of search, retained to advise the authority’s attorneys.

It turned out that a company registered in Belize, A&K Shipping, appeared to be the owner of the Phoenix, although Noha Marine was thought to be the beneficial owner, but this would have had to be proved in court.

A&K Shipping’s address in London turned out to be a front for companies giving them a postal address while Noha’s registered address was the flat of the mother of a director.

A couple of small, elderly vessels existed, but they were unlikely to ever appear in South African waters.

A third vessel, a tanker named ITP Jackson, had suffered a massive explosion off the Nigerian coast, killing five crew members.

“Noha Marine did not even inform the families of the accident,” said Campbell.

Another ship, the Amul, sank off the Eastern Cape coast in 2005 while on a voyage to the breakers, and the crew were rescued by the tug Smit Amandla, which was involved with the salvage of the Phoenix.

“Given the complexities of the corporate veil, an Equatorial Guinea-registered ship, the Belize-registered company and the Indian-registered managers and owners, any form of recourse is likely to be fruitless and an unnecessary waste of funds,” said Campbell.

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