Salvage of vessel with unstable chemical cargo off South Africa’s west coast reaches final stage: SAMSA

Pretoria: 28 January 2022

The salvage of a vessel with unstable chemical cargo, the bulk carrier NS Qingdao; off South Africa’s west coast, is reaching a critical final stage, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

This is contained in a statement issued by SAMSA in Pretora on Friday morning. In the statement the agency says the volatility of the chemical cargo – inclusive of an out of control fire in a cargo hold – is being successfully contained so far, this following the off-loading and dumping of some of the cargo at sea recently.

As a result, the 190×32 meters, Marshall Islands flagged bulk carrier is being brought into the port of Saldanha Bay for further offloading and final disposal of the rest of the cargo at an inland hazardous waste management site located at Visserhok.

According to a Western Cape government website, the site is “one of three operational (Cape Town) landfill sites… located close to Table View and exists for the disposal of general and low to medium hazardous waste which cannot be reused or recycled.”

In Pretoria on Friday, SAMSA said due to this latest development, “the emergency (of the cargo vessel situation) has now been downscaled from a ‘severe maritime emergency’ to a salvage operation that can be safely managed in port.”

According to SAMSA, the bulk carrier, is drifting currently off the port of Saldanha Bay, waiting for a berth.

Said SAMSA in the statement: “The bulk carrier, NS Qingdao, will be brought into the port of Saldanha Bay after the chemical decomposition and fire in cargo hold No.3 was brought under control. The emergency has now been downscaled from a Severe Maritime Emergency to a salvage operation that can be safely managed in port. The vessel is drifting off the port of Saldanha Bay, waiting for a berth.

“This decision was taken by the competent authorities after DFFE and SAMSA representatives conducted a vessel inspection offshore to determine whether it was safe to do so and reviewing reports from the chemical and fire specialists onboard.

“Transnet National Port Authority will provide a berth for the vessel and is comfortable that it safe for the vessel to enter the port.”

“The Joint Operations Committee (JOC) comprises of National, Provincial government officials and includes local municipal representatives. The JOC members have been actively involved in managing this maritime emergency since the vessel was evacuated from the port of Durban.

“Salvage experts have been working around the clock to contain and extinguish the fire onboard the vessel for the past three (3) months. Attempts to extinguish the fire by discharging the reactive cargo via skips offshore and dispose of the cargo at the High Hazardous Vissershok waste management site was hampered by the location of the affected cargo within the cargo hold.

“The vessel was escorted offshore by an Emergency Towing Vessel in early December after the fire unexpectedly re-ignited, causing a large volume of toxic fumes to be released and enter the engine room resulting in the evacuation of the engine room.

“Due to the fast deteriorating conditions onboard and to save the ship and people onboard, the JOC decided to conduct an emergency dump of the absolute bare minimum of reactive cargo 250km offshore in 3000m of water in order to bring the situation under control as fast as possible.

“The DFFE issued an emergency permit as prescribed by Chapter 8, Section 71 (1) (a), of the National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act, 2008 (Act No. 24 of 2008) and the Dumping at Sea Regulations, after consulting with the Oceans and Coasts research branch, Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) and International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

“GESAMP is a group of independent scientific experts that provides advice to the UN system on scientific aspects of marine environmental protection and consists out of up to 20 experts, over 500 scientists from at least 50 countries. This organisation provides authoritative, independent, interdisciplinary scientific advice to organisations and governments to support the protection and sustainable use of the marine environment.

“The GESAMP mechanism functions under the auspices of ten UN Organizations, all with substantial maritime and ocean interests and potentially overlapping responsibilities.

“Approximately 1300T of cargo was dumped offshore which enabled the situation to be brought back under control. The JOC can confirm that the operation was monitored through onboard drones and DFFE satellite imaging and can confirm that no immediate environmental damage was observed. 

“The hot cargo cooled rapidly and dissolved very quickly in the ocean. Although no immediate environmental damage was noticed, SAMSA and the DFFE are in discussions with the vessel owner and insurers to arrange a medium to long term environmental monitoring program so that any potential future outfall can be managed responsibly as fast as possible.

“The vessel was anchored off St. Helena Bay for the last two (2) weeks to allow the authorities to monitor the cargo and establish whether it was safe to enter port.

“The affected portion of the chemical cargo will be discharged in port by the Salvors and chemical waste specialists. The chemical waste will be taken to the approved High Hazardous Waste Management site at Vissershok until such time that it is safe for stevedores to manage the cargo discharge operation.

“As an interested state, SAMSA concluded an investigation cooperation agreement with the Marshall Islands Maritime Authorities. The cause of the incident is still under investigation and a chemical analysis of the cargo will be completed while the vessel is in port to determine the underlying casual factors for the fire and whether the vessel had any undeclared cargo in the hold.

“The vessel owner, master and P&I Club is cooperating with the Authorities, ” read the SAMSA statement.

End.