Specialist equipment procured from Europe to evacuate unstable chemical cargo off vessel at St Helena Bay: SAMSA

02 December 2021

The procurement and arrival in South Africa next week of an Inert Gas System and a specialist excavator operator from Europe is expected to relieve pressure and provide enhanced safety to management efforts of transferring an unstable chemical cargo off a constrained vessel currently docked in St Helena Bay.

That is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in a statement in Pretoria on Thursday confirming the docking yet again of the Marshall Island flagged bulk carrier, NS Qingdao, back at St Helena Bay on Tuesday, after days spent off shore due to its unstable chemical cargo.

The saga with the vessel, according to SAMSA, began on 23 October 2021 in Durban where it had docked to offload its chemical cargo, but had to be sent back offshore and rerouted to St Helena Bay after her cargo suffered a chemical reaction, releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of MarineTraffic.com

According to SAMSA, redirecting the bulk carrier, now under constant escort, to St Helena Bay on the country’s west coast (Atlantic Ocean) was intended to provide it with protected anchorage, “with the advantage of being in close proximity to the Vissershok waste deposal site where the cargo could be safely discharged and neutralised.”

However, with stormy, wet weather unrelenting, said SAMSA: “Last week (25 Novembe)r the vessel was instructed to sail offshore (again) under tow to help ventilate her No3 cargo holds after the hold was closed due to a change in weather conditions causing an increase in hot spots in the hold and fumes to enter the engine room through the engine room vents.”

In the meantime, said SAMSA that all non-essential personnel were removed as a safety precaution, with only a minimum crew onboard. In the intervening period, plans were made to procure a special Inert Gas System and a specialist excavator operator from Europe. SAMSA said the Inert Gas system would be used to blanket the cargo with an inert gas to prevent any further reactions in the cargo.

However, the discovery of and an announcement in South Africa about a new Covid-19 variant, Omnicron, which almost immediately sent several countries abroad in a tailspin of panic, followed by the closure of borders and bans on international flights to the country, “delayed operations slightly,” said SAMSA, adding that the salvage crew was, however, “optimistic” that the Inert Gas System would arrive in St Helena Bay by Tuesday next week (07 December 2021).

A MarineInsight.com illustration of an inert gas system plant.

MarineInsight.com contextualises the use of an inert gas system as follows: “Inert gas system is the most important integrated system for oil tankers for safe operation of the ship. Inert gas is the gas that contains insufficient oxygen (normally less than 8 %) to suppress the combustion of flammable hydrocarbon gases. The inert gas system spreads the inert gas over the oil cargo hydrocarbon mixture which increases the lower explosion limit LEL (lower concentration at which the vapours can be ignited), simultaneously decreasing the Higher explosion limit HEL (Higher concentration at which vapour explodes).

“When the concentration reaches around 10%, an atmosphere is created inside the tank in which hydrocarbon vapours cannot burn. The concentration of inert gas is kept around 5% as a safety limit.”

Meanwhile, in Pretoria on Thursday, SAMSA further reiterated its earlier assurance that the toxic fumes emitted from the vessel do not pose any danger either to humans or the oceans and coastline environment. Providing specific detail of the bulk carrier’s water sensitive and reactive chemical cargo, SAMSA said: “SAMSA would like to assure the public that this is a controlled event and neither the environment nor any person is at risk at this time and that all safety precautions are taken to prevent the situation from escalating.

Of the cargo’s nature, the agency said: “The bulk cargo consists out of a mixture of Sodium Metabisulphite, Magnesium Nitrate Hexahydrate ,Caustic Calcined Magnesite, Electrode Paste, Monoammonium Phosphate, Ferrous Sulphate Monohydrate, Zinc Sulphate Monohydrate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Sulphite Anhydrous and Calcium Chloride.”

With the recall of the vessel to dock at St Helena Bay on Tuesday, said SAMSA: “The cargo is being discharged into skips to remove all hot spots in the cargo hold to help neutralise the chemical reaction and gases under the watchful eyes of experienced salvors and chemical experts.

“The first two skips were discharged yesterday morning in the care of SPILLTECH for transportation to Vissershok under controlled conditions. SAMSA would like to reaffirm that there is no immediate risk to any person ashore and that all persons involved in the operation onboard is using all the required personnel protective equipment.”

However, just to be sure, extra measures undertaken since the rerouting of the vessel from Durban to St Helena Bay have included the constant watchful eye of a tug UMKHUSELI that, according to SAMSA “will remain on site to act as a static tow while the vessel is at anchor and ensure that any toxic gases are blown offshore during the operation.

“The ship owner is cooperating with SAMSA, DFFE, TNPA, Salvage Team and local authorities.SAMSA would like to assure the public that this is a controlled event and neither the environment nor any person is at risk at this time and that all safety precautions are taken to prevent the situation from escalating,” said the agency.

End.

Algoa Bay clean-up continues as shipowner files to cover costs – SAMSA

Pretoria: 23 November 2021

The monitoring of beaches and islands nearby Algoa Bay for ship fuel spread continues, while an investigation is underway into an oil spillage offshore that occured a week ago while a cargo vessel was taking bunkers, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) reports.

According to SAMSA in a statement in Pretoria on Tuesday, the investigation into the incident – conducted in terms of Section 264 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1951 (preliminary enquiry into shipping casualties) as well as principles outlined in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Mandatory Casualty Investigation Code’, may take anything up to 30 days to conclude.

However, in the meantime, SAMSA said the registered owner of the Croatia-flagged vessel named MV Solin, April Marine Inc, had already provided a “Letter of Understanding” to cover the costs of the clean-up.

The clean-up, now also involving a handful of wild birds – three Cape Garnets and one African Penguin found so far to have been contaminated – continues, with a service provider appointed to also remove tar balls found in the area and which will be examined to establish their origin and possible association with the oil spillage last week.

At the time of the incident, SAMSA said about about 80 liters of oil made it into sea water while the vessel was being refuelled.

In the statement on Tuesday, said SAMSA: “The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and other stakeholders including the Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment (DEFF)  continues to monitor and investigate an oil spill that occurred during a vessel bunkering operation on the 17th of November at 13H15 in Algoa Bay.

“To date, a small amount of emulsified heavy fuel oil, commonly known as Tar Balls has washed ashore along the beach between Hougham Park and Sundays River. A service provider has been appointed to remove the tar balls, samples were collected and submitted to SAMSA to determine if the oil is from this incident.  

“To date four (4) birds ( three Cape Garnets and one African Penguin) were found to be contaminated by oil and have been captured and are being cared for by the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).

“The beaches and islands are being monitored daily when weather permits for any additional oil/tar balls or oiled wildlife. The vessel Insurer is providing a “Letter of Undertaking” to cover the costs of the clean-up operation and the vessel should be released soon,” said SAMSA.

Meanwhile, in relation to another recent ship incident in St Helena Bay off the west coast, involving the foreign vessel known as NS Qingdao, SAMSA reported that due to bad weather in the area over the last few days, the vessel had to be ordered back offshore as a precautionary measures to prevent possible further exposure of its cargo to dangerous weather elements.

“Due to the wind and recent rains in St Helena, the cargo holds of the NS Qingdao were closed to prevent further incidents and she was instructed to sail 20 nautical miles offshore from St Helena  as a precautionary measure.  

“The aim is to open and ventilate the cargo hold offshore due to the  excess buildup of toxic fumes in the hold. Once the hold is properly ventilated, the vessel will return to St Helena to continue the discharge operation. She is being escorted by the tugs Umkhuseli and SA Amandla.

“NS Qingdao was on safe anchorage in St Helena Bay where she was towed after her chemical cargo become unstable due to contact with rain whilst discharging in the port of Durban,” said SAMSA.

End.

Toxic fumes off cargo vessel in St Helena Bay pose no immediate threat to marine environment or people: SAMSA

A screen grab of a marinetraffic.com map location of the vessel, NS Qingdao as of Wednesday afternoon.

Pretoria: 10 November 2021

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has given assurance that toxic fumes coming off a vessel offshore near St Helena Bay pose no immediate threat to neither the marine environment nor to humans.

In a statement in Pretoria on Wednesday afternoon, SAMSA described the vessel concerned as a bulk carrier named the NS Qingdao, some of whose chemical cargo had apparently become unstable due to contact with rain water while it was discharging cargo in the port of Durban. Once the incident had been identified, the vessel was evacuated from the port and towed out to sea in order to ventilate its hatches offshore.

The SAMSA statement said: “The South African Maritime Authority are (s.i.c) aware of a vessel releasing toxic fumes in St. Helena Bay. The geared bulk carrier NS Qingdao suffered a chemical reaction after its cargo came into contact with rain water while discharging the cargo in the port of Durban. Concentrated toxic fumes were released into the atmosphere and as a result, the Transnet National Port Authority in consultation with SAMSA, DFFE and other stakeholders decided to evacuate the vessel from the port so that the hatches can be ventilated offshore.

“SAMSA directed the vessel to sail to a protected anchorage under the escort of the tug UMKHUSELI. The vessel has a full a team of salvors, chemical experts, hazmat teams and other emergency personnel on board to manage the operation safely, following defined emergency protocols. The owner is co-operating with the Authorities and has been very proactive to help contain the situation.

“The cargo will be discharged into skips, chemically neutralised and landed ashore at an approved dumping site in a safe and controlled manner.The vessel poses no immediate threat to the marine environment and humans,” said SAMSA

For an audio version of the statement click below:

A SAMSA statement by the Acting Chief Operations Officer, Captain Vernon Keller

End