Fire extinguished on Sea Elegance

Oct 13, 2003
Author: P&S

The fire, which raged on the stern quarter of the PIL container ship Sea Elegance on Saturday and Sunday, has been extinguished and the vessel is expected to enter Durban port within the next 24 hours.

One seafarer lost his life and several others received minor injuries when the fire broke out early on Saturday morning while the ship was at anchor in the Durban outer anchorage. It now appears the fire began in one of the containers on board, and not the engine room as was first reported. Captain Bill Dernier of the South African Maritime Safety Authority spoke on national television today saying that an investigation would look into the cause during which he stated that it had begun in a container loaded in Singapore.

After entering the port the cargo consisting of 650 TEUs will be offloaded at the Durban Container Terminal after which the ship will go to a lay-by berth for full inspection, before a decision can be made whether to repair the ship locally or elsewhere.

For those who enjoy finding connections between ships and ports, Sea Elegance has what can be described as a tenuous link with South Africa, having been built as the Willowbank for Andrew Weir’s Bank Line. Willowbank was also the name of Andrew Weir’s first ship, a sailing vessel of 882 gross tons acquired in 1885.

Later the company was to form the India – Africa Line whose main purpose was to carry indentured labourers immigrating from the Gujarat region in India to the green shores on Natal, where sugar farming had become an important agricultural and industrial activity.

In due course the company also acquired three passenger ships from the Bucknall Line, the Johannesburg, Fort Salisbury and Bulawayo, which were renamed Surat, Gujarat and Kathiawar.

For most of the 20th century ships belonging to Andrew Weir, usually under the Bank Line banner, traded with South African ports. In 1934 this included three modern motor ships that were introduced bearing local South African names – Isipingo, Incomati and Inchanga, which each carried accommodation for 50 first class passengers, 20 second class and up to 500 ‘other’ class.

The ship that became the focus of attention outside Durban Harbour at the weekend was the last to bear the name Willowbank, having been built as a container vessel in 1980 at Smith’s Dock Co Ltd, Middlesborough, UK. Willowbank entered service on the Bank Line US Gulf – Australasia service and later transferred to the company’s California – Australasia service until 1988 when she was sold to Austasia Maritime and renamed Mandowi 3.

In 1989 the ship underwent another renaming to California Star 4 and again in 1996 when she was sold to her present owners, Pacific International Lines of Singapore, who provided the present name Sea Elegance.

Sea Elegance is 171.1m long and has a gross tonnage of 18,236t with a container carrying capacity of 768 TEUs including 368 reefer plugs. The ship had all but completed a voyage from Singapore to Durban via Port Louis when the fire broke out.

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