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Ports & Ships Maritime News

28 July 2011
Author: Terry Hutson

Bringing you shipping, freight, trade and transport related news of interest for Africa since 2002

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Special day in Durban. Two giant cruise ships in port at the same time, the 2000-passenger MSC SINFONIA (closest to the camera) and the 2600-passenger QUEEN MARY 2. Not to be outdone, a car carrier, the HOEGH SHANGHAI made an impressive appearance as she headed towards R berh and the car terminal. Picture by Brian Spurr

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The tanker PHOENIX, which went aground off Sheffield Beach some 60km north of Durban, remained firmly aground yesterday (Wednesday), more than 24 hours after dragging her sole remaining anchor and drifting ashore in the midst of driving rain, strong winds and heavy seas. The ship lost her portside anchor near Hamburg

In a statement issued later yesterday afternoon, Capt. Nigel Campbell, regional manager: Southern Region for SAMSA said that the immediate priorities were now the removal of fuel and lubricating oils to tanks ashore, and the preparation of the vessel for an attempt to refloat and pull her off the beach.

He said that a Puma helicopter which would be used to ferry heavy salvage and pumping equipment to the ship had been delayed in Gauteng on account of the icy cold weather being experienced across large parts of Southern Africa. The aircraft was now due at Durban’s Virginia Airport this morning (Thursday).

The weather had also interfered with the delivery of high volume salvage pumps from Cape Town, which have been delayed because snow had closed some of the roads. In addition to these impediments, the swell size has been continuing to pose a danger to the ship.

He said it was hoped that the salvage team from Smit Amandla Marine would be able to commence pumping the fuel oil ashore this morning. The team was flown onto the vessel yesterday afternoon. Salvage engineers were also examining the work necessary to strengthen parts of the ship for when an attempt is made to refloat Phoenix.

Meanwhile, the Department of Environmental Affairs has deployed its Kuswag IX aircraft to provide aerial surveillance and to monitor for any pollution threat.

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Phoenix aground on 27 July 2011. Picture courtesy SAMSA

In an open letter to the residents of Sheffield Beach, SAMSA spelt out the background to the Phoenix going aground, including giving details of the earlier drama involving this ship off the Eastern Cape coast. SAMSA revealed that the owner of the vessel, which from another source has been reported as a Mr Suhair Khan of Dubai (who answers on a Nigerian-addressed cell phone but has since stopped answering), has apparently abandoned the vessel and crew (the latter claim not to have been paid recently). SAMSA had applied to the KZN High Court to have the ship detained and later sold to defray costs.

In its letter SAMSA said the ship could not be refloated immediately due to the risk of her breaking up. The letter advised residents of the salvage operation which is taking place close to homes and said there would be a strong smell of fuel as the pumping commenced. There would also be lots of noise intruding into the lives of residents, as well as sightseers using the residential streets to visit the casualty.

In response to rumours and gossip concerning the circumstances of the grounding, which included reports that the tug Smit Amandla was not on the scene immediately prior to Phoenix dragging on her anchor, Smit Amandla Marine told PORTS & SHIPS that the tug’s propeller did get entangled with a dyneema rope while manoeuvring to anchor the Phoenix three miles off Salt Rock in a designated anchorage point as per SAMSA’s instructions. The tug then left for Durban on 16 July, more than one week before Phoenix got into further difficulties. By Sunday 17 July the tug was back on station at Salt Rock, returning again to Durban on 21 July to take bunkers and effect a crew change. She was back on station by 21h00 that evening and remained at anchor near the anchored tanker for the rest of the weekend.

“It was not considered practical to connect a tow wire whilst both vessels were at anchor due to the risk of the tow wire or rope getting caught in the propeller or heavy gear pulling the Phoenix up onto the anchor. However, towing gear was immediately ready on the Smit Amandla as a precautionary measure.”

Regarding the events leading up to the tanker running aground, Clare Gomes, spokesperson for Smit Amandla Marine had this to say: “Forecasts going into the weekend indicated adverse weather would peak at midnight on Sunday 24 July with winds at 33 knots, moderating into Monday morning. As such, as the Phoenix was at anchor three miles off the coast and the Smit Amandla was on standby in close proximity, it was not deemed necessary to take the Phoenix under tow and further away from the coast. “As conditions rapidly deteriorated on the morning of Monday 25 July, the Phoenix started to drag her anchor and her crew started paying out more anchor chain. At 09h00, the Smit Amandla weighed anchor and commenced preparations to connect up as a precautionary measure. Throughout Monday and into the early hours of Tuesday morning, numerous attempts were made to connect up to the Phoenix, failing repeatedly as a result of the lively movement of the unladen tanker in the swell.

Weather reports indicated that conditions would abate over the next 24 hours and the Phoenix was holding steady by 03h00. A further attempt was made to connect up at first light when the Phoenix again began drifting. Shortly thereafter, decreasing water depth with increasing swell prevented the Smit Amandla from attempting to connect up as the Phoenix drifted closer inshore. The Smit Siyanda (tug) was released by Sapref to provide additional assistance. In worsening swell and weather conditions, the Phoenix ran aground at 10h00 on Tuesday 26 July. When she ran aground wind was SSE at 40 knots (Force 9) with swells of 5-8 metres.”

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Phoenix aground. Picture Willem Kruk

The South African taxpayer will have to foot the bill of any wreck removal should the salvaging of the tanker Phoenix prove unsuccessful.

Malcolm Hartwell, a master mariner and director in admiralty and shipping at Norton Rose South Africa (attorneys) said yesterday that the cost of removing a wrecked Phoenix from Sheffield Beach could amount to as much as US$50 million, which the South African taxpayer would have to pay as the ship appeared to have carried no insurance – either hull and machinery insurance or P&I.

“Many ship owners feel it unnecessary to carry this insurance on a one-way final journey to the breakers,” he said. “There is no intention of bringing the ship into any port, so therefore they believe there is no need for any insurance.”

Hartwell said that the problem arose when a ship ran into difficulties as it was passing South Africa. “Many ships going to the breakers originate their final voyages in Europe and have therefore to pass South Africa. That means that we in this country are more often than not at risk when these ships, often not in the best of repair, get into difficulties.”

He pointed out that the maritime safety authority SAMSA had no authority to bring such a ship into one of the ports where repairs can be carried out in safety and that this placed the coast at greater risk. South Africa needed something along the lines of the UK’s SOSREP, which gives wide ranging powers to the appointed person to override if necessary the harbour masters by ordering a vessel to be accepted into a port as a port of refuge.

“But it’s a bit like ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” said Hartwell. “In an emergency situation someone has to make decisions under pressure but without knowing how it will work out.”

Several other specialists in the field agreed that South Africa needs its own version of SOSREP. Strong criticism was levelled at Transnet National Ports Authority for emphasising the safety angle by regularly refusing to allow ships in distress to enter port. At the same time there is a general acknowledgement that the TNPA and its officers have a commercial imperative which is to maximise the profits of the ports and not allow them to be cluttered with derelict ships tying up valuable berths for months at a time.

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SAS Mendi arriving in Durban on 13 May 2011 after her first deployment of anti-piracy patrol. Picture by Clinton Wyness

Pretoria – Defence and Military Veterans Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, says SADC member states should put in place robust laws to effectively prosecute pirates.

“The current practice of ‘catch-and-release’ of pirates should be stopped, since it allows experienced pirates to execute more sophisticated acts of piracy,” she said.

Speaking at the SADC Extraordinary Meeting on Regional Anti-Piracy Strategy, Sisulu said over the past five years, there have been around 1,600 acts of piracy, which have caused “immeasurable harm.”

According to Sisulu, the highest ransom recorded in 2010 was $9.5 million paid to Somali pirates to release the Samho Dream, a South Korean oil tanker.

“The increase in pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa is directly linked to continuing insecurity and the absence of the rule of law in war-torn Somalia,” Sisulu said.

In that regard, Sisulu said piracy had affected the cost of trade not only because particular ships are intercepted when delivering goods.

“As regions are increasingly regarded as threatened by piracy, unstable, or volatile, entire trading routes are altered, insurance premiums increase, cargo shippers use alternative ports to pick up and deliver their goods,” Sisulu said.

In February, Madagascan marines arrested 12 Somali pirates and rescued 25 hostages on board the vessel M/V Aly Zoulficar, which was hijacked in October the previous year.

The pirates were captured 150km east of the Ambre de Diego cape in the northern parts of this Indian Ocean island.

At the time, the South African government said it would strengthen its sea border management and deploy the SAS MENDI, a South African Navy frigate, to resume patrols along the Mozambique Channel.

South Africa’s maritime transport industry plays an important role in the economy. It is strategically situated along vital sea routes of the world, the South Atlantic, the Indian and the southern oceans, with a coastline of nearly 3,000km along which its marine resources are spread.

Between 2007 and 2010, close to 100 vessels were seized by pirate gangs operating off the coast of Somalia, and more than $200 million in ransom paid to hijackers. – BuaNews

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According to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), Sweden has become the 24th country to sign the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, known as the Rotterdam Rules. The signing took place at the UN headquarters in New York on 20 July.

The Rotterdam Rules were adopted by the UN General Assembly on 11 December 2008 to establish a uniform and modern global legal regime for maritime trade.

The rules provide a legal framework that accounts for the many technological and commercial developments that have taken place in maritime transport since the adoption of the earlier conventions, including the growth of containerisation, the need for door-to-door transport under a single contract of carriage and the development of electronic commerce.

The rules will enter into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of one year after the date of deposit of the twentieth instrument of ratification or accession. However, only one country, Spain, has ratified the rules. – source American Shipper

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SAS Fleur, as Fleur du Cap. Picture by Terry Hutson


I was privileged to command SAS FLEUR as a Sub Lieutenant and Lieutenant from October 1975 through to June 1977. Instead of the word GUARD painted on her side she proudly displayed her pennant number P3148.

Why would you write, quote “this little ship, painted dark grey (as opposed to the SA Navy battleship grey colour scheme) with GUARD showing boldly along her sides, manages to look more the part of a naval vessel now than she ever did in all her years with the navy,” unquote? Why the negative comment? I actually witnessed her entering Durban a few weeks back and she looked grimy and tired and CERTAINLY not as smart as SAS FLEUR.

Forgive if I come across a tad emotional but I am tired of unfounded statements of the Navy and its ships that I served in with pride. I am unsure if you ever had the pleasure of visiting SAS FLEUR or of experiencing her at sea. Statements like yours above would then in all probability not be made.

Yours aye
Leon Reeders


Please let’s have more ships of the past (YESTERYEARS), and while we are about it, has no one have any photos of the Thor Dahl Co ships that traded between SA and Canada or the two Swedish sister ships the ELGAREN and VINGAREN? Kind regards


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The 8,089-TEU container ship MSC LUCY in Cape Town harbour earlier in July. Together with her sister ship MSC MAEVA, these are the largest container ships scheduled to call at South African ports. Pictures by Ian Shiffman

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