Ports & Ships Maritime News

Sep 19, 2007
Author: P&S

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  • Massive petro-chemical fire in Durban harbour

  • Long delayed port helicopter for Richards Bay arrives

  • News from Cape Town

  • Opening the Northwest Passage

  • Pic of the day – HOEGH TRACER

  • Massive petro-chemical fire in Durban harbour

    the view of the fire at the Island View petrochemical complex last night. Picture courtesy of Chris Botha-Netcare 911

    A number of explosions rocked the Durban area early last evening (Tuesday, 18 September) leading to a massive fire that was blazing fiercely several hours later in the Durban Island View petro-chemical storage complex of Durban Harbour.

    According to early reports a road tanker caught alight near Island View berth 4. A second unauthenticated report said that a road tanker had collided with other vehicles or into the storage facilities, leading to the fire and the subsequent explosions. Other reports stated that between five and seven storage tanks had been destroyed but this cannot be confirmed at this stage.

    It was these tanks exploding that caused the loud explosions heard across wide areas of Durban shortly before and after 7pm last night.

    another view of the fire, this time taken from the rail access and looking towards the the blaze near Island View 4. Picture courtesy Chris Botha-Netcare 911

    Transnet National Ports Authority later advised that the emergency response plan for the Island View Complex involving Durban Metro, Transnet National Ports Authority Fire and Emergency Services and Ambulance Services had been immediately activated.

    “Despite efforts to contain the blaze, the fire spread to three storage tanks in the Island View area. Emergency services were continuing to fight the fire,” said the port authority’s spokesperson, Jyothi Naidoo.

    In addition ships berthed at the Island View complex – nine berths in total but not all were occupied at the time – were evacuated as a precaution. In addition Joint Emergency Services cordoned off the access to the area in the interest of public safety and personnel in the immediate vicinity of the Island View area were evacuated.

    By 10pm last night no casualties had been reported.

    Hundreds of people living on the Bluff which partly overlooks the Island View complex were disturbed by the sound of explosions followed by sirens as emergency services responded. There were numerous reports of people wanting to know if they should evacuate the suburb, and according to one municipal source an old age home close to Fynnlands was evacuated. In other areas of the Bluff people flocked to vantage points to watch the blaze and several traffic jams were reported.

    Later in the evening as the wind quietened came reports of a strong pungent smell across large parts of the Bluff. Earlier the clouds of smoke billowing from the fire had been blown upwards across the Bayhead area.

    The Island View complex has been under development as a petro-chemical storage site since the late 1920s when oil companies began erecting storage tanks. Since World War 2 the area underwent dramatic change as large areas were taken over for the erection of what is now more than 1000 large storage tanks, used to store a cocktail of various chemical products and solvents. As recently as last year permission was sought to erect additional tanks.

    According to a list provided by the Cutler Complex several years ago these include spirits, solvents, power paraffin, benzene, petrol, diesel, vinyl formic acid, isopropylamine, methylene chloride, propylene oxide, ethers, phenols and jet fuel. Bunker pipes also feed to the berths.

    Long overdue port helicopter for Richards Bay arrives

    The new Port of Richards Bay helicopter, shortly after arrival at the harbour yesterday. Picture Transnet NPA

    After a delay of nearly two years, the pilot service helicopter at the port of Richards Bay has been replaced with a new aircraft, an Agusta A109 that arrived at the port yesterday (Tuesday 18 September).

    The previous helicopter in service at Richards Bay crashed two years ago shortly after lifting a marine pilot from a ship sailing from the harbour. The aircraft’s winchman lost his life when the aircraft fell into the sea and the marine pilot was severely injured. The Agusta was later recovered but was declared a total wreck and since then the port has had to resort to making use of the time-honoured method of a pilot boat.

    In fact the use of a helicopter to ferry marine pilots and other personnel including surveyors to and from ships arriving to berth in the port was pioneered in South Africa at Richards Bay. Initially the helicopter service was provided by an outside company but later, under the prompting of the Durban port captain of the day, Captain Derrick Cooke, both Durban and Richards Bay ports were equipped with identical twin engine Agusta A109 K2 type helicopters and the pilot boats consigned for use when the aircraft were unavailable.

    The port helicopters are operated under contract by Acher Aviation.

    Pilotage at South African ports is a statutory requirement and part of the motivation behind having helicopters replace pilot boats at Richards Bay and Durban has been the speed with which they can transfer marine pilots to ships arriving outside the port, thus speeding up berthing of vessels. But since the crash Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) has come under severe criticism for the time taken to replace the crashed helicopter.

    According to the TNPA the first option following the crash was to find a helicopter for hire, but given the customised nature of the pilot transfer helicopter, the decision was taken to wait for a new replacement aircraft.

    The TNPA says a second option had been to locate a ‘fit for purpose’ helicopter which could be made available in a lead time shorter than the usual 12 to 14 months. Suppliers were approached and a few proposals made but none of these met the TNPA helicopter service requirements.

    “The interim measure of using the pilot-boat to transfer the marine pilots has attracted a lot of criticism from the clients, who have benefited from the efficiencies and effectiveness of the helicopter service since inception ten years ago. The clients demanded the restoration of the helicopter services at our earliest convenience,” said the port authority.

    The replacement cost of the Richards Bay helicopter is R40 million which excludes the running cost of the operation. The TNPA at Richards Bay says the many benefits outweigh the cost and it is thankful of the continued support from clients of the port during the time without the chopper service.

    News from Cape Town

    Picture by Ian Shiffman

    Mystery Ship

    A large ship in Cape Town harbour carrying four gantry cranes has attracted considerable attention, leading to queries as to the identity of the ship and its cargo.

    Ports & Ships asked Ian Shiffman for his help and he reports that the vessel is the Chinese heavylift ZHEN HUA 13 which is carrying four large ship-to-shore container gantries. The ship arrived in port last Saturday and so far no departure time has been announced. The cranes are understood to be destined for a port in Northern Europe.

    Not being satisfied with his own response, Ian Shiffman hurried off to the harbour to take the accompanying picture of the ship and cargo, taken from necessity from a difficult angle. Thanks to Ian for this.

    New marine research vessel to be named

    In other Cape Town news the Minister of Environmental Affairs & Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk will on Thursday (20 September) officially take delivery of and name the department’s new marine research vessel, the ELLEN KHUZWAYO.

    The delivery of the new state of the art research vessel comes at a time when fish stocks are declining globally due to various factors, including changing environmental conditions. The vessel will play a key role in gathering scientific research on inshore marine resources and the marine environment.

    The naming and handover takes place on Thursday, 20 September at the V&A Waterfront.

    Opening the Northwest Passage

    After the excitement of the Durban harbour blaze, reported above, some slightly more chilling news, in both senses. Reports have been received from the European Space Agency saying that there is now clear evidence that the Northwest Passage across the Arctic Ocean is fully open.

    The opening has come about because of melting ice and pictures apparently show how the ice has shrunk to its lowest level since satellite measurements became possible 30 years ago.

    A passage through the Arctic Ocean has long been the ambition of trading nations, seeking to avoid the longer journey through the Panama Canal. In the days before the canal was opened ships had to go the long route round Cape Horn.

    In Europe a similar ambition has been to find a route for commercial ships to ply the Arctic Ocean above Russia from the Atlantic to the Pacific but until now only specialised ice strengthened and ice-breaking ships were able to make the journey. But in recent times the ice pack at the ‘top of the world’ has been steadily shrinking and experts now believe it will be possible to plan sea journeys across the Arctic Ocean at certain times of the year on a regular and reliable basis.

    Now the argument begins over sovereignty over the prospective new routes, with disputes having already begun in which both Russia and Canada claim ownership of the new waterways as well as other natural resources. Russia recently claimed rights to the seabed beneath the North Pole, a claim that has immediately been disputed.

    Pic of the day – HOEGH TRACER

    Click on image to enlarge – with some browsers click twice

    The pure car carrier HOEGH TRACER, seen in Cape Town harbour yesterday and pictured by Ian Shiffman

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