Stranded Sealand Express Safe in Cape Town

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, September 19, 2003 (ENS) - One month after she ran aground off Cape Town in a storm with radioactive and explosive cargo aboard the U.S. flagged cargo carrier Sealand Express is now safely berthed in Cape Town's container terminal.

South African Minister of Transport Dullah Omar Thursday congratulated the South African Maritime Safety Authority for its efforts to deal with the Sealand Express grounding. Omar praised the agency for its successful handling of all the hazardous substances and the fuel oil on board the ship, and eventually the refloating of the vessel.


The Sealand Express stranded on a sandbank off Cape Town (Photo by Heilie Pienaar courtesy News24)
The 32,926 ton Sealand Express, owned by U.S. Ship Management, Inc. and chartered by Maersk Sealand, had 1,038 containers on board when she ran aground at 06:55 hours on August 19 in a typical Cape winter storm. The vessel was en route to Cape Town from Durban, South Africa.

South African Department of Transport officials said the crew failed to recognize the seriousness of storms at the tip of South Africa.

SMIT Marine South Africa was awarded the salvage contract for the grounded container vessel. A full hazmat team, comprised of technician, chemist and paramedic, was flown to the stranded shop every day to coordinate hazardous cargo removal in conjunction with the salvage team.

After several unsuccessful attempts to refloat her over the past month, the fuel oil was pumped off and hazardous cargo was removed by helicopter to lighten the vessel.

A total of 33 containers containing cargo classed as hazardous were on board the Sealand Express when she ran aground Maersk Sealand said. As a precautionary measure prior to the successful refloating attempt, 12 of them were unpacked and their contents safely airlifted to a secure reception facility in the Port of Cape Town by a powerful Mi8 helicopter.

A total of 3,518 metric tons of heavy fuel oil was removed from the Sealand Express, Port of Cape Town officials said.

For weeks, a dredger dug away at the sand bank on which she was stuck. Three tugs that tried to tow her out to sea finally succeeded on Saturday, but shortly afterwards the ship ran onto another sandbank further out from her original position, where she stuck fast. At last, the Sealand Express was refloated and towed west of Robben Island for inspection before heading into port.

"We are very pleased that the vessel has been refloated," said Lars Reno Jakobsen, chief executive of Maersk Sub-Saharan Africa, based in Cape Town.

Jakobsen expressed the thanks of the entire A.P. Møller - Maersk Group to the South African government agencies and salvers Smit Marine for their professionalism and expertise during the salvage operation. "In particular, I deeply appreciate the patience and understanding of the residents of Sunset Beach indeed, all Captonians," Jakobsen said.

Maersk Sealand gave "all appropriate support" to the salvage operation, which included the safe removal of hazardous cargo while the vessel was grounded, said spokesperson Jesse Lewis.


South African Minister of Transport Dullah Omar was responsible for solving the problems of the stranded Sealand Express. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Divers have established that the ship's hull and rudder are damaged by her weeks on the sand bank. Steel plates along the port side of the ship appear to be damaged. She is now docked at the container terminal and, after the containers are removed, she will go into dry dock at Durban for repairs if she is sound enough to be towed.

Maersk Sealand has sent another vessel, the Northstar, to transport the designated cargo from Cape Town to the U.S. East Coast. It is expected to arrive in Cape Town on September 20.

Minister Omar said all the work of the Joint Operations Committee, the South African Maritime Safety Authority and all salvage operations was done in an open and transparent manner. The South African public was fully informed of all issues and problems and nothing was kept secret.

Now that the vessel has been refloated, government departments involved will review the incident and see what lessons can be learned, Omar said.