Sunday 18th Nov, 2018

Kea Trader one year after grounding

Photo: Lomar Shipping
Photo: Lomar Shipping

ONE year on from the grounding of Kea Trader, salvage operations continue, with Lomar Shipping reporting significant progress on the project.

A Lomar spokesman said tremendous progress had been made over the past 12 months to safely remove the vessel

“However, these efforts have been stymied by horrendous conditions on site,” he said.

“It will continue to take time to complete but the safety of those involved and the protection of this marine environment must remain our priority.

“We are moving forward with every passing month and remain grateful for the continued support of the authorities and patience of people and businesses across New Caledonia.”

After running aground on 12 July 2017, the first order of business was the removal of 1009 cubic metres of heavy fuel oils, diesel and other lube oils, along with 697 of the 782 containers and flat-racks on board.

More recently 400 tonnes of other materials including furniture, computer equipment, partitions, false ceilings, mooring lines and other potential flotsam have been removed.

Much of the material was airlifted from the vessel by helicopter given the year-round challenge of sea swells that affect this remote location, 140 nautical miles from the nearest port of Noumea, New Caledonia, and around three hours flight time from the coast of Australia.

In November, the vessel broke in half after six months of storm-force conditions. Two cyclones in February and March battered the hulk. These, combined with persistent storms through May moved the forward section several times.

Today, safe access for workers from the Shanghai Salvage Company (SSC) is only possible in favourable weather; boarding has only been possible 40% of the time since November.

The two remaining ship cranes on Kea Trader are no longer in operation and together with a lack of deck space make routine helicopter landings impossible – not least with the forward section listing by 20 degrees and the aft 12 degrees.

Materials are still being removed when conditions permit with SSC concentrating on the collection of residual oily polluted water from pipes, reservoirs and hydraulic circuits; and any other remaining flotsam – 399 cubic metres of which has been removed to date.

Five empty container shells, one damaged during heavy seas, remain on top of the forward section. Another eight of the containers and flat-racks remain below deck in one of the flooded cargo holds.

Attention is now switching to the recovery of debris on the reef that detached during the storms.

This follows completion of a new independent bathymetric survey to determine current surface conditions and the precise location of debris, enabling shallow work vessels to move around the rock hard reef for divers to collect the metal fragments.

Airbags have been used to remove larger pieces of hull structure off the reef bed and onto the Ju Li, a logistics support and command platform that is now coordinating SSC operations on site. This work will continue and escalate over the coming months with the return of more favourable weather.

The materials and debris currently being recovered are to be recycled by local businesses in New Caledonia.

Plans for recovering more substantive pieces of hull from the reef bed are well advanced, with the intention to mobilise new heavy resources with heavy lift capabilities – the design of which is subject to complex engineering studies and final approval by the authorities. It forms part of a revised methodology for removing the vessel, which has been required given its changing condition and is aimed to provide safeguards to the local environment.

A 2194-TEU capacity container ship, Kea Trader was delivered in January 2017 at the Guangzhou Wenchong Shipyard in China. The vessel was registered in Valletta, Malta and it had been sailing from Papeete in French Polynesia to Nouméa in New Caledonia, loaded with 782 container units and flat-racks, when it ran aground on July 12th, 2017.

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