Salvage experts to decide fate of cargo ship beached at Seaview

Published July 24, 2021
People view the stranded vessel at Seaview on Friday. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
People view the stranded vessel at Seaview on Friday. — Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: The cargo motor vessel (MV) Heng Tong 77 that ran aground to find itself stuck at the Seaview beach in the early hours of Wednesday awaits its fate while its owners bring in salvage teams to see what can be done about it.

The 98 metres in length and 20 metres wide ship, with a capacity of 3,600 dead weight tonnage, said to be built in 2010, was waiting for a crew change outside the Karachi Harbour while on its way to Turkey from China when a mild sea storm caused it to lose its anchors and start drifting towards the shore.

By the time the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) got to know of the situation it was too late as the ship was already in shallow waters. It is said that the Karachi Harbour’s navigation channel has not been impacted by the ship’s floating off to shore.

Asked if the ship would have to be broken at the Seaview beach now that it’s stuck there, a spokesman for the KPT said that is for the salvage teams to decide.

“It is not a very big ship. There may also be a way to pull it out during high tide as the shipowner has also contacted special shallow draft salvage tugs and equipment providers to pull the vessel out of the area. But it remains to be seen by the salvage teams. The owners are bringing them in. The salvage teams are the experts. They would know better about what to do. Let’s see what they will say,” he said.

KPT says oil booms have been deployed to contain possible spillage

“The owners will need to claim insurance in order to salvage the ship, be it by pulling it out in one piece or breaking it. So they must abide by international maritime laws if they want to claim that insurance,” the spokesman pointed out.

Public access to beach restricted

Meanwhile, the area has been completely cordoned off and no one is allowed to approach the vessel without permission.

It was soon after MV Heng Tong ended up at Seaview beach that people arrived at the spot to see it despite the fact that the beach was closed under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code, banning people from getting into the rough monsoon sea.

Still, the public could access the beach from the McDonald’s parking lot to take many pictures and videos of the ship. It was possible to get quite close to it during low tide. But after the sharing of those pictures and videos on social media, the beach was properly closed from that side as well.

There was also danger of pillage or stealing from the containers loaded atop the ship. It is not clear what is inside the containers.

There is also talk of the ship carrying oil in its hull, which has raised fears of pollution and environmental danger.

But when contacted about this, the KPT spokesman told Dawn that the ship was a cargo vessel, and not an oil tanker.

“There is oil in its hull like oil in any ship,” he said.

Oil containment booms deployed

When asked if the sea current around the shore may damage the hull, the spokesman said that KPT will try to bring in oil containment booms. “Although it is not usual to lay out booms in choppy waters, we are going to try doing it in case there is any spillage,” he said.

By Friday evening, the KPT authorities had deployed oil booms around the affected area to contain the damage in case of any spillage.

Earlier, it was also explained by KPT that salvaging the vessel is the responsibility of the shipowners, a Hong Kong-based company in this case.

Still, the KPT and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) will remain available for any operational and tactical assistance that it might need in Pakistani waters.

MV Heng Tong 77 besides flying the Pakistan flag, which it is supposed to do upon entering Pakistan’s territory, is also flying the Panama flag.

Earlier on Thursday, Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi also visited the beach to see the stranded vessel up close. He said that the ship’s getting stuck at the beach had nothing to do with the KPT management but now that it was here KPT and the Port Qasim Authority, too, were here to extend their expertise if required and requested by the shipowner.

He said that the PMSA had also been directed to play a more supportive and active role to investigate if there was any other reason for the ship’s presence at the shore, adding that the ship was being closely monitored by both the KPT and PMSA.

The minister was very clear that all consequential marine and environmental damages, if any, will be on account of the shipowner. He said that under no circumstances will he allow the ship to leave Pakistani waters till they have paid their dues.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2021

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