Beached Heng Tong finally refloated at Karachi's beach after 48 days

Published September 8, 2021
The vessel makes its way into the open sea on Tuesday.—Online
The vessel makes its way into the open sea on Tuesday.—Online

KARACHI: Following a successful reflotation operation, the beached cargo ship MV Heng Tong 77 was pulled back to deep waters at high tide on Tuesday.

The reflotation team rejoiced as the ship, beached off Seaview since July 21, slowly turned its nose towards the deep waters while being pulled by a barge and two tugboats up ahead. It was being dragged at first. Sometimes the waves also threw it back a few metres towards the beach. But the tugs and the rope tied to the barge kept on pulling. Finally, Heng Tong’s nose bobbed followed by its tail doing the same and everyone could see that it was finally afloat and completely off the sandy surface of the beach.

Citizens watch as the beached cargo ship MV Heng Tong 77 is freed at Karachi's Seaview beach. — Photo by author
Citizens watch as the beached cargo ship MV Heng Tong 77 is freed at Karachi's Seaview beach. — Photo by author

Still not forgetting how the ship had returned to another part of the Seaview beach after an almost successful operation on Aug 24, the team was still watching the ship’s progress carefully. It crossed 300 metres and the frowns eased. It crossed 1,000m and there were smiles all around. Then when it had gone out about 2,500 to 3,000m there were sighs of relief and celebration.

Altaf Ghanchi, owner of Ayan Ship-Breakers, hired by the shipowners to salvage the ship and carry out the reflotation operation, was so happy that he could be seen embracing all his ground staff and divers. He even hugged the police constables keeping picnickers at bay during the lengthy reflotation operation of about one-and-a-half months. “I thank God Almighty Who helped us free this ship from the sand and help it get back to the deep sea,” he said.

‘This is the first ship that has been refloated in Pakistan’

“Basically, we did the opposite of what we do at the Gadani ship-breaking yard for scrapping ships. There we brought ships to the beach before anchoring them and here we pushed it back into the sea by dropping the same anchors into the water and pulling the ship outward with the help of winches,” explained Ghanchi.

“There were three other ships that had got beached earlier of which two had been stuck at Clifton and one at Manora. All three had to be scrapped. But this is the first ship that has been refloated in Pakistan. So it will not be wrong to say that we created maritime history here today,” Ghanchi claimed.

Refloatation team celebrates as the beached cargo ship MV Heng Tong 77 is freed at Karachi's Seaview beach. — Photo by author
Refloatation team celebrates as the beached cargo ship MV Heng Tong 77 is freed at Karachi's Seaview beach. — Photo by author

This time the ship had been given two new anchors, which it dropped as soon as it reached the outer anchorage in the harbour area. “We waited for high tide as we started pulling the vessel towards the deeper side. We only had about one hour or so after high tide during the lull period when the depth of water stays the same,” said Captain Asim Iqbal, the shipping agent involved in the operation.

Another expert at the spot, the anti-pollution officer of Karachi Port Trust’s (KPT) Marine Pollution Control Department, Salis Younis, said that although the KPT and Pakistan Navy had defueled the ship soon after its getting beached at Seaview in order to prevent any leakage or danger to marine life, they had still left some fuel in its tanks for its engines and power generation during reflotation.

“Sometimes the weather conditions didn’t suit Heng Tong’s reflotation and sometimes the tide levels were not according to the desired need but we are also glad that the ship is finally afloat and off to the harbour now on its own engine power. It was all a team effort that has shown us all success today,” he said.

Arif Shaikh, director of Sea Max Marine Services, the company hired by the ship’s owners to organise the reflotation team, said that he is most thankful to the Pakistan Navy, KPT and all the other agencies and institutions that made the operation successful. “Everyone went [out of] their way to make this happen and it is the fruit of their labour which you can see today,” he said.

Two men walk at Karachi's Seaview beach as cargo ship MV Heng Tong 77 leaves. — Photo by author
Two men walk at Karachi's Seaview beach as cargo ship MV Heng Tong 77 leaves. — Photo by author

While refraining from sharing the exact cost of the operation, he said that had any international company been hired to oversee the reflotation of the ship, they would have charged at least $200 million. “We have not taken even a quarter of it using all local resources,” he smiled.

Earlier on Aug 11, MV Heng Tong 77 had been declared “unseaworthy” and detained by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs under Section 394 of the Pakistan Merchant Ordinance 2001. Now as it finds a berth at the KPT, it will undergo repairs including getting new rudders, before it is examined again to be allowed to leave the port.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2021

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