Cargo ship carrying 1,400 luxury cars was DELIBERATELY grounded off Isle of Wight to stop it from capsizing, says owner

January 5, 2015 9:03 AM

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A cargo ship carrying 1,400 luxury cars was deliberately grounded off the Isle of Wight to stop it from capsizing, according to the owner.

An investigation has now begun into why 52,000 ton car transporter, the Hoegh Osaka, developed problems and started 'severely' listing shortly after leaving the Port of Southampton.

Ingar Skiaker, the chief executive officer of Hoegh Autoliners, which own the vessel, has praised the 'great skill and seamanship' of the pilot and master, who took the decision to steer the ship into Bramble Bank to prevent it from capsizing.

The ship, carrying luxury cars including Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, is now listing at 52 degrees and a salvage operation has begun which could take weeks.

Mr Skiaker said: 'Our vessel developed a severe list shortly after she left port and the pilot and the master took the decision to save the vessel and its crew by grounding her on the bank.

'This showed great skill and seamanship on behalf of our crew when faced with such challenging circumstances.

'At this stage it is too early to speculate on the cause of the list but we are starting an immediate investigation.

'Right now we have serious work ahead of us in order to free the vessel from the Bramble Bank without disrupting the flow of traffic in and out of the Port of Southampton.

Two crew members were taken to hospital with minor injuries, including one who suffered a broken leg, after the major rescue operation which saw a Coastguard helicopter and RNLI lifeboats take the entire crew to safety.

Appointed salvers Svitzer will spend the next few days going on board the ship to establish if the cargo, which as well as the cars includes 70 to 80 pieces of construction equipment, had shifted.

Maritime expert Professor Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre based in Southampton, said there could be a number of reasons why the ship had grounded.

Two possibilities were that it was done intentionally to avoid a bigger catastrophe or may have been due to a mechanical fault, he said.

He said: 'Interestingly, the ship went to the west of Bramble Bank whereas usually it would have gone to the east, past Portsmouth and across the Channel towards Germany.

'Visibility, given it was night, was perfect, there was just a light wind of around 2mph, wave conditions were good. Basically there was no weather-related reason for it to have problems.

'This ship has been in and out of Southampton before, the pilots are usually very experienced and they know the Bramble Bank so one wonders if there was a problem and the skipper decided, sensibly, that the safest thing to do was to ground it on the bank.

He added: 'The big question was whether the high tide would turn it on its side which would have made things very difficult.

'It didn't and that means the salvage operation has time and could wait for spring tides which are higher and arrive around Tuesday.

'It's now a question of taking things gently and carefully and trying to get it afloat safely and into port.

'It's basically a very large car ferry at a 45 degree angle so it will be a mess inside. There will be a lot of cargo - probably high end vehicles from BMW, Mini, Land Rover or Jaguar.

'At least if it was going to happen it's probably the best place in the world for it to happen. The MCA is here, the Oil Spill Response are here.

'There are many powerful tugs in Southampton which can be used to tow it - it's a big ship but it's an average size ship for Southampton.

Hugh Shaw, of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), said this would determine whether the operation would need to refloat the vessel.

A 200 metre exclusion zone has been set up around the 180-metre ship to prevent small vessels interfering with the tugs and other shipping.

The vessel was carrying luxury cars, thought to include Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, as well as up to 80 agricultural or building plant machines.

It has been estimated that the cost could run into tens of millions of pounds – and will soar further depending on the proportion of top-end cars.

Hugh Shaw, of the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), said the appointed salvers Svitzer would spend the next few days going on board the ship to establish if the cargo which also includes 70 to 80 pieces of construction equipment.

'There has been no release of oil into the environment and we are determined to keep the situation that way - we are not looking for a quick fix here,' he said.

Earlier today an attempt to refloat the vessel failed, meaning it will remain stuck for at least another three days because the tides will not be high enough to re-float her.

Salvage experts lost a race against time as they unsuccessfully tried to re-float the huge ship by using four tugs to pull it off the sandbank.

Salvage specialist Svitzer has sent teams to the site and they are currently liaising with surveyors from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who are on standby to assist with the operation.

It follows last night's daring helicopter-led rescue of the 25-strong crew, which was assisted by RNLI lifeboats from Yarmouth, Calshot and Cowes.

'The vessel's owners have appointed the salvage company Svitzer and a salvage team is on its way to the scene today to make an initial assessment.

A Yarmouth RNLI crew member was winched aboard the ship to help pull up casualties who were trapped on board.

Tom Pedersen, volunteer Calshot RNLI helmsman, said: 'This is not the sort of call-out you expect on a Saturday evening but we had a brilliant response from the RNLI volunteer crews and all the other agencies involved, resulting in the successful rescue of all the ship's crew.

The vessel this morning remained listing badly to one side after what was believed to have been a major failure of its navigation system. Crew members on board the ship told rescuers it was not taking on any water.

The ship was heading to the German port of Bremerhaven at the time of the incident.

The vessel was built in 2000 and weighs 52,000 tonnes. It is understood the cargo ship, which has a nine-metre draught, turned sharply to the left as it passed the notorious Bramble Bank sandbank near Cowes and ran aground.

Bramble Bank is a well-known sandbank in Southampton Water and is the scene of an annual cricket match between two yachting clubs when the sands are exposed in low spring tides.

In November 2008, the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 with 1,700 passengers on board ran aground on Bramble Bank but was able to continue its journey on the rising tide after four tugs pulled it clear.

The stricken carrier has become a tourist attraction with car parks along the coast filling up with people wishing to view it.

Hampshire police posted advice to motorists on Facebook warning them that the area had become 'extremely busy'.

They said: 'Good morning all, just a piece of friendly advice ... car parks along the coast by Calshot are extremely busy. This is due to people being interested in seeing the car transporter ship which has run aground.


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