Chinese-owned bulk carrier FINALLY leaves SA after leaving trail of destruction.

More than seven months after entering Durban harbour the bulk carrier NS Qingdao is leaving our shores.

Photo credit: Africaports

She leaves behind a story of drama, heroism, administrative headaches, and about 1450 tons of toxic cargo now lying 3km underwater.

The cargo of the 190m Supramax bulk carrier caught fire while berthed at Durban’s Maydon Wharf. In her holds was enough chemical product to cause a catastrophic explosion, most of it reportedly intended for fertilizer production. Alarmed at what might befall the Port of Durban and surrounds in the event of a worst case scenario, maritime authorities evacuated the ship to an offshore anchorage.

The ensuing salvage operation was the stuff of nightmares, involving men in chemical suits driving custom chemical spill machinery inside the ship’s holds. It was also one of SAMSA’s most successful salvage operations to date.

“Something went wrong inside that hull — one chemical just started reacting and basically the fire went out of control,” salvage master Richard Robertson told the Sunday Times earlier this year. “Then we had to move offshore and try to stabilise the situation,” he said, adding that explosive gas had become trapped inside the burning hold. “That became an explosive environment — if you opened and introduced oxygen it literally would have exploded.

“We’re still trying to confirm why it happened,” Robertson said.

After much deliberation the ship was diverted to St Helena Bay where a specialist team was flown in to deal with the crisis. They first isolated the fire in the affected cargo area – it was limited to the aft of the ship – and then removed the burning cargo onto skips brought alongside the ship. The cargo was then dumped in the ocean where it dispersed.

NS Qingdao then berthed in Saldanha to allow the rest of her cargo to be removed and transferred to a landfill site. The ship was also inspected to assess structural damage.

She arrived in Cape Town on May 1st for some shore-side engineering support, looking slightly ‘under the weather’, according to a report in  Her white accommodation block “had taken on a rusty brown appearance (from the iron ore dust at Saldanha)”, the website remarked. “Her hull, adjacent to hull number three, was also streaked with the caked remains of her chemical discharge, and her black hull looked like a giant seagull had deposited its lunch at this spot,” the report said.

Let’s hope the vessel’s next visit to our shores is less dramatic.

Photo credit: Africaports

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