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''Ikan Tanda'' Washes Up on Cape Beach - Nov 2001
Scarborough, Cape Town, South Africa

On the 5th of September 2001, during the worst storm to hit the Cape in 50 years, a bulk carrier suffering from engine failure was swept by stormy seas and howling gale force winds towards the beautiful beach of Scarborough, approximately 50 kilometers from Cape Town. Grounded, she eventually settled on a sand bank about 300 metres from the beach - much to the surprise and horror of the local residents who live in this charming town at the center of an environmentally sensitive stretch of coastline. The winter storm had also flooded out 35,000 people in the settlements east of Cape Town's city center, causing President Thabo Mbeki to declare parts of Cape Town disaster areas as families abandoned homes and moved into churches and school halls. City officials reported roofs blown off, trees toppled and roads flooded throughout the area.

'Ikan Tanda', a 17 800 DWT, general dry cargo vessel registered in Singapore, was carrying a cargo of 15,500 tonnes of Potassium Nitrate (a fertilizer), Potassium Sulphate, Potassium Chloride and Boronat in five holds from Chile to Singapore with a scheduled crew change in Cape Town. The ABS classed, 145.5m x 13.1m x 13.1m, Freedom II class vessel was originally built in 1979 by Ishikawajima Kure in Japan as the 'Amazon' and was managed by PACC Ship Managers Pte. Ltd. of Singapore at the time of the grounding.

Off Cape Town the ship lost power due to a small fire in the engine room. The vessel's operator, said that the engine problem was relatively minor and could normally have been fixed in eight hours, but it was a question both of bad timing and bad weather. If they were out in the open sea, in calm weather, they could just fix the problem. But the ship wasn't in open seas. It was about 40km from Cape Town and drifting rapidly towards the shore. For three hours after the engine failed, her Captain let the 'Ikan Tanda' drift as waters were too deep to anchor. As she reached the anchorage area, she was still being tossed about in 10 meter high swells and rolling heavily making it difficult for the crew to keep their balance and avoid being washed into the sea as they dropped the two anchors. Gale force winds gusting above 50 knots and the high seas continued to pound and batter the ship. The anchors failed to hold and as she drifted closer and closer to shore the Port Authority sent out an emergency helicopter to keep a watch on the vessel. Finally she ran hard aground in about 3 meters of water September 5th near the Slangkop lighthouse, South of Cape Town, Striking a sandbar just 300m from the shore in a 'notoriously rocky part of the Cape coastline', Lying parallel to the huge swells.

Smit Pentow Marine (Pty) Ltd, a Smit International company, was awarded a LOF (with Scopic) and the 94.6m, 19,200HP salvage tug 'John Ross' was dispatched to the scene.

With the storm still raging, South African Air Force (SAAF) Oryx helicopters were sent to lift the ship's 23-man crew to safety, after an earlier helicopter rescue of 27 fishermen off the Chinese long-liner 'Chia Ying 6' when it washed against the outer breakwater of Cape Town's container terminal. On deck of the 'Ikan Tanda', the crew watched as the helicopter kept being pushed back as it tried to lower a line to rescue them. When they were pulled up, one by one, they swung about like pendulums, scared that they would hit the ship. 18 crew were lifted off, while the Captain, Chief Mate and three other crew members decided to stay onboard to help the salvage effort. A six-man Smit Pentow salvage team was also airlifted aboard under the most challenging of weather conditions. They filled the boat with 800 tonnes of ballast - or seawater - to weigh down the ship to keep her from drifting in further. Skillful performances by the helicopter pilots on the scene that day bore testament to the high degree of professionalism that became characteristic of the entire operation.

The salvage tug 'John Ross' arrived after a five hour journey through 7 - 8 meter swells, but couldn't hook up a tow-line because of the rough seas. On Thursday, a member of the salvage team onboard reported: that she appeared to have started taking on water as she continued to be battered by heavy waves, but the crew still couldn't find out how badly the hull was damaged. As the storm subsided, the salvage team turned their attention to preventing an oil spill from the 230 tonnes of fuel on board which should the tanks rupture posed an immediate and grave danger to the pristine shoreline of the Cape Point Nature Preserve. They were racing against time as weather was expected to turn bad again.

In the days immediately following the grounding, the first priority of Salvors Smit Pentow Marine became the removal of the 230 tonnes of oil on the vessel and a full assessment of the casualty's structural integrity. The options were to do either a ship-to-ship or a vessel-to-shore transfer, but neither was easy under the circumstances. The vessel was lying about 300m offshore and at low tide was in water no more than 4m deep. The swell was quite heavy and white water was still breaking well to the seaward side of the vessel. This made it very difficult to bring a fuel lighter close. From the landward side the rocky shore also made it hard to bring heavy equipment within reach. The first of the oil transfers began on Friday September 8th even as the deck was frequently swept clean by one wave after another. The gas oil and heavy fuel on board was first transferred away from the bilge tanks most threatened by damage into safer holding tanks in the ship's structure. Despite approaching cold and bad weather, the internal oil transfer operation by salvage workers who were sheltering on board the ship in miserable conditions continued and helicopters remained on stand-by to airlift them off the vessel in case she started to break up. The sticky viscosity of the heavy oil made for a slow pumping process. Floating oil tanks each capable of carrying 100,000 liters of oil, known as 'sea slugs' were airlifted to the casualty in preparation for transfer of the oil and bunkers. As weather permitted they were moored alongside and filled with oil to be towed ashore by the small workboat 'Ocean Pride'. Weather conditions still continued to plague oil removal operations and high swells many times stopped the lightering tugs from coming alongside, finally causing 'Ocean Pride' to hit the sea bottom, damaging the port propeller and requiring her to return to Cape Town on one engine for drydocking. Approximately 20 tonnes of oil remained on the 'Ikan Tanda' trapped and inaccessible in the structural steelwork in No. 5 and 6 double bottom tanks upon completion of the oil removal operation. Throughout, huge swells and foul weather continued to challenge the salvage team. Procedures to prepare the ship for towing off continued, and salvors still believed the ship could be pulled off the rocks by the deep sea salvage tug 'John Ross', which maneuvered to within half a nautical mile of the 'Ikan Tanda' in a test to see how close she could get. The ship's bows were also being prepared to take the strain of towing.

The number of visitors to the area increased dramatically over the weekend and the road between Slangkop and Red Hill was periodically closed by traffic authorities, who would allow only residents through. There were long queues of traffic in the area, with hundreds of people trying to get to a distant glimpse of the grounded ship across the bay. For Scarborough residents the presence of the vessel changed their lives, and they feared their pristine beach and favorite mussel banks could be ruined if the ship broke up. As every cloud has a silver lining though, the local restaurant 'Cobbs' was inviting onlookers to try one of their 'Shipwreck Specials' or a 'Sundowner on the Rocks' and offering a 'no oil pollution guarantee' with their food.

Although at first attempt, helicopters were refused permission to fly except in case of danger to human life and salvors were prevented from landing a naval architect aboard, they were eventually successful. The architect had to determine the vessel's condition, decide whether there was serious structural damage and calculate the forces to be applied to the ship once removal operations began. It was determined that the structural integrity remained sound, but the vessel's bow and stern areas were unsupported with most of the grounded areas being in the mid-part of the vessel. With the heavy ground action, shearing forces and bending moments being experienced by the casualty, it was extremely urgent to commence lightening of the vessel to be able to attempt a refloating before she broke up. To lighten the ship for towing, at least some of her cargo would need to be removed. While the cargo was not deemed dangerous to marine plant life, there were fears that marine animals could try to eat it. It was determined by the Naval Architect and the salvage team that a minimum of 12,000 tonnes of cargo had to be removed. One of the real threats facing the Salvors and the environment was if the vessel suffered major structural damage and the entire remaining cargo on board were to be released into the immediate surf zone. It was considered that dispersing cargo overboard and offshore would greatly reduce the likelihood of this occurring. Thus the second phase of the operation involved the removal of both the bagged and bulk cargo. Smit Pentow Marine were granted a dumping permit by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism and continued with the overboard dumping of Potassium Chloride, Potassium Sulphate and Potassium Nitrate. A condition of the permit granted to Smit Pentow Marine was increased sampling activity. Scientific monitoring of the area continued throughout this phase of the operation with sampling being carried out to ensure that maximum nitrate concentration levels, as laid down in the dumping permit, were not exceeded. Reports throughout showed that nitrate concentration levels were within those defined by the dumping permit. The bagged cargo was generally slit open before the cargo, in a powder form, discharged overboard or transferred on other vessels to discharge ashore. Cargo discharge was slow though at times as the bagged cargo in No 1 hold was saturated with water.

All options were considered for a timely and feasible shore discharge option involving the potassium nitrate, however it was imperative to attempt a refloating as soon as possible due to continuous deterioration of the vessel. Time factors were critical. To this end, a 10-inch hose string was made up and towed to the casualty in preparation to pump out the potassium nitrate as a soluble solution or slurry through a dispersal pipe about 300 metres offshore. The potassium nitrate comprised of 7,500 tonnes, however the actual amount of nitrate present in this tonnage was been chemically calculated to be a maximum of 1,039.6 tonnes, the balance being potassium, which is a naturally occurring substance in seawater. Salvors employed scientific experts to determine the environmental impact of the cargo being introduced to the sea and were advised that these two components were considered benign and would have no adverse effects on the environment. Aerial survey reports indicated that the potassium chloride and potassium sulphate dispersed overboard diffused and ionized very well with the seawater posing no environmental hazard. Five sampling and survey sites were been set up in the vicinity of the casualty to monitor the flow of the dispersed cargo in the water.

While cargo discharge operations continued, salvors were using the 61.44m, 8,000HP tug supply boat 'Pentow Skua' to rig ground tackle to the stern of the ship as well as run steel cable pennants for ease of connection to the salvage tug's towing cable when the refloating attempt was ready to take place. Periodic pumping also continued on the inaccessible oil in the No.5 and No.6 double bottom tanks and after a meeting between the salvors, the South African Maritime Safety Authority and the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, it was decided to introduce a dispersant, OSE 970, into these tanks to agitate the contents and break up the remnants of the oil, making it easier to pump. Weather continued to be a problem and cargo discharge operations were seriously impacted by the swells which were at times up to 7 meters, breaking over the starboard side of the vessel. A hydraulics failure aboard also occurred when the starboard gallery flooded and hatches were unable to close for a time causing holds Nos. 1, 2 and 5 to be flooded. Due to heavy seas and the swell, with waves continuously breaking across the entire main deck, the cargo discharge operation periodically halted with salvors evacuating the deck awaiting moderation. Finally salvors were able to confirm that the balance of the boronat cargo on board had been safely removed and the pumping of the potassium nitrate in a slurry format from hold No 1, to an offshore distance of 300 meters began. Progress was hampered though by the potassium nitrate hardening due to the seawater. A full hydrographic survey of the immediate vicinity of ship as well as the proposed refloating route was completed and divers carried out a full hull inspection to determine a more accurate picture of the grounding forces.

Heavy weather struck again and as a precautionary measure, all non-marine personnel (stevedores, crane drivers, etc.) were evacuated by helicopter, leaving only the core of experienced salvors on board, after increased concern over structural integrity as the lightened casualty shifted. Cargo discharge on a hold-by-hold basis continued after the situation stabilized, discharging and then ballasting one hold at a time. Due to deteriorating weather and damage to the hose, the pipeline was disconnected. Because of the severity of the situation with further structural damage increasing, Smit Pentow Marine applied for the authorities to decide on overboard dumping of the potassium nitrate cargo by means of grabs - in a controlled manner, which agreed subject to increased sampling.

As is the case in all high profile salvage operations, events unfolded in the face of great public debate and discussion by local and national environmental organizations, Scarborough-based resident's forums, international and local media and other interested parties. This provided salvors and various government organizations with a unique challenge, particularly during the phase of the operation involving the dumping of the cargo - a challenge that was overcome by the establishment of a consistent and reliable communication network and transparency on the part of all those involved. This was crucial to the success of the operation as a whole and proved to be invaluable to Smit Pentow Marine during operations and afterwards.

In preparation for the refloating phase of the operation, the 94.6m, 19,200HP salvage tug 'Wolraad Woltemade' and the Anchor Handler 'Pentow Skua' were mobilized to Schuster Bay, just off Scarborough. The first attempt at refloating took place during the afternoon high tide of Tuesday 16th October - the 'Ikan Tanda' finally being successfully refloated on the 03h30 high tide on Wednesday 17th October. The successful conclusion to the refloating phase of the operation marked six long weeks of hard work which was celebrated by a party held by Smit Pentow Marine for the residents of Scarborough and Misty Cliffs. 

In the period following the refloating, the convoy of tug and tow headed out to sea where a full assessment of the vessel was completed and her list corrected to 3 degrees (from 25 degrees). After a week under tow, during which time unsuccessful attempts were made by Owners to bring her into a South African port for full assessment and possible repair, 'Ikan Tanda' was scuttled and sank at 20h30 on Saturday 27th October 2001 approximately 200 miles west of Cape Town - the crew aboard 'Wolraad Woltemade' bearing witness to what they described as a very moving event. The next morning, a floating hatch cover at the scene bore testament to 'Ikan Tanda's' demise, finally being sunk and joining the rest of the ship on the ocean floor.

Marcon thanks Clare Du Plooy-Gomes at Smit Pentow Marine,, Mike Hewitt,, Lloyd's List and Uyen Vu of The Electronic Newspaper Singapore for information and images.


Marcon International, Inc. P.O.Box 1170, 9 NW Front Street, Coupeville, WA 98239 USA
Phone:360-678-8880 | Fax: 360-678-8890 | email
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