samedi 11 octobre 2008
By Brian Reyes
Emergency services from Gibraltar and Spain mounted a joint operation last night to save 31 seafarers whose cargo ship ran aground against Europa Point in severe weather. As this edition went to press at 11pm, five men had been airlifted by a Spanish rescue helicopter and the rest were huddled on the bow of the vessel awaiting rescue.
But as the ship was repeatedly pounded by waves in the dark, the high winds made the helicopter evacuation both extremely dangerous and difficult.
Pilot fatigue and fuel restrictions also contributed to the hazards of the daring operation. A second helicopter was desptached to help. The 24-year old Liberian old cargo ship Fedra was pinned at the base of the sheer cliffs of Europa Point.
As police and firemen laboured above, the sound of steel grinding against limestone could be heard cutting through howling gusts of wind of up to 83 km per hour.
The drama started late yesterday morning when the vessel suffered engine failure and dragged its anchor until it came perilously close to the shore.
All through Friday afternoon, tugs worked to secure towlines to the crippled vessel but these repeatedly failed. Efforts to repair the ship’s engine also proved futile.
There were four tugs on site, including the Spanish maritime rescue vessel Clara Campoamor, which was despatched following a request from the Gibraltar authorities for assistance from Spain. The 36,000-tonne ship was empty at the time of the casualty and is believed to be carrying only a small amount of fuel for its own consumption. According to the EU shipping database Equasis, it is managed by the Greek company Dilek Shipping.
Salvage experts from the US company Titan Maritime were assisting in the rescue operation. One of its vessels was standing by close to the wreck of the New Flame at the time and was first on the scene. The incident, just over a year after the sinking of the New Flame, will once again renew calls for tighter controls on shipping in the area. However it was clear yesterday that Spanish and local authorities had worked closely throughout the day to tackle the situation. The vessel has a chequered history and was detained last August by port state control inspectors in China, who found a total of 18 deficiencies including three relating to its propulsion and auxiliary machinery. Previous inspections this year had also found numerous deficiencies.
Last night, the Royal Gibraltar Police mounted a cordon to control access to Europa Point. The City Fire Brigade was also in attendance, as were Port Authority officials and other emergency personnel. A crisis control centre was set up in one of the police roving units. Police Commissioner Louis Wink was at the scene.
Chief Minister Peter Caruana and deputy Chief Minister Joe Holliday, who has ministerial responsibility for maritime affairs, were also at Europa Point last night.
Voir en ligne : Gibraltar Chronicle