Rope teams are being used to move around listing Hoegh Osaka

Rope teams are being used to move around listing Hoegh Osaka

Exhausted salvers are to take advantage of "terrible" weather forecast to smash into Southern England tonight (14 January) to rest as it is revealed they have had to use expert roping teams to move around the stricken Hoegh Osaka carliner.

The 51,000t ship carrying 1,300 Jaguar Land Rovers, BMW Minis, one Rolls-Royce Wraith and more than 100 JCBs lashed on board, will be battered by severe gales of around 85mph this evening in Southampton Water while the high winds will also ground a helicopter currently stranded in Holland that is due to drop the salvers from Svitzer.

The giant vessel is moving around 100 metres in the water, but a series of anchors and three tugs are attempting to keep it relatively stable despite one of them crashing into its side.

Svitzer is extremely experienced in this type of work but the size of the ship and strong winds are presenting particular challenges in righting the massive vessel.

Working in semi-darkness when the weather has allowed, they have managed to establish some dim lighting on board, but the sheer effort of moving around the many decks pitching over at up to a 52 degree list is leaving many exhausted.

"From the very first moment, we have asked a team of rope exercise guys to help us," said Svitzer operations manger, Bram Sperling. "We said, everybody continue working safe, maybe less hard. They are exhausted with the climbing.

"We have to be very careful from now on. SOSREP [Secretary of State Representative for Salvage and Maritime Intervention, Hugh Shaw] is keeping an eye and looking [out] for the guys to be safe, it is a big concern obviously."

There are currently 3,000t of water on board the Hoegh Osaka, which poured in following a crack developing after machinery shifted, but although this will need to pumped out, it is acting as a sort of unexpected ballast as the ship is buffeted around in high winds.

The enormous cost of stationing what is thought be a 15-strong team of salvers, as well as the helicopter which originated in Norway but is now stalled in Holland, plus the tugs, is as yet unknown, while the value of the 1,300 vehicles is equally unverified. 

Norwegian insurer, Gard, told just-auto yesterday it was the marine insurer for the vessel with responsibility for liabilities from casualties and pollution, as well as damage to the hull.

"The cargo will be insured by a different insurance company," said a Gard spokeswoman. "These are huge amounts of money - they are not taken on by any one insurer."

SOSREP has established a 300m exclusion zone around the ship, while the government spokesman added a similar aeriel prohibition would be put in place to aid the helicopter which will be based at nearby Royal Naval Air Station HMS Daedalus for quick access to the vessel.

"The most difficult part of the plan [is] to get the guys on board,"said Sperling. "We have additional tugs and have a contingency plan - I am confident we will be able to keep the vessel under control.

"We have discussed if the water takes over the vessel so the tugs can't control it any more. [If] the water takes over for any reason, the safety of the tug crews is a priority."

No details have been made available as to what state the cars are in but SOSREP's Shaw indicated some cargo had moved around since the Hoegh Osaka was deliberately rammed onto a sandbank on 3 January.

"Obviously my concern is we have a vessel where we know some of the cargo has shifted," said Shaw. "To risk access [there is the] possible crushing of persons on board."

The UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB)  is also working with SOSREP.