Salvers estimate 4h tow for Hoegh Osaka into Southampton: Picture courtesy Maritime & Coastguard Agency

Salvers estimate 4h tow for Hoegh Osaka into Southampton: Picture courtesy Maritime & Coastguard Agency

Rapidly reducing list on the Hoegh Osaka could see the giant carship towed back into the Port of Southampton tomorrow afternoon (22 January), although unpredictable weather may yet delay her entry.

All 3,000t of water which poured into the vessel as shifting machinery cracked the ship side, has now been removed by salvers, Svitzer, but there is still no indication as to the condition of the 1,400 Jaguar Land Rovers, Minis, JCBs and one Rolls-Royce Wraith remaining on board.

The salvers have worked quickly to slash the lean angle from a dizzy 52° to just 25° today, with confidence rising this could reduce even faster to just 5°, allowing easier manoeuvring around the ship.

Svitzer has had to use roping teams so far to move about the car decks, given the extreme angle at which the vessel was positioned shortly after departure from Southampton on 3 January, while huge storms have also made access by both tug and helicopter problematic.

"They are trying for 5°," a spokesman for Hoegh Osaka owner, Hoegh Autoliners, told just-auto. "Tomorrow at high tide is the soonest and it would be great if that happens, but there is certainly no desire to rush anything.

"There is a berth assigned [in Southampton] that will be ready when it gets there - berth 101. There is an issue in terms of the tide [in] that it will be easier to tow it in [on] a flood tide, so they are looking for that, but it is not an absolute requirement."

Once docked, a fierce spotlight is sure to fall on the nature of the cars on board, with only BMW so far detailing its 65 Minis and one Wraith, while JCB confirmed it had 105 machines.

Jaguar Land Rover is declining to elaborate on the nature of its 1,200 vehicles, many of which could have been destined for some of the Hoegh Osaka's Middle East port calls including Oman, Kuwait, Dubai and Bahrain.

Once the list angle reaches 15° to 20°, staff from the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) will board, while a skeleton crew will also enter the ship in preparation for the four-hour journey back to Southampton.

Any start of up of the Hoegh Osaka will still depend however, on confidence in its stability and ship systems, as well as tide time, wave and weather conditions.

"The journey is expected to take four hours," said a statement from the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA). "Four tugs will help bring the ship in and the salver will be assisted by two pilots and the ship's master. The salvers will remain in charge of the ship until it is safely alongside.

"During the towing operation to bring the Hoegh Osaka in to Southampton Port, a Restricted Airspace [Temporary] [RAT] will be placed one mile either side of the navigation route and up to 2000 ft. This is designed to provide essential safety during the towing operation."

Weather data from Associated British Ports shows wind gusting at up to 21mph tonight, near to where the Hoegh Osaka was deliberately rammed aground on a sandbank on 3 January before being floated off.