On the 18 May 2009, a Coastguard aircraft under contract to the Department of Environment Affairs
spotted the Panamanian registered bulk carrier PINE TRADER
stopped in the water some 30 miles east of Cape Agulhas.
Contact was made with the Master who informed the aircraft
that he had a small engine problem and would be underway in 30 minutes.
The Pine Trader had 400 tonnes of fuel onboard
and was carrying a cargo of 20,500 tonnes of rice, destined for Abidjan.
The vessel was built in 1977 and has a gross tonnage of 18,322 tonnes.
The vessel’s managers were based in Croatia.
The situation was monitored by Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Cape Town.
The standby salvage tug Smit Amandla,
on contract to the Department of Transport and under the direction of SAMSA,
was instructed to sail from False Bay towards the Pine Trader.
The Master advised MRCC that the vessel had lost main engine power
and that there was a small hole in the engine room plating and flooding was continuing.
The vessel subsequently lost electrical power and only
the emergency generator was operational; this subsequently failed.
It was estimated that the vessel would ground
at the same time as the Smit Amandla would arrive on scene, in the area of Cape Infanta.
Negotiations were initiated with PetroSA,
who released the tug Smit Lloyd 33 - on station at the ORCA oilfield -
to steam to the Pine Trader as the vessel would arrive on scene prior to the arrival of the Smit Amandla.
As the weather moderated and the rate of drift slowed,
the Smit Amandla was able to attach a tow rope to the Pine Trader in the early hours of 19 May 2009.
The Smit Amandla commenced towing the Pine Trader away from the coast.
The following morning a senior SAMSA surveyor, with a Smit salvage team, boarded the vessel.
It became apparent that the hull had not cracked but had corroded, due to a lack of maintenance.
It was also readily apparent that the vessel was in very poor condition and was not seaworthy.
A repair was designed so as to re-establish the integrity of the hull and work commenced immediately.
The vessel was kept offshore amid fears that she may not survive the adverse weather being experienced.
When the vessel was within helicopter range it was decided to evacuate non essential crew members.
DEA were requested to provide a patrol vessel to standby the vessel
to mitigate any pollution should the vessel sink
and also to act as a rescue vessel for the remaining personnel.
DEA had a vessel present at all times until the Pine Trader was safely in port.
Negotiations were commenced with TNPA to allow the vessel into a port.
Ten days later, due only to the excellent seamanship skills of the Master of the Smit Amandla,
the vessel was ready to be docked -
a subsequent heavy cold front had caused further concerns over the safety of the vessel.
On arrival at the pilot station off Saldanha Bay,
the swell conditions exceeded the parameters for a safe entry into port
and the tow was ordered towards Cape Town.
Two days later, on 31 May 2009, the vessel safely docked in the Port of Cape Town.
It was subsequently decided that the cargo of rice would be transhipped
for onward carriage to its final destination.
While the vessel was in port, a Smit salvage team was onboard
to safeguard the vessel and the port.
A US $ 7 million guarantee was raised with the vessel’s insurers to cover costs
in the event that the vessel sank alongside
and the wreck had to be removed or there were pollution cleanup costs.
To mitigate this possibility all pollutants were removed from the vessel.
Early in the process the Joint Response Committee came to the conclusion
that they were dealing with disreputable owners -
the Master had seriously fractured his wrist and required surgery
and owners initially refused to put up funds for the operation,
the crew had not been paid for months,
there was no food onboard
and the costs of services rendered while the vessel was in port were not paid.
On completion of the cargo discharge and with debts mounting,
the vessel was arrested and subsequently sold through the High Court for scrap.
The Pine Trader left Cape Town under towage on 15 September and
cleared the South African EEZ on 22 September bound for breakers in India.
SAMSA, as chair of the Joint Response Committee,
wishes to acknowledge those parties who through their efforts
ensured there was no loss of life,
no pollution to the South African coast
and that 20,000 tonnes of food was saved:
Smit Amandla Marine, executing the State’s standby tug contract;
Department of Environment Affairs;
National Sea Rescue Institute;
Transnet National Port Authorities;
The maritime legal profession; and
Service providers who rendered commercial services.
Capt. NT Campbell
Regional Manager: Southern Region