Wreck Removed, Mess Remains

Monday, March 08, 2004
The wreck of the TASMAN SPIRIT has been successfully removed. The aft section was re-floated on Saturday, March 6, and was yesterday delivered to buyers at Gadani Beach in the province of Baluchistan, Pakistan. This follows the earlier removal of the forward section of the tanker that had run aground in the channel into Karachi Port on July 27 last year.

The wreck removal contractors SMIT Salvage B.V., were operating under a wreck removal contract agreed with The American Club, the vessel’s liability insurers. Speaking in London, Brian Davies, Claims Director of The American Club said, ‘We are very pleased with the outcome. SMIT have completed a difficult operation under difficult circumstances well within the required time frame. It was very important to remove the wreck before the onset of the South west monsoon.’

The removal of the wreck now ensures that the channel is much safer for navigation into and out of Karachi, the port that handles some 90% of Pakistan’s seaboard trade.

Hans van Rooij, managing Director of SMIT Salvage said, ‘The wreck removal operation was extremely challenging. The SMIT team not only had strong currents, access difficulties and zero visibility to contend with, but also the fact that the vessel was embedded in a trench some six meters deep and had completely fractured into two sections. The ship was a real mess - 90% of the ship’s bottom was ripped off during the grounding. Then the vessel was battered into two by the South West Monsoon in two weeks. We are pleased to have finished the job with our team safe. They did a good job’ SMIT said that it was the forward section that had sustained the most severe structural damage, with over 90% of the bottom plating damaged or missing up to a height of four meters from the keel bottom. The aft section cargo tanks had experienced severe damage to the bottom plating and longitudinal bulkheads, and a large section of the starboard side shell plating and tank framework was destroyed.

Due to the time constraints placed by the approaching monsoon season, and the previously unknown extent of the damage sustained by the Tasman Spirit, a combination of patching and lifting was employed to expedite the wreck removal whilst allowing for contingency planning.

‘Karachi Eight’ - Crew and Salvage Master still held hostage

However, the seven crew of the Tasman Spirit, together with the Greek salvage master, remain hostages held under spurious criminal charges filed by the Karachi Port Trust (KPT). International efforts to release them have so far been ignored by Pakistan in circumstances that can only further damage the image of the country and its status as a trading nation. The American Club has repeatedly offered to initiate meaningful discussions with The Government of Pakistan to facilitate the release of the crew. The European Union, United Nations through the International Maritime Organization (IMO, The Government of Greece and many international shipping bodies and seafarers organizations have all called for the crew’s release and repatriation. The American Club has steadfastly refused to discuss compensation until the crew has been released. At present Pakistan has no recourse to any compensation except that which can be determined by the Pakistan courts and that may be available from parties found liable for the grounding of Tasman Spirit. Pakistan is not a signatory to any of the international oil spill compensation conventions expressly designed, and in force, for many years, to provide compensation in the event of an accidental oil spill such as this one. Despite this regrettable lack of provision for accidental oil spills the Club has been prepared to treat Pakistan as if they had behaved responsibly.

The American Club’s General Counsel, Michael J. Mitchell, said, ‘The continued detention of the men is a blatant abuse of their human rights and of all the relevant international conventions and practices of coastal states. Our efforts on behalf of the crew have, thus far, been rebuffed despite expectations that the wreck removal would clear the way for their release. To their credit the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) were supportive of the wreck removal operation. We have experienced some problems wit the customs authorities in Pakistan who have undermined efforts to remove the ship and there are some customs issues remaining to be resolved but we now expect that SMIT will be allowed to remove their men and materiel without hindrance.

‘The Club have cleaned up the oil, removed the wreck and offered to pay compensation in accordance with international standards, we have met the KPT in London and Karachi, written to President Musharraf and we have done everything asked of us. The Club’s good intentions are proven - it is now up to Pakistan to release the Karachi Eight.’ - Michael J. Mitchell, General Counsel, American Club ‘We will not consider this operation successful until the crew are released. The Karachi Eight have been detained for more than six months following filing of unsubstantiated criminal charges by the KPT.These charges, originally laid before the Karachi Magistrates Court have, disappointingly, been referred to the Provincial Court of Sindh. This development can serve only to drag out this process when it is time for a resolution. The Club have cleaned up the oil, removed the wreck and offered to pay compensation in accordance with international standards, we have met the KPT in London and Karachi, written to President Musharraf and we have done everything asked of us. The Club’s good intentions are proven - it is now up to Pakistan to release the Karachi Eight.‘

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