A trio of Cornish collaborators has carried out another major salvage operation in the south of England.

When the 195m ro-ro vessel Mazarine suffered total main engine failure eight nautical miles off England’s Land’s End, it was almost inevitable that she, her 22 crew and three passengers would drift onto an outcrop known as Wolf Rock.



At around 9 o’clock in the morning, Mazarine’s main engine (MaK12M43) gave up the ghost and the crew could not restart nor fix it.

The vessel was doing its regular service between Cork in Ireland and Zeebrugge in Belgium when the engine seized and she drifted in a southwesterly wind onto the rock.

RNLI lifeboats from Sennen and Newlyn responded, along with an MCA helicopter in case there was a need to evacuate any personnel.

The Scillonian passenger ferry, on its morning run out of Penzance, also stood by but there were no injuries reported among the 22 crew and three passengers.

Sennen Cove’s Tamar class all-weather lifeboat then launched at 10am and made best speed to the area.

“When we launched initially, we thought we might be facing a situation where we were having to evacuate the crew from the vessel, and we were preparing ourselves for a very difficult situation,” said coxswain Ollie George. “Thankfully the Mazarine was able to clear Wolf Rock, but unable to restart her engines, she was drifting at a rate of two knots towards Mounts Bay.”

A third lifeboat launched

At 10.30am a Severn class lifeboat was launched from Newlyn.

“It’s a distance of about 14 miles from Newlyn to Wolf Rock, and with the south westerly wind touching force 7 on our bow, it was a pretty uncomfortable trip out there but with the possibility of having to evacuate crew from the casualty vessel we were going full speed to get there quickly,” said coxwain Patch Harvey, who in 30 years working these waters had not seen a vessel grounded on Wolf Rock. “It took about 45 minutes.”

There was no direct contact with the vessel’s captain and all communications were made via Falmouth Coastguard.

Using her own anchor winches, the 2009-built 195m long Malta-flagged vessel (31340gt/14552 summer dwt) managed to drag herself off Wolf Rock, beneath the famous lighthouse, and began drifting easterly towards The Lizard and cliffs that have claimed dozens of ships over the centuries.

Mercia & Mazarine arriving at Fal with James Dalton in foreground

Mercia and Mazarine arriving at Fal with James Dalton in the foreground

At about 4pm the Falmouth harbour tug Mercia, skippered by Captain Mark Rickard, arrived on scene and connected the tow to hold the ship.

The Sennen vessel was then stood down after nearly 10 hours at sea. The Lizard’s all-weather lifeboat continued to escort the vessel until around 1:30am before they handed over to the Falmouth lifeboat, which escorted the vessel into the safety of Falmouth Bay.

Salvage team

Casualty brokers, along with the vessel’s owners and insurers, appointed Falmouth-based marine contractors KML to provide a ‘nick of time’ salvage coordination team.

Diccon Rogers of KML and Brendan Rowe of SeaWide Services (SWS) had been informed of the incident via a network of local sources and international salvage intelligence services, and together they mobilised the fast crew transfer launch James Dalton with a six-man team.

Arriving at the drifting vessel, the salvage crew boarded the Mazarine in strong winds and swell and lengthened the tow to the Mercia, using the ship’s on-board emergency tow wire.

The ship’s pumps were coping with the inrush of water through the damaged hull, but emergency repairs had to be made by accessing the ballast tanks through a hatch to the bilge well on the lower vehicle deck, which was not loaded.

Rubber sheeting and boards of plywood were used to make a gasket to cover the hatch and five tonnes of chain were placed on top to hold it down against the ingress of water.

The KML/SWS team later replaced the timber and rubber with a steel bolted and welded patch.

The Mazarine and tug Mercia headed for the shelter of Falmouth Bay, but they were ordered by the MCA to stay to the east outside port limits where they zigzagged for several hours until the Deputy SOSREP (Secretary of State’s Representative) gave permission to enter the port’s waters, where the ship was anchored.

Hull damage

An underwater survey by SWS divers revealed significant damage to Mazarine’s hull.

hull damage1

Hull damage

Three ballast tanks within the double-bottom hull had been ruptured, although there was no sign of any pollution.

Following discussions between the ship’s owners and insurers, the MCA, A&P Falmouth, Falmouth Harbour authorities and the salvors, the vessel was towed into Falmouth Docks and a week after the grounding, entered drydock assisted by two local harbour tugs.

hull damage 2

Hull damage

Once in drydock the extent of the damage to Mazarine’s hull became evident, with multiple cracks in the plating beneath the waterline and large holes in area extending more than 20 metres.

With no ro-ro facilities in Falmouth the ship’s cargo of trailers will remain on board until it reaches a suitable port to discharge.

Salvage experience

The Cornwall-based marine specialist companies KML, SWS and A&P Falmouth were instrumental in the salvage of the Russian bulker Kuzma Minin in December 2018 and the repair of the crippled Maersk Weymouth.

KML and SWS also collaborated in the salvage of the Ukrainian-owned coaster Sea Breeze back in 2014 and have worked together on the salvage and/or recovery of many smaller commercial, fishing and leisure vessels, often contracted by the MAIB.

Mazarine is one of six sister vessels among the Luxembourg-based operating company’s fleet of more than 30 ro-ro vessels, mostly carrying unaccompanied road freight. The ship was built in 2009 and the Cork-Zeebrugge route was inaugurated in 2020, post Brexit restrictions on cross-Channel trade.

CldN, the ship’s operators, have not responded to requests for comment.

New contracts needed

The tug Mercia has a long history of harbour and coastal towage. As Sun Mercia, it was built in 1990 as one of the last of that famous Thames ship towage fleet, before being renamed Adsteam Mercia, then Svitzer Mercia.

Since arriving in Falmouth in 2020 she has frequently been deployed farther afield, recovering casualty vessels from the Western Approaches, and voyaging to Dutch and French ports and the Isles of Scilly.

With a bollard pull of 43 tonnes, Mercia is comparatively small by today’s standards, and has performed well but was not designed for deep water salvage.

Mazarine is a relatively small short-sea vessel, compared with the ultra large container ships and crude oil carriers that traverse these waters constantly. If one of those suffered the same kind of blackout it would need a lot more bollard pull to keep it from grounding.

Coincidentally, the MCA has just announced a new five-year contract for the Scotland-based Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) Ievoli Black, 70 metres in length and 2,283 gross tonnes, with a bollard pull of around 140 tonnes.

Under the new contract, there is a requirement for the vessel to be flagged to the UK and for the first time it will be operated by an all-UK crew.