Salvors respond to Gulf tanker incidents

The fire on 'Front Altair' was quickly extinguished (BBC) The fire on 'Front Altair' was quickly extinguished (BBC)
Industry Database

Boskalis subsidiary Smit Salvage has been appointed salvor for two tankers and their cargo following suspected attacks on the vessels in the Gulf of Oman.

The incidents follow alleged attacks on four tankers earlier this year and rekindling memories of the ‘supertanker wars’ of the 1980s where merchant shipping was caught up in the war between Iran and Iraq. Loaded tankers became pawns in the dispute, subjected to sustained periods of attacks often involving Exocet missile strikes.

Together with other international salvors Smit was heavily involved in the aftermath in high-risk operations which put the otherwise ‘Cinderella’ and brave work of the salvage industry onto the front pages and television screens globally.

The first of these latest incidents occurred when the 27,000dwt product tanker Kokuka Courageous suffered damage to its starboard side while 70 miles from Fujairah. The 21 crew on board abandoned ship, its cargo of methanol reported as intact and the vessel in a stable condition. A towing connection was established, and the crew were able to return to their ship and at the time of writing Kokuka Courageous is anchored off Fujairah with support vessels in attendance.

The second incident on the same day, was more serious involving a suspected attack on the 110,000dwt Front Altair loaded with 75,000 tonnes of naphtha and on passage from Abu Dhabi to Taiwan. Three explosions were reported resulting in a fire on the vessel’s starboard side amidships. Front Altair’s Norwegian owner discounted an Iranian news agency report that the vessel had sank and thankfully, all 23 crew were once again evacuated to as nearby vessel.

The fire was extinguished the same day but the following day Boskalis reported the situation on Front Altair as “still worrisome” and a Smit team was flown in to carry out the salvage operation accompanied by specialist equipment. It was later reported that the vessel was under tow towards the UAE with boundary cooling operations underway.

AIS data currently shows the Front Altair anchored close to the Kokuka Courageous off Fujairah and the salvage industry will doubtless be reflecting on events of nearly 40 years ago which included further attacks on tankers already damaged while salvage teams worked on board and in the immediate area.

By Peter Barker

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