Tristan du Cuhna Anxiously Awaits the Return of Powerful Tugs
When the oil exploration rig A Turtle grounded on one of the world's most remote and ecologically sensitive islands early in June it caused great concern among the small local population. The 6,357 gross tons rig, originally named Petrobras XXI, had been roaming the South Atlantic for several months unattended after it was let go by its tug in heavy weather.
Measuring some 104m by 103m with a draft of 13m, the rig came to an unwelcome halt at inaccessible Trypot Bay on the south-east coast of Tristan da Cunha. Islanders discovered the unwieldy object some 200 to 300m offshore while tending cattle on the 7th of June. The discovery initiated an inspection as soon a favourable weather window was available by the Tristan Agriculture Officer Neil Swain, Police Inspector Conrad Glass, Head of Natural Resources James Glass and Conservation Officer Simon Glass. They inspected the huge oil rig marooned on a beach in a particularly wild spot. The only sign of environmental damage was a small diesel oil slick and no apparent sign that the rig had been damaged by recent storms.
Since its arrival it transpires that the platform had in the meantime been renamed A Turtle and is owned by Cayman Islands based Catleia Oil Company. Smit Salvage has been contracted, through Charles Taylor Consulting to recover the platform. A salvage team was dispatched from Cape Town to Tristan da Cuna on 16 June under the command of Salvage Master Captain Ian Carrasco aboard the tug ST Zouros Hellas. The voyage from Cape Town to Tristan da Cuna in mid-winter in the south Atlantic is hazardous and unpredictable and the passage was delayed due to heavy weather. ST Zouros Hellas eventually arrived off the island six days later and, when conditions allowed, carried out an inspection of A Turtle and its location, working in conjunction with seafarers with local knowledge.
Initial inspections indicated that an operation to refloat the rig should be feasible given sufficient preparation and suitable conditions.
It was found that one of the vessel's 20 columns, on the starboard side, was flooded and three on the same side aft were permanently aground.
Calculations necessary for re-floating the casualty were made.
On 29 June the 135 tons bollard pull ST Zouros Hellas made an unsuccessful attempt to pull the A Turtle from its precarious position.
A decision was subsequently made to await the arrival of an additional tug and in the meantime the salvage crew continued to work on the rig making further preparations.
Several attempts to contract an additional second tug failed and after 42 days on site the ST Zouros Hellas returned to South Africa. Insurers and the salvage company are adamant that they will return to refloat the rig as soon as the winter weather abates.
In the meantime the islanders wait anxiously while further storms and heavy seas cause more damage to the sticken 40 year old rig. The fear is that the drama of past weeks and months will turn into a crisis threatening Tristan's precious environment, including a colony of Rock Hopper penguins that return to Trypot to breed each winter.
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