Bid to tow stricken ship away from French coast a 'success'

1st February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Maritime experts on Monday successfully managed to tow a stricken South Korean cargo ship away from France and prevent it from crashing into the country's picturesque Atlantic coast.

Louis-Xavier Renaux, a spokesman for local maritime authorities, said a Spanish tugboat had successfully been connected to the ship, which is tilting heavily, "and managed to pivot it, point it towards the open sea and begin towing it."

Spanish maritime authorities confirmed they had accepted a request from the vessel's owner, South Korean firm Cido Shipping, to take it to the northern port of Bilbao, where it will be stabilised.

A French maritime official said weather conditions were "favourable" as the cargo ship was dragged slowly towards the Spanish coast, where it is due to arrive Wednesday morning.

"We are taking a great deal of care because the swell is still quite strong," the official said.

The Modern Express was carrying diggers and 3,600 tonnes of timber from Gabon in west Africa to the port of Le Havre in Normandy, France.

After seven days drifting in rough seas, the Panamanian-registered ship was only 44 kilometres (27 miles) from the French coast when authorities launched a final bid to attach a tow line and stop it from hitting the coast.

Experts from Dutch company SMIT Salvage, which specialises in helping ships in distress, were lowered by helicopter onto the vessel as it tilted at 40 to 50 degrees while buffeted by large waves.

The ship's crew sent a distress signal last Tuesday after the vessel listed strongly to one side, probably due to its cargo coming loose in the hull.

The 22 crew were evacuated by helicopter as they clung to the ship.

Three earlier efforts to attach the tow line failed, with the cable snapping on Saturday due to the movement of the vessels in the rough seas.

"The difficulty is a combination of several things: the wind, the swell and the angle of the boat which is like climbing a mountain, but which is moving," a spokesperson for SMIT Salvage told AFP over the weekend.

If the towing operation failed, the Modern Express would likely have crashed onto France's southwest coast at Arcachon Bay, where it would have been dismantled or cut up.

With around 300 tonnes of fuel in its tanks, French authorities said there was a limited risk of pollution in the event of such a crash.

A clean-up vessel was sent to the scene as a precautionary measure and coastal communities remained on alert.

© 2016 AFP

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