Greenland Salvage: A Reef, A Container Vessel and Rogue Icebergs

By: Chris Law

On August 16, 2012 Martin & Ottaway received a call from SMIT Salvage Americas requesting standby naval architecture assistance for a vessel grounding in Venezuela. Within the hour, there was a possibility of travel instead to Chile for a second grounding and within a further 30 minutes, a third vessel was reported aground in Greenland.

By the evening of August 17, 2012 I found myself as part of an initial four-man SMIT salvage team boarding a 2012-delivered container vessel, the M.V. “Vega Sagittarius” approximately 16km west of Nuuk, Greenland that was hard aground on a reef to the north of the main channel.

The vessel was reported to have grounded at nearly 17 knots within two hours of high tide on a spring tide cycle, carrying a partial cargo load and was now trimmed down by the stern, with roughly 6 degrees of port list and with several tidal double bottom ballast tanks.

Low tide the following day revealed three “dry” points of rock contact, two forward (one each starboard and port sides) and one amidships starboard. Due to damages observed and vessel motions experienced through the tide cycle, a fourth partial contact was also suspected port side aft and later confirmed by dive survey.

Lightering of the vessel’s containers commenced utilizing small, locally available vessels but due to water depth restrictions, only one vessel could come alongside to receive cargo at any one time at the port aft quarter of the grounded vessel.

Meanwhile the salvage team was bolstered by two additional four-man deck teams; one from SMIT Rotterdam and one from Defiant Marine, North Carolina, US who Martin & Ottaway and SMIT have both had excellent experience working with on previous salvage jobs.

The deck teams performed an outstanding job of installing a SMIT towing bracket and associated weld strengthening aft, performing welded patch repairs in the No.2 cargo hold double bottom top plate, setting up pressurized air on the tidal tanks and installing back-up pumps in cargo holds.

With 24-hour cargo operations, cargo lightering was completed on schedule despite the impromptu temporary grounding of a 100-foot iceberg in the only location lightering vessels could come alongside. The iceberg was subsequently “encouraged” into deeper water by one of the attending tugs, the “Sea Tiger” with some expert ship handling skills.

In the early hours of August 29, 2012 approaching the morning high tide and with increasing swell conditions, the vessel was successfully refloated from the reef with the assistance of the Tug “Sea Tiger”. The vessel was subsequently redelivered under her own power to the Nuuk container terminal by SMIT salvage master Captain Jim Wait with the assistance of both the Tug “Sea Tiger” and of the Tug “Ocean Delta”.

Once again it was a privilege to be involved with both SMIT and Defiant Marine (headed-up by Mr. Tim Ferris), where quick thinking and adaptation to dynamic circumstances in addition to above and beyond shore coordination from Mr. Bill Vetters of SMIT Houston were key to a successful salvage and where given different weather conditions, the overall outcome could have been very different.