Freediving the Seli 1
[B]Published on Nov 11, 2012[/B]
The MV Seli 1 was a Turkish bulk carrier, operated by TEB Maritime of Istanbul, that was en route to Gibraltar when it was driven aground off Bloubergstrand near Table Bay by strong westerly winds shortly after midnight on 8 September 2009, having reported engine failure and a snapped anchor chain. Panamanian-registered Seli 1, registered to Turkey’s Ataduru Denizcilik, was carrying a cargo of 30,000 tons of coal, and 660 tonnes of heavy fuel oil with 60 tonnes of diesel fuel to Gibraltar when she suffered engine failure at Table Bay. Strong westerly winds blew her from her anchorage shortly after midnight on 8 September 2009, driving her aground near Bloubergstrand, Cape TownThe 25-strong Turkish crew were rescued by the launch of Spirit of Rotary Blouberg from Station 18 and Spirit of Vodacom from Station 3 of the National Sea Rescue Institute.
The Seli 1 “sustained significant structural damage”, but remained capable of being refloated. However, the indecision of the concerned parties led to delays in what initially should have been a simple salvage operation. The ship was extensively damaged by late winter storms, seriously jeopardising any plans to refloat it. SANCCOB reported that a total of 219 birds were oiled by a resulting spill.
Initial salvage operations focused on removal of 630,000 litres of oil from the ship. Removal of the hazardous fuel oil was contested by the salvage firms of Smit Amandla and Tsavliris, both of which claimed salvage contracts. Pumping the fuel took a few weeks during which period the weather remained calm, despite swells that enlarged substantial cracks in the main deck. The coal, which had been loaded in Durban, was eventually removed, eliminating virtually all risk of pollution. The ship’s owners, despite abandoning the vessel, opposed selling the coal to defray removal costs.
The vessel was branded an eyesore and was clearly visible from tourist beaches and Table Mountain.
Surfing - A positive side effect of the wreck’s position was the forming of straight sand banks that created waves enjoyed by the surfing community. Dolphin Beach had produced a boring wave geometry before the ship’s stranding, but had now become a popular surf spot, well-populated on most days and had been the venue for a number of high-profile contests. Surfing the wreck involved a long and tricky paddle, and often the water was oily.
Fire - Seli 1 burning after savlors accidentally started a fire on the wreck
On 3 June 2010 the bridge and crew’s quarters exploded and burnt, set on fire by the oxy-acetylene cutting torches of a team of 22 salvors from the South African Maritime Safety Authority working on the ship, and who had to be rescued by the launch Spirit of Vodacom. Officials of SAMSA said they would take no action as the situation “could be dangerous”, and that it would be left to burn. The City of Cape Town’s fire chief officer confirmed that the National Port Authority had been notified, and had declined to comment since it was outside normal office hours.
Removal - The piecemeal dismantling of the wreck was still under way in April 2011. A SAMSA spokesman stated they intended weakening the hull with explosives and that with the help of winter storms the vessel should be gone by the end of 2012.
On the night of Friday 31 August 2012 an oil slick was spotted on the coast, fouling nearby beaches and oiling hundreds of seabirds. It is suspected that rough seas caused the wreck to shift resulting in a kilometer-long oil slick that washed up on the beach. The Koeberg nuclear power station was placed on alert due to the proximity of the spill to its intake basin.
Department of Transport spokesman, Sam Monareng, announced a removal operation that would cost the taxpayer R40-million, the salvage contract going to SA Maritime Safety Authority, the same salvage group that had set fire to the ship on 3 June 2010. According to Monareng, the removal should be completed by the winter of 2013.