Thursday, 1 February 2007

Napoli again

It would be nice to get away from this subject but that's not so easy. We now have the lowdown from Robin Middleton, an experienced man appointed by the government to make the decision as to where to take the MSC Napoli. Previous experience of maritime disasters including incidents off the shores of France and Spain suggested a huge environmental disaster was on offer if she sank in deep water. The nearest ports in northern France had waters that were too shallow plus the fact that there are a lot of jagged rocks around that coast apparently. Falmouth was quickly ruled out as it meant Napoli being put "beam on" to the weather with the real possibility of her sinking. Plymouth couldn't be used because of its military use so the decision was made to head up channel for Portland.

With concerns over the weather and the rapid deterioration in the condition of Napoli's hull that fateful decision to beach her off the coast of East Devon was made. Fortunately we have had a window of kind weather over the past few days so that most of the fuel oil has now been pumped out and an excellent start in unloading the remaining containers has begun.

My real concern is about the integrity of the repairs carried out after Napoli, travelling under a different name, crashed into a reef near Singapore. There has been no suggestion of a collision in 'our' incident. I do wonder how many other ships out there are past their sell by date; my understanding is that there are still a lot of oil tankers of the older single hull type plying their trade and not enough of the much safer double hull type. And with the globalisation of merchant shipping are all captains and crew up to a suitable standard?

Good news to hear is confirmation that Devon County Council will be holding a public enquiry into the whole business. I'm not holding my breath that this government will do likewise. After the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 which had such a devastating effect on farming and tourism in Devon it was left to the County Council and to the EU to commission enquiries, central government didn't want any blame laid at their door thank you.

Back to the ship itself what is not good to hear is that her condition is now worse than originally thought; however Mr Middleton avers that she is not in immediate danger of breaking up and that the number of containers taken off so far had significantly improved things. But no doubt there will be much nail biting over the weeks to come.

For an environmental view on the Napoli disaster read the blog by Roger Thomas


Roger Thomas said...

Thanks for the link. Shaun Biscter blog contacted me over the repairs.
I gave him a reference to search for -Liberty Ships metal fatigue-. I think something similar may come up in the enquiry on the repairs. I used to be a metallurgist many years ago so I will be writing some specific to Napoli in the near future.

There was a vote in Devon24 about beaching the Napoli. Against the trend I voted it should have been beached. The pollution now may be visually intrusive. If it had sunk all that oil and chemicals etc underwater would have been a much graeter long term problem.

shaun said...

I am in the process of compiling a new post on the Napoli Vietnamese repair job,and with advice from a reliable source,and from Roger Thomas on weld quality standards for ships;i should have something posted next week.The info about why the Napoli did not dock in France that i have read about on this site is one question me and my source wanted to know the answer to,Thanks.shaun's bicester info blog.

brian in the tamar valley said...

Roger and Shaun, thanks for your input. I too have voted against the trend on Devon24 (at the time of writing it is 85% who think she shouldn't have been beached on a world heritage site, 15% the other way). I think that in fact it will be proved that the beaching was a text book job - certainly Robin Middleton, the man from the ministry, came over very well I thought and he has the relevant experience. Heaven knows I am passionate about the coast of Devon and Cornwall but out of the awful choices this was the least bad option. And of course all the problems at Branscombe subsequent to the beaching need to be separated from the decision to beach itself, the former had nothing to do with the salvage operation.

I had hoped to hear tonight that the operation to remove the fuel oil has been completed. They have been incredibly lucky with the weather since the beaching. However the met office are suggesting that the wind will have a southerly component late Wednesday into Thursday and with rain coming in from the west. I assume that the order of removal of the containers is being determined by maintaining the best stability of the ship rather than worrying too much about which containers contain the most hazardous contents.

It is desperately important that any inquiry doesn't get too bogged down with the turn of events at Branscombe after the beaching; the structural integrity of Napoly before all of this is the absolute key to everything.

Roger Thomas said...

I am about to start writing a post on Napoli. Not sure yet about how much research and depth to go in. One thing I need to look at is how quickly they abandoned her. This will be related to technical apects of what they (the crew) knew about the repairs.
I still think it was lucky there wasn't a big storm in those days after she was beached. I am still amazed at the lack of top level Government response. There is an obsession, a dangerous obsession with terrorism and climate change. We know the Government and police response to even a suspect dangerous parcel, it is overwhelming. Here you had 65,000 tonnes and the Governemnt did nothing in the way of a centralised incident response. I hope this is looked at in the enquiry.
I was very critical of the Govs response to the environment over the Napoli. This seems to have been justified in the attitude to Bird Flu. My own blog and thanks to Sue Stewart at The Slant were running days ahead of the Gov.
We have climate change, Napoli, Bird Flu etc all happening nd the Gov doesn't even seem to grasp the basic environmental management principle, 'common sense'.