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OS35 wreck removal delayed by recent storms

Photo by Johnny Bugeja

The operation to remove the wreck of the OS35 will take about a fortnight longer than anticipated because of delays caused by stormy weather that battered the vessel in recent months.

The aim had originally been to complete the operation by the end of this month but officials are now aiming to finish by June 16, the start of the official bathing season.

“The operation is progressing well but we are facing a slight delay to the anticipated timeline,” said John Ghio, the Captain of the Port, during a briefing to journalists on Thursday.

“We issued a wreck removal notice with a completion date for the 30th of May.

“It doesn't look probable right now that we'd be able to meet that deadline and there's a number of reasons for that.”

“Critically, we said all along that the whole operation was dynamic.”

“The realities of the situation of the wreck, the physical condition of the wreck and the damage sustained due to bad weather etc. affects each step of the plant that way.”

“Most importantly, we have said all along that we want this to be a careful, deliberate and safe operation.”

The aim is to remove the two sections of the wreck by either lifting them or refloating them and placing them on a specialist semi-submersible vessel.

Throughout the salvage operation, a key aim has been to limit any damage to the environment.

The wreck was emptied of fuel early on but residual coatings remain and during rough weather last April, some of that oil was released into the environment.

Mr Ghio warned that the refloating operation was potentially the highest risk element in terms of further leaks of residual fuel.

“Whilst we said all along that we've pumped out everything in terms of quantities of oil, there are still residues in the ship,” he said.

“Those residues will be all over the ship in different compartments.”

“And when we refloat the two sections, there is the expectation that some of these residues will mobilise and will come out.”

Koole Contractors, the specialist salvage company tasked with the removal operation, has prepared “a very tactical oil spill plan” to mitigate that risk.

In addition, the Port Authority is finalising its supplementary oil plan and is coordinating with counterparts in Spain to further see what else can be done to mitigate any risk during each stage of the operation.

That could involve placing separate booms around the two broken parts of the hull. At present one boom surrounds the entire vessel.

Two booms would give the salvage team more control in the event of any escape of oily residues.

“That doesn't mean that having a boom will give us a guaranteed containment,” said Mr Ghio.

“We've already experienced unfortunately that this particular oil has been very difficult to contain.”

“It's gone under booms, has gone through booms. It has behaved like diesel oil when it's in open water and then when it comes against the hard surface it reforms into a fuel. So that adds a challenge.”

“Even so, we have a plan of contingencies in place, both from Koole and the measures that we [the Port] are putting in place to supplement that, and we're going to have a number of assets on scene ready.”

To protect the beaches, additional booms will be placed at Catalan Bay and Sandy Bay and a deflection boom placed on the east side reclamation.

“We cannot guarantee that there will be no impact on the beaches,” Mr Ghio said.

“We will be beefing up our monitoring together with the Department of Environment, on all the beaches.”

“I would urge everybody to be patient now that we are at the final phase, because this is the only way that we can get rid of this problem in a safe, controlled manner."

“So unfortunately, it does come potentially into the start to bathing season, but it's also the best way of guaranteeing that we have seamless bathing season for the duration.”

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