Plans to remove the wreck of the Kia Trader have improved a step closer with the owners saying a decision on the salvage firm to carry out the task is imminent.
Owners, Lomar, said the successful bidder would be named in “weeks” following what it described as a “comprehensive tender process lasting almost three months”.
The vessel has been grounded on a rock reef in the south Pacific since July last year and the detailed methodology fir its removal has now formally approved by the authorities.
A 2,194-TEU capacity container ship, the Kea Trader was delivered in January 2017 at the Guangzhou Wenchong Shipyard in China. The 25,293mt deadweight vessel is registered in Valletta, Malta. She had been sailing from Papeete, in French Polynesia, to Noumea in New Caledonia, loaded with 756 container units and a further 26 flat-racks, when she ran aground on 12 July.
“The approved plan involves an innovative solution for safely lifting and then removing the two halves of vessel intact from the reef to protect the marine environment,” said a spokesman. “Further details will be revealed in due course. The approved contractor has also agreed to explore opportunities for continuing to utilise local suppliers within the New Caledonia region, subject to their suitability and the continued commercial viability of these arrangements. “
Ardent has led recovery work on the Kea Trader since her grounding, initially removing heavy fuel oil and other pollutants, before extracting all but 96 of the 756 containers and 26 flat-racks that were originally on board. Ardent will continue working in a caretaker capacity until the ultimately successful contractor is awarded the contract for the full removal of the wreck.
A Lomar spokesman added: “Since the original grounding, the authorities and owners have placed paramount importance on the safe removal of the Kea Trader in a way that mitigates any damage and protects the marine environment. The chosen methodology has faced very close scrutiny and rigorous evaluation, and we are all equally convinced, subject to contractual agreement, that it is the best and quickest option for us moving forward.”
Adverse weather has prevented workers from boarding the vessel for much of the past month.
Cyclones and heavy storms have generated up to seven-metre waves on site that have twice moved the forward section. A change in direction of heavy seas initially rotated the bow into almost perfect realignment with the stern section in the middle of January. Further storms forced a significant lateral shift of the forward section this week, leaving both sections listing slightly.
Despite these movements, there have been no signs of pollution. Two containers have been removed by helicopter, in cut-up sections, during a rare positive weather window.
A large fleet of support vessels continue to remain on site to support the recovery operation – including two main offshore bases (accommodation and equipment platforms) equipped with offshore anti-pollution collection booms, two storage barges and two shallow draft tugs with further pollution collection arms. Three rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) help move personnel, equipment and materials around the site, where further anti-pollution equipment has been recalibrated and strengthened to deal with any small scale floating debris.