Two heavy cyclones within a month have caused a deterioration in the state of the grounded Kea Trader boxship, whilst sitting on the rock hard Durand Reef, off New Caledonia in the south Pacific.
Ahead of the scheduled arrival of Cyclone Hola at the weekend, as with Cyclone Gita just three weeks earlier, precautionary measures were put in place on site to minimise the impact of the incoming cyclone, while all personnel and vessels were brought to safe shelter in Nouméa.
Initial aerial inspections found the wreck had shifted – with the two hull sections – that had fractured into two last November – colliding to cause damage to the forward section. Hold 3 disintegrated in the extreme sea conditions that were whipped up by violent winds. This hold had been cleaned although four stored empty containers were lost. Hold 2 was also breached, with an estimated 25 empty containers and some residual debris lost to the elements.
The cyclones also affected the aft section. Two hatch covers and some 17-metres of vertical hull sides were detached from a cargo hold previously cleared of containers and other materials. These structures were located adjacent to the vessel on the floor of the rock reef.
Aerial surveillance began as soon as conditions allowed on Sunday, with the ship’s owner, Lomar Shipping, working alongside the authorities to assess the vessel and locate any debris. A single container was discovered floating near the site, with sea-going assets dispatched to recover it.
A brief respite from the hostile seas that impacted operations for the first two months of 2018 had previously enabled the recovery of 12 containers from the cargo holds, before being cut and readied for lifting by helicopter onto a nearby barge. This left just 84 of the original 782 containers and flat-racks still to be recovered from the vessel. In addition, other materials continued to be removed, including soiled insulating foam from the holds.
Elsewhere, furniture and electronic equipment were removed from accommodation areas – with the dismantling of partitions and false ceilings completed on the bridge and upper levels. Attention had switched to lower levels of the accommodation block.
Various measures to minimise damage in preparation for the cyclones included the removal of equipment containing fuel and oil, securing of materials and the addition of extra ballast to both halves of vessel. However, the force of the cyclone resulted in the escape of some limited oil deposits and soiled materials from inaccessible areas of the vessel, with tar balls and other material subsequently collected from beaches on the island of Mare.
Fully trained contractors – with access to equipment made available on all the Loyalty Islands, the mainland of New Caledonia and Ile Des Pins – have been alerted and will respond and collect any materials that come ashore. This shoreline response operation will continue for as long as necessary.
A 2,194 teu capacity containership, the Kea Trader was delivered in January 2017 from Guangzhou Wenchong Shipyard in China. It had been sailing from Papeete, in French Polynesia, to Nouméa in New Caledonia, loaded with 782 container units and flat-racks, when it ran aground on July 12 last year.