On Thursday, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) announced that it would not permit the disabled freighter Antaios to approach the coast or to enter a port of refuge until after her fuel is lightered off.
Last weekend, Antaios suffered an engine room fire and flooding some 870 nm west of Cape Town. Her crew abandoned ship and were picked up by the Japanese ore carrier NSU Fortune, which carried them safely to Cape Town.
SAMSA said that the salvage tug Smit Amandla has taken the Antaios under tow, and that a second tug with special equipment will be dispatched in order to transfer off the freighter’s bunkers. Salvors will then pump out the Antaios' flooded compartments and make initial repairs.
“The South African Maritime Authority (SAMSA) requires the owner to prioritise the removal of the casualty’s bunkers to neutralise any environmental threat before giving permission for the vessel to proceed closer to the South African coast," said Capt. Nigel Campbell, SAMSA executive head for the Centre for Shipping. “Until such time as the fuel transfer operation has been completed, vessel surveys undertaken and a comprehensive salvage plan approved, SAMSA has ordered that casualty remain at least 30 miles off."
SAMSA estimates that the Antaios is carrying 170 tonnes of bunker fuel.
Weather forecasts for the area near the Antaios' position predict relatively calm conditions through the weekend.
Limiting timely access to a port of refuge for vessels in distress has proved controversial in the past; many contend that the risk of major marine casualties (like the breakup of the tanker Prestige) could be reduced if government authorities allowed damaged vessels to enter a safe harbor.
The IMO has formulated a set of guidelines for "places of refuge," and it acknowledges the tension between a state's desire to protect its own safety and environment and the need to provide appropriate aid to a vessel in distress. Ultimately, under treaties like the International Convention on Salvage, coastal states retain the right to decide whether to admit a stricken vessel into port.