The Falkland Islands Government (FIG) announced Friday that the reefer Frio Las Palmas has successfully towed the stricken fishing tender Uruguay Reefer out to sea. The Uruguay Reefer had drifted into the Falkland Islands Conservation Zone after her crew abandoned ship, and she may well sink in the coming days. If and when she goes down, the Uruguay will take with her about 560 tons of HFO and 180 tons of MGO, raising fears of pollution.
"The operation to tow the Uruguay Reefer did not start as soon as it could have done, but ultimately it has been successful in removing any risk of damage to the fishery resources, wildlife and environment of the Falkland Islands. This is a good outcome," the government said in a statement. As of Thursday morning, the Frio Las Palmas' AIS signal showed her about 150 nm due east of the Falklands.
On May 7, the crew of the Uruguay abandoned ship onto another vessel owned by the same firm after uncontrollable flooding left her trimmed down by the bow. The Frio Las Palmas and the fisheries patrol vessel Protegat remained on scene to monitor the Uruguay. According to Mercopress, the on-scene team reports that the Uruguay has settled on an even keel, suggesting that flooding has reached compartments further aft. In its statement Friday, FIG confirmed that the Uruguay has settled lower in the water over the past 48 hours.
A tug is under way to meet up with the Uruguay and is expected to arrive on Sunday. Initially it will tow her further out to deeper waters while the parties involved contemplate salvage options. While FIG expressed hope that she could be saved, it said that "future options and decisions in respect of the vessel are now for the Owner/Operators, Insurers and the Flag State." The Falklands has a cruise pier, a naval base and a dock for a regular ro/ro cargo service, but FIG says that it does not have repair facilities for a damaged vessel of the Uruguay's size.
The cause of the casualty is not fully known, but the Uruguay’s crew reported damage to the hull while operating with krill-fishing vessels near the Antarctic Peninsula.
Video courtesy Argentine Navy