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Taiwan Detains Officers of Sunken Containership as Cleanup Proceeds

containers floating in the ocean off Taiwan
Taiwan believes over 400 boxes were left floating in the ocean and now oil is leaking from the ship (TIPC)

Published Jul 27, 2023 2:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Taiwan has orders that three of the officers from the containership Angel that went down last week off the port of Kaohsiung should be barred from leaving the country while the investigation and environmental cleanup is underway. Officials are citing the cost of retrieving the hundreds of containers scattered in the ocean as well as the oil leaking from the vessel.

The Angel, a 21-year-old containership registered in Palau, had been anchored off the port for most of July with media reports saying the vessel had not indicated any troubles but had inquired about docking the day before the incident was reported. The 20,000 dwt vessel, which was 564 feet in length, was loaded with what has now been determined to be 1,349 empty containers. 

The master of the vessel told the port authority on July 20 that the vessel was taking on water and that the 19 crewmembers were abandoning ship. The vessel’s list continued to grow and despite efforts to stabilize the ship, it heeled over overnight and sank approximately 2.8 nautical miles outside Kaohsiung harbor. In addition to the containers, the port authority reports there were nearly 500 tons of low-sulfur fuel and light diesel aboard.

Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council Minister Kuan Bi-ling reported that an order has now been issued by the Immigration Department to retain on Taiwan the master of the Angel, along with the first mate and chief engineer. Their departure is being restricted under the island’s Marine Pollution Law.

The minister pointed out that the law requires ships to avoid and prevent damage to the marine environment and the ship’s owners to pay for removal, remediation, and damage. She reports that Taiwan is incurring large expenses for the retrieval of the containers left floating along the coastline and that the oil leaking from the Angel is unstoppable. The available equipment can only remove 120 cubic meters per hour and further with Typhoon Doksuri impacting the area, they fear the oil spill will be washed across a broader area. In addition, fisherman the minister said will also need to be compensated for the damage caused to the industry.

The Kaohsiung Port Authority estimates that 766 of the containers sunk with the ship and a further 160 sunk during the drifting process. A further 233 have been towed away in the salvage operation that is retrieving boxes in and around the harbor’s entrance channels. An additional 60 containers have been identified washed up on the shoreline in the area between Nansing and Fengpitou.  

A further 130 containers are believed to be missing and likely floating in the ocean creating navigational hazards. Minister of Transport Wang Guocai expressed concern that some of the boxes currently trapped on the concrete constructions along the shore could also be washed out to sea as Typhoon Doksuri churns up the coastal waters. The container retrieval operation has been suspended due to the typhoon.

Taiwan has been calling for the owner of the ship to take prompt action. The Equasis database lists the owner as Navramar Shipping and a management company based in Azerbaijan. The vessel’s class society and insurance status are unclear with the Equasis database not listing a Port State inspection since 2018.