Shipowner set to name Kea Trader salvors

Kea Trader ran aground last July. Credit: Lomar Shipping

The efforts to remove the stricken Kea Trader from a reef in the South Pacific moved a step closer on Tuesday with the announcement that the owners and insurers had agreed the company to carry it out.

After months of discussions with the authorities in New Caledonia, the vessel’s owner, Lomar, said the agreement for how the wreck would be removed has been reached.

Lomar said the successful bidder would be named in “weeks” following what it described as a “comprehensive tender process lasting almost three months”.

The 2,194 teu, 25,293 dwt container ship was delivered in January 2017 at the Guangzhou Wenchong Shipyard in China. It is registered in Valletta, Malta and had been sailing from Papeete, in French Polynesia, to Noumea in New Caledonia, loaded with 756 container units and 26 flat-racks, when it 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,” Lomar said. “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.”

Salvage company Ardent has led recovery work on Kea Trader since its stranding, 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.

Lomar added, “Since the original grounding, the authorities and owners have placed paramount importance on the safe removal of 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 7 m waves that have twice moved the forward section. A change in direction of heavy seas in the middle of January rotated the bow into almost perfect realignment with the stern section. Further storms this week forced a significant lateral shift of the forward section, leaving both sections listing slightly.

Despite these movements, there have been no signs of pollution. Two containers were removed by helicopter, in cut-up sections, during a rare positive weather window.

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