More than 1 200 Land Rovers and Jaguars are among a host of luxury vehicles worth a cool £100 million (R1.8 billion) that might be forever lost at sea. This comes after a cargo ship ran aground off the Isle of Wight off the coast of the United Kingdom earlier this week.
The captain of the 51 000-ton Hoegh Osaka, registered in Singapore, deliberately beached it on Bramble Bank on Saturday to stop it capsizing as it listed dangerously in the Solent as it left the port of Southampton.
Its 25 crew members were rescued but the fate of the 1 400 luxury and standard cars, as well as 80 pieces of construction equipment, is uncertain.
Salvors now want to ensure the ship will be as stable as possible to survive the 80 km/h winds forecasted for today. An exclusion zone has been set up to prevent small vessels interfering with the tugs and other shipping.
The 180-metre ship is currently partially submerged at a 45 degree angle and the operation to re-float it could take weeks.
Calculations by The Independent’s Sean O’Grady put the cargo’s value at around £102 million, not counting the added cost of the custom upgrades and extras on many cars destined for the Middle East.
About 1 200 Jaguars and Land Rovers were on board, along with 65 Minis, a Rolls-Royce Wraith and 105 JCBs.
Captain John Noble, a marine salvage expert, said the cost would “undoubtedly” be huge.
“The value to the manufacturers will possibly be substantial,” he told The Independent.
“If the cars are compromised, they are written off – not sent out into the second hand market. Not even the tyres can be used, they can’t take the risk.”
Salvage teams boarded the ship today as divers assessed the outside but safety concerns about moving through the listing vessel mean it will take days, if not weeks, to assess the cargo’s condition.
“The longer it goes on, the less likely it is that any of those cars will be roadworthy, even if the ship is saved,” Capt Noble said.
He believes salvage teams will be considering two main options to right the Hoegh Osaka – “parbuckling” or dredging.
In the first option, the Hoegh Osaka would be carefully rolled upright using cords. The same operation was performed before floating the sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia, although Capt Noble said this case would not be as complicated.
The second option is to dredge a channel in the sand bank for the ship to navigate out of. But this may not be possible if the sand is too soft and moves to re-fill the trenches.
If the Singapore-registered ship is found to be a total loss, authorities will be able to go into “wreck removal mode” and take it away in pieces, Capt Noble said.
A 200-metre exclusion zone has been set up around it to prevent small vessels interfering with the tugs and other shipping as well as a 2,000ft no-fly zone above.
Salvage company Svitzer has been appointed to lead the operation to refloat the ship, with plans being reviewed by the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP).
“There is no impact on vessels transiting the Solent as the vessel is not within a shipping channel,” a spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said, adding that no pollution had been released into the sea and the situation is being monitored.
Before any attempts are made to re-float the Hoegh Osaka, authorities must ensure the structure is secure so it does not break during parbuckling and dump debris into the Solent.
Bramble Bank is a well-known sandbank between Southampton and the Isle of Wight and the scene of an annual cricket match between two yachting clubs when the sands are exposed in low spring tides.
In November 2008, the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth II ran aground there with 1,700 passengers on board, but was able to continue its journey after four tugs pulled it clear.
It latest incident is reminiscent of the stricken container ship MSC Napoli, which shed its load of 40 containers off the coast of Devon back in January 2007.
At that time, much of the mostly precious cargo washed up on the beach at Branscombe, to the delight of locals who reportedly made the most of an influx of BMW motorcycles before the police had a chance to secure the site.
A Marine Accident Investigation Branch investigation into the grounding has opened.
(Information courtesy of Independent and additional reporting by PA. Image credit: Getty Images)