Saturday, November 26, 2011

What has dotterel & cryolite to do with agrounding of MV Rena ??



I have never heard of this bird before [not that I know many other birds]  - it is a dotterel !  Marine is ocean deep and offers tremendous opportunity to know more -here is something on a curious mineral – colourless and could disappear in water but more in news for the apprehension of its hazardous quality. 

It has been historically used as an aluminium ore and later in the electrolytic processing of the aluminium ore bauxite.  It is Cryolite (Na3AlF6, sodium hexafluoroaluminate) is an uncommon mineral identified with the once large deposit at Ivigtût on the west coast of Greenland, depleted by 1987.   The difficulty of separating aluminium from oxygen in the oxide ores was overcome by the use of cryolite as a flux to dissolve the oxide mineral(s). Pure cryolite itself melts at 1012 °C (1285 K), and it can dissolve the aluminium oxides sufficiently well to allow easy extraction of the aluminium by electrolysis.   Cryolite occurs as glassy, colorless, white-reddish to gray-black prismatic monoclinic crystals.  It is translucent to transparent with a very low refractive index of about 1.34, which is very close to that of water; thus if immersed in water, cryolite becomes essentially invisible.


I had earlier posted about ‘MV Rena’ running aground on the Astrolabe reef in New Zealand.  Shipping sailing would not make news – but their coming to standstill through running around would ! – the waves of a sea would not rest – the acts of salvage would only conclude when all interests including the lives, cargo and the vessel is towed to safety and perhaps made to sail again.    Feared to be NZ’s worst maritime environmental disaster,  on 5th Oct 2011 MV Rena sailing clear weather from Napier to Tauranga ran aground.  The container ship owned by the Greek shipping company Costamare Inc., through one of its subsidiary companies and chartered by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) was carrying 1,368 containers, some of which were reportedly hazardous materials and  1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and 200 tonnes of marine diesel oil.  Upon the ship listing,  oil slick threatened wildlife and the area's rich fishing waters.

After days of hardwork, the oil could be emptied and the removal of first container from the vessel was considered a landmark.  Close to 100 containers were reportedly moved  out of the vessel and the salvage  vessel Go Canopus is stated to be  still connected to the Rena, monitoring its condition.   Close to 1200 containers were on board and more than 2 dozens of them were containing dangerous goods.    The heroes in salvage playing a key role are Tug Waka Kume owned by Port of Auckland and tanker Awanuia, which took out the vessel’s oil  - these two reportedly have returned to Auckland after completing an arduous task.  It was not their regular job, but they strove manfully – every one knew what was expected but only when accomplished, it counts.  They deserve all the appreciation for the job well done. 

The dangerous goods containers include 21 containers of Cryolite, which were not declared to MNZ on the ship’s original manifest. Investigations by Maritime NZ are underway as to why this occurred.   The total 953 tonnes of solid waste has been removed from the coastline and is being processed at a specially prepared site at Hampton Downs in the Waikato.  NZ reports that 17  of the 60 rare New Zealand dotterels kept at the Wildlife Response Centre were released back into their natural habitat.  The New Zealand Dotterel  is an endangered species found only in certain areas of New Zealand.  They are  shorebirds and are usually found on sandy beaches and sandspits or feeding on tidal estuaries.  They are largely pale-grey on the back,  and can  be hard to see, because their colouring merges effectively with the background of sand, shells and dune vegetation in their environment.

Now when only the containers remain to be removed, the news of 21 containers holding dangerous goods including cryolite has caused furore.    It is reported that NZ authorities could  consider legal action as hazardous containers on stricken boxship were not all declared.  The Insurer of  Mediterranean Shipping Company, which chartered the vessel, sparked a furore after admitting that there were a further 21 containers on board loaded with potentially hazardous chemicals. It is now known that there were 490 tonnes of cryolite, wrapped in one-tonne plastic bags inside containers on board the Rena.   Government body Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) warned that the fact that the additional 21 containers were not declared could have legal repercussions.  It is stated that when information was sought immediately after agrounding the contents of these 21 containers were not declared as dangerous goods in the original manifest provided to MNZ, as required under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.

In containerized cargo, there are always the innate risks of misdeclaration of cargo contained – of the nature of its contents as also its weight – both of which could pose severe problems to the vessel and the handlers at various point of time.    

The Carrier - Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)  is quoted as responding  that the extra information  on hazardous cargo was discovered following an audit by the parties involved in the shipments that have now been identified as hazardous cargo on the grounded container ship Rena.  This information led to the re-classification of the hazardous and dangerous nature of some of the containers shipped,'' it said.

Majestic when sailing – its stoppage has garnered Worldwide attention – caused shore washing and cleaning efforts along Bay of Plenty coastlines, tough operations in shifting oil to tankers and container recovery operations in windy and tough conditions – all because of this agrounding..

With regards
S. Sampathkumar

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