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The Ham 316 in Table Bay

The Ham 316 leaving the scene of the grounding of the Sealand Express for the last time

With the grounding of the Sealand Express on the beach at Milnerton every effort had to be made to get the ship off the beach before it broke up and polluted the pristine white beaches along the Table Bay coastline. Once the contract had been given to the salvors to get the ship off the beach it became a race against time. With some of the bad weather that the Cape had been experiencing it was necessary to stop the ship from being pushed further up the shore.

As the ship was not seriously damaged it was thought it might be possible for the Sealand Express to be refloated. There were however a number of factors that had to be taken into account. The weight of the cargo and fuel oil on board and the depth of the water around the ship at high tides.

It was decided to remove the oil off the ship and to obtain the services of a dredger to remove the sand around the base of the ship to open a channel into deeper water so that the ship could be pulled off the beach. As luck would have it the Ham 316 dredger was in the process of sailing around the Cape on its way to Maputo to do some dredging there. Its services were immediately obtained and she was put to work dredging the sand at the wreck site.

The Ham 316 pumping sand near the bow of the Sealand Express

The Ham is a 128 metre long hopper dredger with a 35 metre suction pipe which it employs to move sand out of a designated area. It operates in two ways:

It can either pump the dredged sand into its 9000 cubic metre hold and then move it to where it is needed as they do in Holland, or, it can just suck up the sand and water and move it out the way as it did here in Cape Town.

The ship is able to operate in shallow water as it only has a nine metre draft. During the operation here in Cape Town I was amazed when I saw the dredger working in water where the Sealand Express was actually stuck fast on the shore.

The Ham 316 clearing sand around the base of the ship just before she was pulled loose from the sand.

On the day that the Sealand Express was pulled free the dredger was just about in the surfline. Something else that struck me was its maneuvreability. It was able to turn itself around in its own length and work down the length of the Sealand Express moving sideways along its hull. When it was operating it was impressive to watch the fountain of water and sand that it pumped out over its bow. The dredger moves 9000 tons of sand an hour.

Considering that it spent nearly three weeks operating in the vicinity of the Sealand Express one can only imagine how much sand it must have moved to free the ship. Of course it had the waves and tides to contend with as well. As fast as the dredger moved the sand the tide moved it back.

In the end the dredger must have got the upper hand as the ship was eventually pulled free. It is very interesting to note that during the dredging process a wreck of an unknown ship was found in the sand near the Sealand Express. Divers are inspecting the site and have intimated that it is a wreck of a merchant ship that must have foundered on this teacherous coastline a century or two ago during a storm.

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Cape Town - Ham 316