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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