#SHIPPING – After delays due to bad weather, the operation to remove 54,304 tonnes of Vacuum Gas Oil from the merchant vessel Genmar Companion is now scheduled to commence later today (2nd January). The offload tanker BW Seine has now arrived on scene and is anchored close to the Genmar Companion in Belfast Lough.
The Genmar Companion has been sheltering off the Copeland Islands at the entrance to Belfast Lough since 16 December. It was 40 miles west of Tory Island, Co. Donegal, on its journey from Rotterdam to New York, when the Master reported a crack on its upper deck. This crack did not appear to extend to any of the oil cargo holding structures but, as a precautionary measure, the vessel's Master chose to seek both shelter and advice before continuing passage.
The Bermudan-flagged product tanker made its way to the Lough to enable surveyors to inspect the ship. The inspection, by the owners, a representative of the classification society (American Bureau of Shipping) and the MCA took place on 18 December.
Following this inspection all parties agreed that, as a precautionary measure, the cargo should be removed and the ship repaired. As there are no shore reception facilities at Belfast Harbour for a tanker of this size the only option is to transfer the cargo to another vessel (known as Ship To Ship Transfer).
Hugh Shaw, The Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention said:
"The Ship to Ship transfer operation was originally scheduled to commence on the 31 December, but was delayed primarily due to poor weather conditions experienced by BW Seine en route from Sweden to Northern Ireland. It is also essential that the operation does not impact on the day to day operations of Belfast Harbour.
Subject to availability of tugs, and providing conditions are suitable, both vessels will be placed alongside each other later today and the actual oil transfer will commence shortly thereafter.
This ship to ship transfer will be carried out by Fendercare Marine and the process is expected to take approximately 24-36 hours.
On completion of the operation the Genmar Companion will enter Belfast Harbour for repairs."
Northern Ireland Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, said:
"I have been advised that the transfer operation will be started later today, weather permitting. Over the period of this incident, I have been actively seeking reassurances that there is no threat to our marine environment. It is good to see that the plan is now coming together, despite the weather over the last few days. I am continuing to keep a close eye on all the developments. My officials are working closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and are keeping me fully briefed."