#SHIPPING – Plans to remove the cargo of 54,304 tonnes of Vacuum Gas Oil from the merchant vessel 'Genmar Companion' have now been finalised. The transfer will start on 31 December 2011 (weather permitting).
The vessel 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).
Preparations for this transfer have been underway for several days and stringent safeguards will be observed throughout the operation to assure the safety of the crew, the environment and other vessels in the area.
Following the transfer of the cargo to the vessel 'BW Seine' the 'Genmar Companion' will enter Belfast Harbour for repairs.
Hugh Shaw, The Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention said:
"Since the 'Genmar Companion' arrived at Belfast Lough I have been working closely with a number of parties including representatives from the Owners and Charterers, Belfast Harbour and the Northern Ireland Environment Group chaired by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
"We are all agreed that transferring the cargo in the Lough is the most sensible course of action. Although this is a fairly routine operation, it would not normally be carried out in the current location.
"This ship to ship transfer will be carried out by Fendercare Marine and the process is expected to take approximately 24-36 hours."
Northern Ireland Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, has been keeping a close eye on the situation. He said
"I have been actively seeking reassurance that there is no threat to our marine environment from this tanker. My officials will be fully engaged with the MCA and the Secretary of State's Representative until the Genmar Companion is safely moored in Belfast for repairs."