Many of you have probably been wondering what’s been happening with the MV Ushuaia, the tourist ship that ran aground last Thursday off the coast of Antarctica. Steve Wellmeier, the Executive Director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators was kind enough to stop by and offer us an update as a comment to one of the earlier stories I posted on the subject. I thought his update was worth sharing so that we’re all aware of the on going efforts to salvage the boat and protect the fragile environment of the area.
Update at 1400 UTC, 8 December, 2008
On the afternoon of 7 December, the crew of the MV Ushuaia and the crew of the Chilean Naval Tug Lautaro started to transfer 120 cm of diesel from MV Ushuaia to storage tanks of the Lautaro and 100cm of fresh water was discharged into the sea. This was done to improve the buoyancy of the MV Ushuaia. Transferring fuel off the vessel also reduced the potential for additional spillage should anything go wrong with the refloating.
Efforts to refloat the vessel began at high tide (approximately 0400UTC/0100LT). The vessel was fully free at 0545UTC/0245LT. Escorted by Lautaro, MV Ushuaia is making her way under her own steam towards Paradise Bay. No oil has been seen leaking from the vessel while underway; however, this could be due to wind and wave action causing any fuel leaked to be rapidly dispersed. To minimize any further oil spill, fuel from the damaged tanks is being transferred into tanks that are not compromised. Once the MV Ushuaia is in the relatively sheltered waters of Paradise Bay, a further inspection of the hull will take place.
The passenger vessels MV Ocean Nova and MV Polar Star were also in the vicinity during the refloating and ready to provide additional assistance if required.
The passengers of the MV Ushuaia, having been flown to the port city of Ushuaia on Saturday, December 6, had a final day of activities in Tierra del Fuego National Park yesterday and a farewell gathering last night before starting their journeys homewards today.
Overall, lots of great news here. When I contacted Steve directly to thank him for this update, he also passed along the following further information:
We believe that none of the MGO diesel fuel that has leaked to date from MV Ushuaia has migrated to the penguin colony (home of 25 chinstrap pairs), which is more than six miles away. The wind and waves appear to have been instrumental in dispersing the fuel oil in a different direction, and the quantities seem to be insufficient to get that far. We believe the same holds true for any other nearby land mass. Fortunately, this grade of fuel oil also has better evaporative abilities than heavier grade fuels.
We are instructing other IAATO member-operators later today to monitor the situation closely and report any further distribution or sighting of the oil slick. That is, for those vessels that will be operating in the area.
It seems like the situation is well under control and has had a minimal impact on the environment there. Obviously the oil is the major concern, but it’s good to hear that the penguin colony seems to be safe, and that the oil will dissipate fairly easily. Good news on all fronts!
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