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Salvage crew boards car carrier

Salvage workers have boarded a car carrier which was deliberately stranded on a sandbank next to a busy shipping lane to prevent it from capsizing.

The 51,000-tonne Hoegh Osaka was grounded on the Bramble Bank between Southampton and the Isle of Wight after it sailed from the Hampshire port with its cargo of 1,400 luxury and standard cars as well as 80 pieces of construction equipment.

The vessel began to list as it left the port, forcing the captain and pilot to take the emergency action of beaching it on the sandbank to prevent it turning over into the sea.

The incident prompted a major rescue operation with the 24 crew members and a pilot having to be taken to safety by coastguard helicopter and RNLI lifeboats. Two people suffered non-life threatening injuries and were taken to hospital.

The 180-metre Singapore-registered ship is listing at 45 degrees and the salvage operation is expected to take days, possibly weeks.

A 200-metre exclusion zone has been set up around the ship to prevent small vessels interfering with the tugs and other shipping.

Salvage company Svitzer has been appointed to lead the operation to refloat the ship.

A Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) spokesman said experts from Svitzer had gone on board to begin an inspection of the vessel.

He said: "The car carrier Hoegh Osaka remains grounded on the Bramble Bank in the Solent. Salvors from Svitzer have today boarded the vessel.

"There remains no reported pollution from the vessel which rests listing at 45 degrees. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency's Counter Pollution Team will continue to monitor the vessel which is currently assessed as being stable.

"Salvage plans are being developed by Svitzer and will be reviewed by the Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage & Intervention (SOSREP).

"For safety reasons there is a 200-metre exclusion zone around the grounded vessel and a one mile and 2,000ft air exclusion zone.

"There is no impact on vessels transiting the Solent as the vessel is not within a shipping channel."

Simon Boxall, oceanographer at the University of Southampton's National Oceanography Centre, said a close inspection would have to be carried out to establish whether the ship had been damaged and whether the cargo of cars had shifted inside.

This would help to establish whether the ship was capable of being refloated.

He said: "The key thing is take things gently. There were reports of trying to refloat it yesterday but they weren't planning to. The reason is they want to know if the structure is still together. They don't want to just drag it off and it splits in two, causing the major disaster that they have so far avoided.

"They need to make sure it is capable of floating first and establish the best time and best way of doing this."

Bramble Bank is a well-known sandbank in Southampton Water and is the scene of an annual cricket match between two yachting clubs when the sands are exposed in low spring tides.

In November 2008, the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2 with 1,700 passengers on board ran aground on Bramble Bank but was able to continue its journey on the rising tide after four tugs pulled it clear.

A spokesman for JCB said it has 105 pieces of construction equipment on the carrier, including 50-tonne and 33-tonne tracked excavators.

"There are 105 JCB machines on board the grounded cargo ship which were destined for dealers in the Middle East. We are awaiting further information from the shipping carrier about the current status of the machines and any plans they may have for retrieval."

A Hoegh Autoliners spokesman said: "We confirm that Svitzer has been appointed as the salvors for Hoegh Osaka and that a salvage team have boarded our vessel to assess the impact of the grounding.

"Once the assessment is complete, Svitzer will develop a salvage plan that will then be assessed by SOSREP.

"There is no evidence that any pollution has occurred, and an environment group has been activated to monitor and advise as necessary.

"A Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) investigation into the grounding has been started."

A Jaguar and Land Rover spokesman said that about 1,200 of its vehicles were on board the ship. He said: "We can confirm that we do have roughly 1,200 Jaguar and Land Rover products aboard the stricken ship. Until such time as the salvage operation can safely begin, we can tell you nothing further about the implications for the cargo. However, the most important consideration is that the crew are safe and well."

A spokesman for Mini confirmed that 65 of its cars were on the ship.

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