THE man in charge of keeping Portsmouth waters open to traffic has praised those involved in the operation to salvage the stricken car carrier Hoegh Osaka.
Steve Hopper, the Queen’s Harbour Master in Portsmouth, said the incident highlighted the importance of our ports and the potential consequences for the nation should they be closed.
The 51,000-tonne ship Hoegh Osaka, carrying a cargo of 1,400 cars and 105 pieces of construction equipment, was beached deliberately on Bramble Bank on January 3 after it began listing as it left Southampton.
It floated free of the sandbank on the high tide on January 7, and was then anchored at a spot two miles east – in Portsmouth jurisdictional waters – at Alpha Anchorage near Lee-on-the-Solent.
Mr Hopper told The News: ‘From the start the operation was in good shape for success.
‘It was a highly visible incident – but nobody was killed, it didn’t force the closure of the Southampton channel which would have had a serious impact on the port there, and it didn’t release any pollution.
‘The management of the incident itself was also helped because all of the people involved knew each other and we work together all the time.
‘This was an example of a group of maritime professionals doing it right.
‘The handling of the incident shows the UK port industry in a very good light.
‘Our involvement here in Portsmouth came into force when it became clear the stabilisation would have to be done in our waters.’
Mr Hopper said the incident highlighted the importance of the nation’s ports and the potential consequences should the shipping lane into Southampton have been blocked.
‘The fact that fuel would stop going into Fawley would have strategic implications for the country,’ he said.
‘And there are obviously economic impacts on cruise liners not being able to get in and going elsewhere and perhaps not coming back again.
‘People are very aware of the importance of our airports but there is very little public awareness of how important ports are.
‘This showed the port industry in a very good way. We didn’t have to throw lots of government resources at the incident.
‘The ship was properly insured and the appropriate agreements were drawn up straight away in terms of who had responsibility for what.’
Mr Hopper is the first civilian to hold the title of Queen’s Harbour Master in Portsmouth.
It is his second time in the role, the first being from November 2007 until January 2011 when he was a Royal Navy Commander.
The Queen’s Harbour Master in Portsmouth covers an area of around 55sq miles that encompasses Portsmouth Harbour and the eastern Solent.
The job of the QHM is to protect the port, the Royal Navy and its vessels. Portsmouth has one of the busiest harbours in the country and in addition to 80,000 annual shipping movements around 3,500 recreational vessels are licensed to moor in the harbour.