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 in the Solent after it sailed from Southampton 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 the Lee-on-the-Solent 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 and 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 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.
‘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.
‘They don’t want to just drag it off and it splits in two, causing the major disaster that they have so far avoided.’