On 17th June 2016, bulk carrier MV BENITA (44,100DWT, built 1998), while en route from Paradip, India to Durban, South Africa, run hard aground off the coast of Le Bouchon, Mauritius. FIVE OCEANS SALVAGE signed a LOF with Owners same day and immediately mobilized IONIAN SEA FOS from her salvage station in Port Louis and a salvage team of 15 people from Greece as a first response. Salvors also mobilized owned tug CORAL SEA FOS from Dubai to assist as well and in the course of the following days, 30 additional people including welders, riggers and divers were called to assist.
The vessel had sustained serious damages due to the grounding and most of the double bottom tanks of the vessel, three out of the five cargo holds, as well as the casualty’s engine room were breached and flooded. The primary aim of the operation was to maintain the vessel in her grounding position and prevent her from running further aground as a result of the weather and seas, while removing the bunkers from onboard to minimize the environmental threat. As the vessel was sitting on a reef where surf waves were formed, ranging from 4 to 8metres high, thus approaching the vessel by sea was impossible, any transfer of personnel, equipment or whatever else to/from the coast could only be done by air. FIVE OCEANS SALVAGE used the local Police helicopters and as their max lifting capacity was about 1.000kgs, FIVE OCEANS SALVAGE had to break down the required heavy equipment (generators and compressors) to components of less than 1-ton weight and then fly them to the casualty and reassemble them. Furthermore, all bunkers and pollutants had to be removed and transferred ashore on part filled cubitanks. As the BENITA was a dead vessel with no power at all and shallow waters in the surrounding area, it was impossible for the salvage tugs to approach her closer than 200 metres, making the connection challenging. Eventually, FOS’s both salvage tugs connected with the casualty using the Dyneema lines that were equipped with. Finally, as the casualty was in ballast condition, salvors decided to seal the cargo holds and void spaces of the BENITA in order to pressurize them in an effort to restore sufficient buoyancy to refloat the vessel. It is estimated that about 5,2 kilometers of welding were required to weld airtight these spaces!
Given the above mentioned difficulties, and given the fact that the BENITA case was a very labor-intensive operation, FOS gathered the biggest salvage team dispatched and concurrently working onboard one of FOS casualties ever, 45 persons in total on a daily basis. Before refloating efforts could take place, strict antipollution measures were enforced in cooperation with the Mauritian authorities and ship’s underwriters. FOS removed the vessel’s bunker fuel, lubricant oil and other pollutants – including 145 tons of fuel oil from on board the MV Benita. A total of 235 cubitanks filled with fuel, lubs and contaminated water were removed from the vessel and landed ashore by the Mauritian Police helicopters.