Cargo ship aground off South Africa, 18 seafarers rescued

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The Ultra Galaxy has gone aground near South Africa, prompting urgent efforts to prevent a fuel spill and salvage its fertiliser cargo.

Cargo ship aground off South Africa, 18 seafarers rescued
© South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA)

A cargo ship, the Ultra Galaxy, that was sailing alongside South Africa on the Atlantic Ocean and got abandoned by its crew of 18 seafarers after dangerously leaning to one side, has gone aground, with efforts now at high speed to prevent a fuel and oil spill, as well as salvage its fertiliser cargo, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) confirmed on Wednesday.

The crew was successfully rescued and evacuated to Cape Town on Tuesday morning. The confirmation of the grounding, caused by severe weather conditions, came on Tuesday evening (22:06 local time).

According to SAMSA, preliminary indications are that the vessel has a full load of fertiliser in bags on board. It also has low-sulphur bunkering fuel in addition to hydraulic and other types of oil.

The salvage operations had been scaled up, with two tugs already en route to the location of the casualty vessel, while other measures were being rolled out for containment of any possible spills off the vessel’s cargo contents.

“Salvage operations are currently underway for the stricken vessel, Ultra Galaxy, off the coast of Brand se Baai on the West Coast. On Monday one tug was dispatched and arrived at the location of the listing of the general cargo vessel at around on Tuesday. Another tug with more personnel and extra equipment departed from Cape Town on Tuesday evening to assist in the salvage efforts,” said SAMSA.

According to SAMSA, the rescue operation commenced early Monday after an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) alert from the vessel, positioned approximately 60 nautical miles west of Doring Bay, was detected at 03:00 local time, prompting an immediate response.

Following the EPIRB alert, a Mayday relay was broadcast to nearby vessels. Three ships closest to the casualty vessel, the MV Fivos, the MV Rio Grande Express, and a fishing vessel, the FV Malachite, were diverted to assist. Weather conditions at the time included winds of up to 12 knots per hour and swells between five and six meters.

The rescue vessels successfully located a life raft in the water and confirmed that there were 18 seafarers, all Filipino, onboard. A coordinated rescue operation ensured the survivors were safely transferred to the FV Malachite and transported to St Helena Bay.

The Panama-registered MV Ultra Galaxy (previously known as Thor Galaxy and Thorco Galaxy) is a 13,800 dwt, 124.56-meter-long general cargo vessel built in 2008. Based on the available data from Equasis, the ownership of the vessel belongs to Fujita Shoji, while its management is handled by Ultrabulk, a dry bulk operator based in Denmark.

At the time of its distress call early on Monday, it was en route to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.