An oil-bunkering vessel, the Golden Bay, was salvaged and towed away for repairs yesterday after it ran aground at St Thomas Point, Marsascala, the very same spot where an oil tanker, the Angel Gabriel, was shipwrecked 37 years earlier.
The Valletta maritime control tower received a call for help from the Golden Bay at about 6.15 a.m., after the vessel developed mechanical problems and was drifting rapidly towards shore. Rough sea complicated matters as the single hull vessel, laden with 15-tons of gas oil (diesel), was battered against the rocks.
It took two tugboats and a barge, which made the first attempts alone, the best part of the afternoon to pull the seven-metre long vessel away, from different angles, from the rocks.
None of the five-member crew, a few of whom are Georgian nationals, were injured. However, at one point, shortly before the vessel was dislodged, a rope under tension snapped recoiling violently and striking one of the ship's owners, Anthony Cassar, who was aboard overseeing the salvage operation.
Luckily, he was only slightly injured even though onlookers, including his daughter, Andrea, feared the worst, when he was spotted in the distance reaching down holding his leg. At that point a helicopter was called to airlift the crew. But this was not necessary as the ship broke free and it was established that the hull was not ruptured and the vessel could, therefore, be towed safely.
"It'll be towed to the yard where we'll repair the damage caused to the hull and the mechanical problems which caused it to go adrift in the first place," another of the ship's owners, Francis Portelli, told The Times. "Thank God nobody got hurt and there was no spillage."
The Maritime Authority said it will now be carrying out an inquiry into the incident in line with international regulations.
Tony Mallia, from the oil pollution response team which was called on site immediately after the incident was reported, said a spill would not have caused a major problem given that the vessel was carrying gas oil.
"Naturally, we took precautions. We even hired a private response company since our equipment was not adequate for this weather. However, any spillage of gas oil would evaporate in a short while.
"What's more," he said, "the rough sea would actually help wash the diesel ashore, where it would evaporate after a while."
Nonetheless, there was concern that spilled diesel could drift towards a nearby fish farm.
Apart from Harbour Master Richard Degabriele, who coordinated the operation along with the Civil Protection Department, paramedics and the district police were on the scene. Education Minister Louis Galea also made a brief appearance.
The Angel Gabriel, a 22,000-ton Greek tanker, was shipwrecked in the same spot on September 23, 1969, when a violent storm struck.
The outcome was completely different, however. An 18-year-old member of crew lost his life, battered to death by rough seas and two other colleagues only just made it to shore completely exhausted.
The rest of the crew waited patiently as army and civilian volunteers risked life and limb to save them, The Times had reported. The tanker eventually split in half and was broken on the spot a year later. Retired The Times staff photographer Frank Attard, who had won an international press award for his pictures of the accident, was on site yesterday to capture on film the salvage operation of the Golden Bay.
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