In December 2018, the trawler “Northguider” ran aground in the Hinlopen and had to be abandoned. It was widely believed that the ship could be removed from the ecologically sensitive area relatively quickly. But bad weather and an extraordinary amount of ice in the region prevented the ship from being salvaged in the summer of 2019. Now it has been possible to completely disassemble and remove the wreck.
In a one-off action, the 1,792 GRT ship was cut into around 50 pieces by the Dutch company Smit Salvage and the pieces then transported by barge. The submerged metal parts were brought to the surface with a magnet and the remaining scrap was recovered by divers. Rune Bergstrøm from the Emergency Precautionary Department at the Norwegian Coastal Administration explains that no such action has ever been carried out so far north. “This action was unique. Never before a wreck has been handled so far in the north and so far away from the possibilities of logistical support and other functions. The action has given us many lessons that can be included in future contingency planning for our northern areas.
The Sysselmannen, the local administration on Svalbard, is also pleased with the success. Governor Kjerstin Askholt said in a statement: “We are very happy and relieved that the campaign has been successful. The cooperation of all participants was very good.” The “Polarsyssel”, the ship of the authority, was on site at the weekend to assess the latest salvage measures and to monitor compliance with the prescribed guidelines. Video footage from divers showed that the salvage company had recovered all the remains underwater.
The barge, which stores the scrap metal, is now being pulled towards the Norwegian mainland with the help of a tugboat. From there, all material is to be transported and disposed of professionally. Transport through the Barents Sea is considered tricky, as bad weather and heavy seas can occur again and again in the region. The preparations monitored by the Coastal Administration and the Sysselmannen are correspondingly important. A total of seven ships and 80 people have been involved in the recovery of the “Northguider” since the summer.
A first attempt to recover the stranded ship had to be cancelled last year. Initially, it had been planned to tow the ship as a whole back to Norway. But a large hole in the hull and poor environmental conditions prevented the plan and in October it was clear that the ship had to spend another winter in the Hinlopen Strait. In order to prevent environmental damage, the Svalbard authority demanded that the ship now will be removed this summer. Therefore, the plan was made to cut the ship into parts and thus remove it. This has now been successfully implemented. It is to be hoped that the 20-month situation of the ship has not caused any environmental damage in the region.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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