Crews struggle to hold stranded tanker together

KARACHI – Salvage crews were struggling yesterday to keep a grounded oil tanker from completely breaking up off Pakistan’s southern coast and blocking part of a major shipping channel near the country’s biggest city, Karachi, officials said. The Greek-registered ship’s hull split in two Thursday, but pipes within the vessel were holding the wreckage together and keeping it from floating away, said Brig. Iftikhar Arshad, general manager of Karachi Port Trust, which runs the port. «There is a danger that the ship would drift apart and that a part of it would block the channel, so to stabilize the ship we need to take all the oil out,» Arshad said. Salvage crews were using tug boats to try to hold together the MT Tasman Spirit, which became stranded July 27 during monsoon rains in the Arabian Sea, he said. The ship was about 2 kilometers (about one mile) off Karachi’s port. He added that there was a danger that the pipes on the ship might rub against each other and cause friction and sparks that might cause the ship to blow up. «If we salvage the ship now, we can prevent an accident from happening,» said Arshad. The ship was carrying 67,000 metric tons (73,854 US tons) of crude oil from Iran for the state-run Pakistan Refinery Ltd Authorities. So far, crews have salvaged 55,000 metric tons (60,627 US tons) of oil, and officials have declined to say how much oil has been spilled. Thousands of metric tons (US tons) of oil are still in the ship’s tanks, officials have said. Port authorities threatened to fine the owners of the oil tanker. Ahmed Hayat, chairman of the Karachi Port Trust, said that the ship’s owners can be fined 10 million Pakistani rupees ($173,219), the amount allowed by its insurance company. Public beaches in Karachi have been closed, and a thick layer of oil has washed up on shore, residents have said. Dead fish and crabs soaked in crude have also littered the beaches, and environmentalists fear a major disaster.