June 20, 2015

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

July 14, 2015 Pohnpei, FSM -Two experts on marine salvage who visited Pohnpei two weeks ago claim that the Ping Da 7, the massive reefer ship that has been stuck hard aground on Pohnpei's reef for over a year and a half is an environmental time bomb waiting to go off.

Who is responsible for the wreck now is by all accounts uncertain. The Chinese businessman who owned the Ping Da 7 essentially walked away from the vessel after it slammed into Pohnpei's northern reef in December of 2013. By all reports he declared financial insolvency. The insurance company that covered the vessel walked away as well.

On the government level, the problem of the vessel and whose responsibility it would be to remove it is confused for a variety of reasons. On one hand, it is sitting on Pohnpei's reef which could be interpreted to mean that the problem is one for Pohnpei State government to handle. On the other hand, the owner of the vessel is a foreign national, or at least he was until the FSM Department of TC&I was appointed as receiver for the vessel. Neither the fact that it is in the purview of the National Government nor the fact that TC&I was appointed as receiver combine to clearly point to the FSM National Government as the responsible entity.

An employee at TC&I said this afternoon that a task force was formed in order to deal with the situation but that he hadn't heard any conclusions "until now".

Meanwhile there simply is no money to deal with the environmental time bomb that is the Ping Da 7. And the clock is ticking. Incremental damage is being done to the reef and to the lagoon every moment that the huge ship sits on the reef.

Jaco Sluijimers of Mammoet Salvage, perhaps the world's largest and most expert marine salvage companies, and Captain Will Naden of Cabras Island Marine Services came to Pohnpei last year with an eye toward developing a salvage plan and presenting it to the FSM Government. They said that at that time the Ping Da 7 had been ransacked, that fuel and lube oil had been removed by a contractor, though not all of it. They found buckets and barrels of various oils lying around in the engine room and in barrels and some half emptied "day tanks". They found an ammonia room that had a large tank holding tons of pressurized liquid ammonia. At that time they found little material on the reef.

When they returned on June 27 this year they found junk thrown from the decks of the ship on to the reef including five gallon containers of paint that had spilled and "painted" the reef. They found considerably more corrosion to the fittings and tanks aboard the ship. Barrels were leaking on deck and the oil in them was leaking into the ocean. They found water tight hatches and doors that were rusted open. They still found the same oils and other pollutants they had found the first time they went aboard.

Naden and Sluijmers did a thorough evaluation of the hazards and the possibility for removing the ship from the reef. Their visit was unsolicited but they hoped to be able to provide to the relevant Governments, enough information so that those governments could use it in order to attract funding to get the job done. They want the job and they have the resources to do it.

Mammoet Salvage has over 5000 employees and 80 offices worldwide. They specialize in heavy lift engineering and performed vessel salvages all over the world including in Guam. Cabras Island Marine Services based in Guam has worked with Jaco Sluijmers of Mammoet on at least two large salvage operations in Guam. The FSM has called upon Captain Naden for his services as a marine consultant and surveyor several times.

The two said that scrapping the vessel in situ is not a viable alternative but that the hull appears to be sufficiently intact to remove the vessel from the reef in a manner that would not create severe environmental damage. Though there certainly is a salvage value for the metals in the massive vessel the cost to tow the vessel to a port where it could be recycled would be enormously expensive. Any money earned from recycling would likely be less than just the cost to tow the vessel and wouldn't even touch the cost of completely cleaning it to international standards and removing it from the reef. That operation will require large machinery and will be a feat of engineering marvel for which Mamoet is famous.

The best solution would be to remove all environmentally hazardous materials, thoroughly strip and clean the vessel to international environmental standards, remove it from the reef and sink it in deep water.

In addition to meeting with many government officials, while the two were on island they performed GPS positioning of 36 other wrecks in Pohnpei's lagoon. They said that since it would be necessary to bring equipment to the island if they get the contract to remove the Ping Da 7 that same equipment could be used to remove those 37 other wrecks which are also polluting Pohnpei's lagoon.

They said that the fiberglass wrecks are also an environmental hazard as they contain toxic lead, heavy metals, foam, and plastics that are breaking down and going into the food chain.

They said that they are hoping to get the interest of the local population in order to try to convince Pohnpei State to maintain the State of Emergency and to do what they can to convince the national government to seek aid. In a posting on Micronesia Forum they wrote, "With the Ping Da 7 and 36 other wrecks sitting on your reefs and in the mangroves, Pohnpei has a compelling case to seek remediation and help. We can assist with securing funding only after a request is made."