A 5,278 ton container ship F.Arslan V broke down off Lavernock Point tonight and two tugs were called out to try to bring her back into port.
The ship had sailed from Cardiff bound for Avonmouth earlier today but had lost engine power shortly after leaving Cardiff and had tried to anchor off Lavernock Point in high winds and heavy seas.
In anchoring, she somehow managed to tangle her two anchors together – making them both useless.
Two local tugs Trueman and Tradesman were called in to tow the vessel back to port – but first had the task of attempting to free the fouled anchors .
It then became clear that one of the container ship’s anchors had become wrapped around the chain of a second anchor – rendering both anchors incapable of holding the ship and presenting an underwater “knot” that could not be undone without the use of divers.
The Bristol Channel pilot on board F.Aslan V and the tug skippers advised the ship’s captain to sacrifice the anchors and cut them free, but valuable time was lost whilst the captain radioed the shipowners.
By 18:15 the tugs had managed to tow the container ship away from the rocky outcrop near Lavernock and out towards Flatholm Island with her anchors still knotted together beneath her keel.
Eventually it was agreed both anchor chains would have to be cut, released into the sea and abandoned, in order to enable the ship to be towed back into port.
The ship’s crew eventually cut through both anchor chains and allowed them to run out into the sea – freeing the ship.
It took 15 minutes to cut though each anchor chain …but the problems did not end there.
The tugs then had to attempt to turn the ship towards Cardiff against the the tide and the strong north westerly wind.
So much effort was used by the tugs to move the ship that at 17:45 one of the tow lines snapped . There were then problems in getting another line passed from the ship to the tugs – an operation not helped by the non-English-speaking crew.
With the tide falling rapidly and the northerly winds pushing the ship down channel back towards the treacherous Lavernock Point and the Wolves Rocks, Milford Haven Coastguard declared an emergency and alerted local lifeboats .
Fortuitously Barry Dock lifeboat had already launched on exercise and was called into service.
Eventually the two tugs managed to get the ship into a safer position off Penarth – in the area of channel called Cardiff Roads – but, without any anchors, they were committed to hold her in place all night using their engines.
A third tug – Irishman – was called in from Newport.
Barry Dock lifeboat remained on standby as night fell …just in case.
UPDATE: F.Arslan V finally docked in Cardiff safely at 04:00 June 7 2017 after being held in position all night off Penarth by tugs.
Considerable credit must go to the local Bristol Channel pilot who was aboard F.Arslan V and in charge on the bridge of the ship – and to the skippers of the tugboats . They all worked as an effective team pooling their resources and experience to resolve a very difficult problem which, without their skill and determination, could have resulted in the grounding of the vessel .