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November 25, 2014
Monday, March 31, 2014

Vessels running aground in the River Paraná very infrequent incidents

Rosario port complex-South multipurpose TPR S.A. terminal
By Guillermo Háskel
Herald Staff

Fortunately for Argentine exports the running aground of three ships in the Rosario port complex occurred when the soybean crop wasn’t yet in full gear

Three ocean-going vessels run aground this month in the Paraná River causing a bottleneck of between 90 and 100 vessels for several days but those cases are rare and luckily enough occurred when Argentina’s soybean harvest wasn’t yet in full gear and, hence, did not affect its exports.

“This kind of incident, now being investigated by the Coast Guard, is very infrequent,” Guillermo Wade, the Manager of the Chamber of Port and Maritime Activities (CAPYM) told the Herald in an interview.

“A couple of years ago there was a series of running aground incidents, but at that time the river was very low. The river runs through plains and carries a lot of sedimentation, and you never know what nature can do. Besides, the action of the tugboats can also alter the main channel morphology, but the Hidrovía SA dredging company, (controlled by Belgium’s Jan De Nul,) is doing an excellent job along the trunk channel.”

Additionally, Wade added: “We were lucky that these incidents occurred now and not in mid-April, when the soybean crop is expected to be in full gear. At this time the corn crop is starting and, depending on climate, the soy harvest in the area begins in mid-April. Silos are filled quickly. At the beginning of the corn harvest we had 3,000 truckloads per day and now we have 9,000. By mid April there will be 14,000.”

These truckloads need to be downloaded quickly to silos and from there to ships amid a logistics process.

“But if there are no vessels to empty the silos, there would be a serious problem. In Argentina there are not enough silos to cope with such a large harvest,” Wade said.

The Atlantic ports of Bahía Blanca and Necochea, in the south of Buenos Aires province, are also exporters, but mainly of sunflower seed and wheat. However, very little wheat is being exported on a decision by the Peronist government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to limit exports amid an effort to keep domestic prices of bread at bay.

Corn arrives first and then the soybeans, but everything depends on the weather and sometimes corn starts arriving in February and soybeans in March, Wade said. Weather had been quite dry but then a lot of rain came and now harvesting machinery has been able to enter the fields in this area and about 50 percent of the corn has been harvested while the soy crop is just starting, he added.

Running aground

The first of the three vessels to run aground was the MC Paraevski, flying a Cypriot flag, on March 10 at km 408 of the Paraná River, at Villa Gobernador Gálvez, when it was conducting manoeuvres to depart from the Cargill dock.

It almost completely obstructed both upstream and downstream navigation of vessels larger than 120 metres long and a six-metre draft.

It was freed through lightening manoeuvres (it was loaded with 45,000 tonnes of Paraguayan soybeans of which 3,200 tonnes were transferred to barges) and with the help of tugboats, on March 21, when navigation was opened.

On March 23 the MV Cleanthes, a handy of 182,20 metres flying the Panamanian flag, departed from San Lorenzo with a shipload of wheat to Brazil and a draft of 9.49 metres. But it ran aground in the same place that the Paraevski had been grounded, totally obstructing navigation. However, it was released the same day.

The Sky Dragon (a wood chip carrier registered in Panama) sailing behind the Cleanthes after having loaded 44,664 tonnes of soymeal at Nidera terminal with a draft of 10.20 metres, also ran aground at kilometre 410.5, albeit not in the trunk channel. It floated on its own the next day and went to a Rosario road. It was heading to complete its cargo in Brazil with its final destination Vietnam.

Wade said that to free the Cleanthes three tugboats were necessary which, together with the vessel’s own motor action, may have stirred the river bed and caused some morphological variations in its channel. Hidrovía SA’s James Ensor dredge worked along the whole area. The company detected some areas of lower draft.

The Sky Dragon ran aground in a site which normally has a 13-metre depth.

Huge losses

Boats depart from that area with a draft of 10.51 metres. During the days of navigation interruption, some ships which came with ballast could have sailed through from a technical point of view but the Coast Guard did not allow ships longer than 120 metres to proceed, and they were longer. And there were other ships loaded that were unable to sail as there was not enough depth at some tranches of the area. There were about 10 ships upstream which were unable to leave downstream.

Those sailing upstream were oil and chemical tankers of between 150 to 160 metres. But the bulk carriers, Panamaxes of 225 metres, could not make it.

When ships are not fully loaded, there is a “false freight” and companies do not want to load them so as not to bear the burden of that false freight, and, hence, many days cargo operations stopped, Wade said.

“The losses were enormous because each ship costs between US$20,000 to US$25,000 per day,” he said, adding that in general those costs are paid by insurance companies.

Union negotiations

Separately, last Monday in Rosario, Santa Fe Province, CAPYM, represented by its chairman Adrián Milisenda, the Ministry of Labour, the Argentine Association of Merchant Navy Workers (AAEMM, a member of the San Lorenzo branch of the CGT umbrella junction,) and the Amarre Corral and GP Maritime Services SA mooring companies, reached a 30-day agreement on a basic wage of 6,440 pesos applicable to March salaries.

Wade said that it is likely that this week CAPYM will meet Raúl Huerta, secretary-general of the AAEMM, to discuss a definitive collective bargaining agreement for the local area of the littoral region.

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