Understand how the unprecedented maneuver of a submersible ship was made in São Sebastião

  • 02/04/2020
  • 10 分钟

Think about having to use a submersible ship to load and tow another one like it to the other side of the world. Can you imagine the amount of preparation and integration between different professionals, companies and authorities to make it work?

That’s exactly what was done on the São Sebastião canal in December 2019. With the help of two people who participated in this process, understand the magnitude of the unprecedented maneuver in Brazil and see an example of Wilson Sons’ management capacity in the market. Let’s go?

The need for an unprecedented maneuver

This story began a few months earlier, in September 2019, when a Chinese-flagged ship called M/V Chipol Taihu had engine problems just days after leaving Porto de Rio Grande for China.

The biggest challenge in this case was the size of the vessel: with 188 meters in length and 40 thousand tons of cargo (reforestation wood), a big help was necessary to get it to its country of origin.

The ship Chipol Taihu, which was adrift on the high seas, was first rescued and taken back to the port of Rio Grande, where it spent a few weeks for structural repairs, until it could be safely towed to Porto de São Sebastião.

The ship was then taken by three smaller tugs to the São Sebastião canal, one of the main Brazilian ports, where an action plan unprecedented in the national territory began to be designed.

The submersible vessel chosen for the maneuver

The first and one of the most important stages was to find a tug capable of safely taking such a large ship to the other side of the world.

Eduardo Santos, responsible for the operations of Wilson Sons in Porto de São Sebastião, is one of the people who worked closely in this process and says:

“The semi-submersible vessel is the Xin Guang Hua, a Hong Kong-flagged ship measuring 255 meters in length and 68 meters in width. It is considered the most modern ship in the world in this segment.”

The vessel was passing through the Atlantic when it was summoned by the company and redirected to the canal. It is a special type of ship, which fills compartments with water to submerge almost completely — leaving only the towers above the surface. With the biggest and best tug at their disposal, they were ready to start.

The planning

With the proper choice of the tug, the role of Wilson Sons was decisive to continue with the planning, mainly due the choice of the port. The maneuver location was chosen for having characteristics compatible with the magnitude of what was to be done. Eduardo explains: “the São Sebastião Canal has been known for centuries as an area of sheltered and deep waters, perfect conditions for carrying out the maneuver”.

He continues: “a depth study (bathymetry) was requested in the north area of the channel’s internal anchorage, where a position with a draft of approximately 34 meters deep was discovered. That was what we needed, as the ship Xin Guang Hua would need 27 meters to immerse itself to the point of being able to receive the ship Chipol Taihu on its deck.”

The maneuver planning phase involved around 20 people, including professionals and public control entities. Another person involved in this process was Thiago Pierry, commercial analyst at Wilson Sons.

He gives an idea of the challenges that were overcome: “Wilson Sons had a series of meetings with the port authority. The São Sebastião port is independent of Codesp and we had meetings with them, with Anvisa, the Police, everyone who could be involved and who would have something to understand and add. As it was something new, everyone had to be consulted, so that each one could speak their part. The ship that was transported was already loaded and it becomes the cargo that has to be taken care of by the submersible too!”

In addition to finding a draft favorable for the maneuver, the location would still have to be strategic so as not to affect the operation of the Port. It was an intense, integrated and fail-proof planning.

Implementing the plan

And the execution was exactly like that: without failure and without scares. After submerging to the required depth, Xin Guang Hua received Chipol Taihu very carefully via small tugs.

After this stage, the large ship released the stored water and reemerged with a new cargo of 188 meters, the vessel was fixed and welded to withstand extreme travel conditions. After all the steps were completed and checked, the tug and the towed ship continued on their way to China via South Africa.

Wilson Sons’ role in this unprecedented feat

Wilson Sons was instrumental in articulating a maneuver of a size never seen before on the Brazilian coast. Eduardo details the amount of work they had during this period: “we were responsible for coordinating all dealings and permits with the local authorities for carrying out the maneuver. We needed demonstrate security on to customers and authorities”.

He continues: “we had to schedule and participate in the meetings and studies and we followed the entire maneuver, from the beginning of the submersion to the total immersion of the ship. We also coordinated the boarding of employees and equipment that were used on board before, during and after the execution.”

Thiago also demonstrates the amount of effort required for such an important feat: “on Wilson Sons’ part, there were at least 5 branches involved: Santos, São Sebastião, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Vitória, there were also, at least, 7 people from the shipping agency, plus 4 people from the ship owner, not to mention the authorities!”

In the end, the greatest importance of the feat for Wilson Sons and for the market is in the creation of a parameter, a pioneering spirit that brings new opportunities to expand the transport capacity in the national territory. Thiago mentioned this point in one of his observations: “the experience stays with us, we now have this expertise, in this size. The ship owner himself told us that São Sebastião ends up entering the route of possibility of this type of operation!”

Eduardo adds: “today we know the best way to carry out a maneuver of this magnitude and I am sure that when somebody think about the possibility of a new complex maneuver like this, Wilson Sons will be the first name to be remembered.”

The arrival of the largest submersible ship to Brazil and the planning and execution of a maneuver of this magnitude demonstrate not only the country’s potential within the world’s maritime transport, but also Wilson Sons’ competence and efficiency articulating this evolution.

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