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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks: Hoegh Osaka

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Isle of Wight Shipwrecks
Ancient & Roman | Mediæval | The Hundred Years War | Mary Rose | The Spanish Armada | Treasure & Hazardous | Sir Robert Holmes | The Frigate Assurance & HMS Invincible | Royal George | HMS Pomone & Carn Brae Castle | Clarendon | HMS Eurydice | Sirenia & Irex | SS Eider & Alcester | HMS Gladiator & Submarine A1 | The First World War | Between the Wars | The Second World War | SS Virginia & HMS Alliance | Pacific Glory | Höegh Osaka

On the evening of Saturday 3 January, 2015, the 51,000 tonne ship Höegh Osaka was deliberately stranded on the Brambles sandbank in the middle of the Solent1. The Solent is one of the busiest waterways in the world, as it leads to the Royal Navy's dockyard at Portsmouth, plus Cowes is the home of international yachting and Southampton, as well as being Britain's main cruise terminal, is also a major cargo and container port and is most famous for being the port that the RMS Titanic left from.

The Brambles

The Brambles Sandbank is located off the Isle of Wight and is a well-known hazard to navigation. However for about one hour a year, during the year's lowest tides, it is uncovered and a cricket match takes place there each year. The Island Sailing Club represents the Isle of Wight and the Royal Southern Yacht Club, based in Hamble, represent Hampshire. Because it isn't actually possible to play a full innings of cricket in the hour, especially as the pitch is soon waterlogged, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight take turns to win before everyone returns to the Isle of Wight to celebrate.

MV Höegh Osaka

The Höegh Osaka is a modern cargo ship built in 2000, owned by Höegh Autoliners and registered in Singapore. 180 metres long and 32 metres wide, she was designed to carry up to 5,400 cars, though was carrying only 1,400 cars to Germany when she left Southampton that day at 8.20pm. 1,200 of these cars were luxury vehicles, Jaguars and Range Rovers made by Jaguar Land Rover, in addition to 65 Minis, 105 JCBs, armoured personnel carriers and one Rolls Royce Wraith worth £260,000 - the cars' total value was estimated at £35-£60 million. Shortly after leaving the port of Southampton the crew realised that the ship was listing dangerously to one side and so the crew deliberately manoeuvred the ship to capsize on the Brambles sandbank. The 25 crew onboard were safely rescued by four RNLI lifeboats and the Solent Coastguard helicopter, although two people had minor injuries.

The crew's act has since been applauded. The actions not only meant that the crew were safe, but also the ship did not capsize somewhere that would impact marine traffic to Southampton2, the ship was positioned somewhere where experts were confident it could be recovered, although listing at a 45° angle, and there was no danger of an oil spill disaster affecting the area.

When the news first broke it was commonly believed that the ship, despite satellite navigation, sonar, radar, digital charts etc, had simply run aground and fallen over. The full picture didn't emerge until later that day. When asked for his expert considered opinion on these developments, Lord West of Spithead replied, 'I think there were around 1,400 rather expensive cars on board'. When pressed about why the ship was listing up to 52°, he stated that in his expert view there was 'some terrible stability problem'.

The ship quickly became a popular tourist attraction, with people coming from miles around to see it. Ice cream vans swooped to the areas closest to the scene to cater for the spectators who expect to purchase an ice cream whenever they visit a beach. Calshot Spit, where Calshot Castle and three lighthouses are located was a popular place to see the ship from.

Bye, Brambles

On Wednesday 7 January the ship unexpectedly floated off the Brambles sandbank and began drifting away on its own. Salvagers towed the ship to Alpha Anchorage, a position two miles off Lee on Solent3. The UK was experiencing severe storms with up to 100mph winds in the north, and though the wind in the Solent was not as strong, it was definitely rather breezy and choppy weather. Despite the numerous tugboats trying to keep it in one place, it was being tossed around the water, rotating like a spinning top and, for all of its 51,000 tons, was acting like a leaf on a pond. On 10 January the ship hit and damaged one of the tugs trying to keep it in place. During this time a loose JCB shifted and punched a hole through the hull. Over 3,000 tonnes of water then flooded the lower decks, with some vehicles being submerged under water. After the strong winds delayed the salvage operation, from 17 January this water was pumped into the ships' empty fuel tanks.

On 22 January the ship was towed back to Southampton by four tugs. The cars and other cargo on board were driven off during 27-30 January. It was revealed that the Rolls-Royce Wraith survived intact without a scratch and the vehicles were less damaged than had been expected. However as the cars have delicate electronic equipment on board, as well as having electrolyte batteries, it was expected that the cars would be scrapped rather than Jaguar Land Rover risk potential mechanical failure. This is standard practice and had been the case when transporter MV Cougar Ace capsized in the Pacific in 2006. Although only 68 cars were damaged all 4,700 Mazdas were crushed after recovery to avoid lawsuits. However, very little information had been released about the fate of Höegh Osaka's cargo at the time of writing (September 2015).

On 11 February, Höegh Osaka sailed to Falmouth, Cornwall under its own power. There it was found that the ship was in better condition than had been expected, and repairs were completed within a week. After passing a Maritime Coastguard Agency inspection for seaworthiness, the ship returned to normal service.

1The stretch of water that separates mainland Britain from the Isle of Wight.2A 200 metre wide exclusion zone was put in place around the ship, but this was designed to have minimal impact on the area and vessels were still able to access Southampton almost as normal.3A town in Hampshire close to Gosport, also sometimes spelt 'Lee-on-the-Solent' but normally pronounced with a silent 'the'.

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