Titan executes key operation in mammoth salvage job off Gibraltar.

The math is impressive: Take dozens of salvors, add a heavy crane, lift bags, pontoons and a healthy portion of expertise, then subtract a bow section and what do you have? Three thousand tons of a grounded bulk carrier lifted from the seabed in a single piece.

The achievement in June marked a milestone in Titan Salvage’s operation to dismantle and remove the remnants of New Flame, a 623-foot Panamanian bulk carrier that sank off Gibraltar’s Europa Point in August 2007. The successful heavy lift allowed Titan to refloat the entire stern section of the ship and move it to a nearby port, where it was lifted onto a barge for transfer to a scrap yard.

New Flame, en route from New York to Turkey, was carrying 42,000 tons of scrap metal for recycling when it collided with the Danish tanker Torm Gertrud. While the tanker was able to continue to port in Spain, New Flame took on water, drifted and ran aground.

Before New Flame’s stern could be lifted from the sea, it had to be separated from the submerged forward portion of the vessel. The stern section — comprising the engine room, accommodation block and No. 5 cargo hold — had been stabilized after the accident and kept above the water by Titan to allow salvors to eventually float it from the site.

The stern section of the New Flame , weighing about 2,700 tons, is lifted onto a barge in Gibralter for transfer to a scarp yard. At the grounding site, the stern section had been cut away from the rest of the ship.

With fuel oil, deck structures and much of New Flame’s load of scrap metal removed, crews cut away the stern section in early June during a six-hour operation. After lift bags were inserted and pontoons attached to the hull of the wreck, the crane barge Rambiz pulled the section from the bottom. “The salvage crew, including myself, was elated that the stern lift went according to plan,” said Titan’s Jim Conroy, salvage master for the New Flame project. “In regard to the wreck removal as a whole, this is probably the largest job Titan has ever performed.”

The stern section, suspended in the rigging of Rambiz, was then taken into the port of Gibraltar for the next phase of the operation: weight reduction. Using two cranes and an excavator to remove the remaining steel scrap from the No. 5 hold, a crew of 60 salvors worked around the clock for 10 days to trim 300 tons from the stern. That enabled Rambiz to lift the section completely from the water, and it was placed aboard the barge Giant III for the voyage to a northern European scrap yard.

Conroy said that more than 45,000 tons of the sunken freighter and its metal cargo have been removed from the wreck site, with only a portion of the ship’s midsection remaining.

“The primary remains are a section of the No. 4 and No. 5 cargo holds,” he said. “We hope to have the operation completed by Sept. 15.”

Conroy and the rest of Titan’s New Flame team were featured on an episode of “Salvage Code Red” on the National Geographic Channel. For a look at the video, go to www.ngcasia.com/programmes/sal vage-code-red/videos/new-flame.

Rich Miller

By Professional Mariner Staff