Low Water on the Amazon Strands Tanker Near Manaus
Authority in the Amazon region and Brazil are waiting for a determination about what to do with a tanker that is stuck in the mud due to the low water levels along the Amazon River. The reports are that while the outer hull sustained some damage the vessel is not leaking and there have been no environmental issues.
The 50,000 dwt Minerva Rita, a product tanker registered in Libera, was outbound from Manaus, Brazil on December 4 when the vessel grounded in the river just below Manaus in the Guajara Channel. The tanker which is 183 meters (600 feet) in length was transporting 8,500 cubic meters of gasoline and 18,000 cubic meters of naphtha after loading at the Amazon Refinery (REAM).
Initially, reports were that the vessel struck a rock in the river and anchored. Officials from the Brazilian Navy however are blaming the vessel saying it took a “wrong turn” and passed through a shallow area created by the drought.
The Amazon has for months been experiencing low water levels. Cruise ship passenger Jo Johnston who was also on a ship moving along the river this week wrote on social media that a pilot boat was ahead of their cruise ship, taking soundings as they proceeded toward Manaus. There are reportedly temporary channel markers set as well as indications on the electronic charting systems of the new dangers due to low water.
Brazilian media reports are that some larger vessels have elected to remain further down river at Itacoatiara due to the low water levels. They said that there are currently at least 20 vessels holding either down river or near the mouth of the river while others continue to proceed cautiously with the assistance of the local authorities toward Manaus.
A spokesperson from the refinery said that they had offered assistance to the tanker but that they only owned the cargo and had no responsibility for the operation or navigation of the vessel. As of midweek, the refinery had gained permission from the Amazon authorities to offload the cargo.
Officers from the Navy command overflew the area and the local authorities launched an inspection of the vessel. Divers went down at the beginning of the week and a second inspection was conducted midweek. The tanker is a double-hull vessel and they are reporting that the outer hull is damaged or possibly holed below the waterline on the port side. The inner skin remains intact and the vessel is in no immediate danger.
The owners of the tanker are reported to be developing a plan but the Navy said there was no immediate plan to attempt to move the vessel. It is unclear if it could be safely moved and in its current position it is not blocking navigation on the river. An investigation is underway to determine why the Minerva Rita grounded.