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Cargo Ship Runs Aground as Huge Waves Pound South African Coast

(Bloomberg) -- Storms pounded South Africa’s coastline for a fourth day on Wednesday, disrupting shipping operations and complicating efforts to salvage a Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel that ran aground. 

The MV Ultra Galaxy beached at Brand se Baai northwest of Cape Town late Tuesday, the South African Maritime Safety Authority said on its website, which showed a picture of the vessel resting on its side near the shoreline. Its 18 Filipino crew members evacuated the ship and were rescued from a life raft on Monday after an emergency signal was issued. 

“Preliminary indications are that the vessel has a full load of fertilizer in bags on board. She also has low-sulphur bunkering fuel, in addition to hydraulic and related oils,” SAMSA said. “Salvage operations had been scaled up, with two tugs already en route to the location of the casualty vessel, while other measures were being rolled out for containment of any possible spills.”

The 125-meter (410-foot) Ultra Galaxy left the port of Walvis Bay in Namibia around July 4 and was headed to Dar es Salaam, according to ship tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Its navigation status was designated as “not under command.”

State-owned port operator Transnet SOC Ltd. said it was monitoring harbor operations impacted by the extreme weather. Vessel traffic rounding the Cape of Good Hope, which has increased as shippers seek to avoid attacks in the Red Sea, has encountered offshore storm surges, with swells forecast as high as 10 meters. 

Harbors along South Africa’s coast have scaled back activity for safety reasons. Transnet is “continuously monitoring operations” as rough seas have suspended shipping movements at some ports, the company said late Tuesday. Earlier in the week, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S warned of potential delays that could last for days. 

The weather disruptions are a blow to Transnet, which is already struggling with improving turnaround times at its ports, seeking private investment and replacing equipment that’s more capable of operating in extreme weather. The harbors rank among the worst globally, according to a World Bank study, although Transnet disputes the methodology it used.

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The inclement weather is expected to continue until the weekend. 

A number of schools in Cape Town and the surrounding area will be closed on Thursday to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers, David Maynier, the minister of education in the Western Cape Province, said in a statement. Some 137 schools have been damaged over recent days and 49 require urgent attention, he said. 

The UK’s Foreign Office issued a warning on Wednesday that there was a risk of localized flooding, urging people in Cape Town to avoid unnecessary travel and stay away from rivers.

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