EMPRESA TO REPLACE SHIP STRANDED AT CHARLESTON

EMPRESA TO REPLACE SHIP STRANDED AT CHARLESTON

Empresa Naviera Santa SA plans to replace late this month a containership stranded in Charleston, S.C., since early January.

The Peruvian-flag carrier has chartered a replacement ship, renamed the Santa Mercedes, which is scheduled to sail from New York on Feb. 28, said Gregory Bellows, vice president of sales with Empresa Naviera Santa U.S.A. Inc., the carrier's U.S. agent.The Santa Clara I has been held in Charleston since Jan. 8 as efforts drag on to clean up a toxic chemical spill in one of the ship's holds. The vessel probably will return to Lima and be deployed in another service, Mr. Bellows said in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile, the search for the last of four containers carrying drums of arsenic trioxide was postponed Thursday. The units were among 21 containers lost off the Santa Clara when the ship encountered a heavy storm off the New Jersey coast while sailing from New York to Baltimore.

Last week, the U.S. Navy ship ET found two of the 40-foot containers. Some of the drums appeared damaged but not ruptured, said Lt. John Flynn in the U.S. Coast Guard office in Philadelphia, which is coordinating the search.

A total of 441 drums of arsenic trioxide, used to treat lumber, were swept overboard, plus 17 other containers housing non-toxic goods.

Lt. Flynn said the ET's video cable became tangled in the propeller, forcing the ship to return to Cape May, N.J., for repairs. Once repairs are completed, the search will proceed.

"Recovery plans are being developed," Lt. Flynn said, noting that the containers are lying in 120 feet of water, which is beyond normal diving range.

Despite concern about the chemical's toxicity, Mr. Bellows said there is no need for alarm, adding that if the chemical leaks it would be diluted by water.

Some magnesium phosphide also was spilled on the Santa Clara during the storm, apparently when some of the drums were ruptured by timbers that came

from from their lashings.

Initially, clean-up crews expected they would need only a few days to rid the ship of the chemical residue and vapor formed when the chemical comes into contact with water or even humid air, but weather hasn't been on their side.

The job needs a steady supply of dry air with temperatures above 50 degrees, but Charleston's weather has been damp and chilly for much of January, delaying the project, Mr. Bellows said.

But a current dry spell could allow the clean-up to be completed over the weekend, freeing the Santa Clara to sail.

Some ENS customers with cargo aboard the Santa Clara and facing delivery deadlines had their goods transferred to ENS' Santa Lucia, one of three ships ENS operates in its U.S. East Coast-South America West Coast service. In some cases, ENS transferred cargo to competitors' ships.

Other shippers have been willing to wait out the ship's ordeal, however.

"We really appreciate our customers' patience," Mr. Bellows said.