THE lifting of the L’Ecume II wreck from the seabed has been delayed by several complications, including further deterioration of the trawler.
A combination of weather, swell and high tides has made the operation difficult for divers, meaning only the remote operated vehicles (ROVs) have been used so far, despite specialist teams mobilising to the site last weekend.
The structural integrity of the vessel – which is lying on its port side – has worsened, meaning it will need to be recovered in pieces rather than as a whole.
The L’Ecume II fishing trawler sank on Thursday 8 December following a collision with Condor’s Commodore Goodwill freight ship off Jersey’s west coast, triggering an immediate search-and-rescue operation spanning 36 hours.
A follow-on recovery operation using the offshore support vessel MV Freja also took place in December. Two bodies were recovered from the wreck and identified as crewmen Jervis Ramirez Baligat and Larry Simyunn from the Philippines, but the third person on board – skipper Michael ‘Mick’ Michieli – has not been found.
In February, senior civil servant Richard Corrigan announced that the decision had been taken to raise the vessel for both ‘evidential gain and for humanitarian reasons’.
The lifting phase of the operation – involving a 60-metre-long crane barge which arrived in the Island earlier this month – was initially expected to take place on Wednesday and Thursday [19–20 April].
However, the delay has meant this is unlikely to start before 27 April, while search-and-recovery operations continue over the coming days.
Once raised, L’Ecume II will be transported to La Collette, where it will be stored at a secure location, under States police supervision. A 1,000m maritime exclusion zone will remain in force in the area of the wreck until the recovery operations are completed.
Among the discoveries made by the ROVs this week is that the structural integrity of the vessel has worsened and the steel deck has become dislodged from the wooden structure, making it unsafe for divers to enter the wreck as it is still moving.
Mr Corrigan said: ‘What we want the ROVs to be able to do is safely secure that or remove it altogether so the divers can get proper access.’
He added that the operation was tasked ‘principally’ with locating and recovering Mr Michieli if possible.
‘Until we’re able to say that we have comprehensively searched all compartments – and bearing in mind the limitations of doing this 40-plus metres below the surface with divers – we remain hopeful that we will find Mr Michieli,’ Mr Corrigan said.
‘We expected that weather delays may occur and they have occurred. But the principal change relates to the structural integrity of the vessel and the need to look at things slightly differently.’