Rush to prevent oil spill from grounded ship off South African coast

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Salvage operations were in high-gear on Thursday to prevent a potential oil spill and pollution along South Africa's west coast from a grounded general cargo vessel, authorities said.

The Panama-flagged "Ultra Galaxy" ran aground close to Doring Bay, some 300 km north of Cape Town, late on Tuesday after it started listing badly. The ship was abandoned by its 18-strong Filipino crew while still at sea and concerns have since risen over the potential for an oil spill.

"Salvage operations are continuing at high speed to minimise the risk of pollution and to assess the condition of the cargo on the stricken vessel," Tebogo Ramatjie, a spokesperson for the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) said.

The full crew were successfully rescued from a safety raft by passing vessels after a distress alert was detected at around 0300 am local time (0100 GMT) on Monday, some 60 nautical miles west of Doring Bay, authorities said.

Efforts are now focussed on preventing a fuel and oil spill, as well as salvaging its full cargo load of fertilizer bags from the vessel which was on its way to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Ramatjie said rough sea conditions from a series of cold fronts that have battered South Africa's ports are not hampering salvage operations at the moment.

South Africa's logistics firm Transnet said on Tuesday it had suspended operations at some of its ports dues to the strong winds and waves which have lashed parts of the country.

Earlier on Thursday French shipping and logistics company CMA CGM said its ship "Benjamin Franklin" had lost 44 containers in difficult weather conditions off the coast of South Africa on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by David Evans)