THE stranded car carrier Hoegh Osaka is successfully docking in Southampton.

She began her journey back into port this afternoon and was seen moving at a swift pace towards the docks.

Making her way through the evening gloom, the 51,000-tonne ship was clearly visible with lights across her bridge and surrounded by blue flashing lights on the tugs that were towing her back to Southampton.

She is now coming alongside her berth in Southampton port.

The Singapore-registered vessel, which has a cargo of 1,400 cars and 105 pieces of construction equipment, was beached deliberately on Bramble Bank sandbank, near Southampton, on January 3 after it began listing as it left the Hampshire port.

It floated free from the sandbank on the high tide on January 7 and has since been anchored at a spot two miles (3.2km) east called Alpha Anchorage, near Lee-on-the-Solent.

Daily Echo:

Now she is successfully alongside it marks the end of huge operation that lasted almost three weeks.

The operation to re-right the 15-year-old ship has been hampered by heavy winds, which even caused one of the tugs to collide with the vessel during one of the storms.

It was only on completion of the water pumping that salvage firm Svitzer was able to complete ballast management and bring the vessel back to a list of only five degrees. The 591ft (180m) ship listed at 52 degrees as it became stranded on the sandbank.

Hugh Shaw, the Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (Sosrep), had said the vessel could not be brought back into port until the list had been sufficiently reduced so that, when it was brought alongside, the cargo hold doors could be opened in order for the cars and other vehicles to be discharged.

He also said that towing would only take place once an inspection had been carried out by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) as part of its probe into the cause of the incident.

An MCA spokeswoman said: ''The Hoegh Osaka is scheduled to arrive at Berth 101 in Southampton Port at 1900 (approximately).

''During the towing operation to bring the Hoegh Osaka in to Southampton Port, a restricted airspace (temporary) (Rat) will be placed one mile (1.6m) either side of the navigation route and up to 2,000ft (610m).

"This is designed to provide essential safety during the towing operation.

''There will also be an exclusion zone around the vessel itself of 3,280ft (1,000m) ahead and behind and 328ft (100m) either side.''

The condition of the cargo, which includes 1,200 Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles, 65 Mini cars and 105 pieces of JCB construction equipment, is not clear but further inspections are due once the ship has berthed.

Spectators gathered in Southampton port to see the vessel finally dock.

Ben Michaelis, 21, a student from Bedford Place, said: "it's a clever piece of engineering to rescue her and it just shows how well ships are engineered and how fortunate they are that she came back ok."

Tom Baldock, 21, a student from Bedford Place, said : "it's good they've had the chance to move her given the bad weather. It's astonishing to see it happen."

John Cox, 70, from Millbrook, said: "It's good she has been able to come back successfully. We didn't want anything to happen to her and it's good she is safe and secure."

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