Environmental group calls for end to Algoa Bay shipping…
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) has reduced its clean-up operations in Algoa Bay after an oil spill during a transfer process involving two vessels.
Algoa Bay Conservation, which includes Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, Baywatch Project and Raggy Charters, released a statement calling for an end to ship-to-ship bunkering with immediate effect.
According to the group, two Minerva Bunkering vessels – the MT Lefkas and the Umnenga II – were involved in the spill just before noon on May 23.
The Umnenga II was transferring marine heavy fuel oil to the Lefkas, while positioned at Anchorage 2 (located on the edge of the Addo MPA) near Brenton Island.
It was reported that a pipe burst and left around 3,000 liters of low sulfur heavy marine fuel oil in the ocean. Emergency procedures were activated and spill cleanup crews began work, involving up to six vessels and crews.
On Thursday, May 26, a fixed-wing aircraft, equipped with advanced oil detection equipment, carried out an intensive survey which revealed no trace of oil in Algoa Bay.
Samsa spokesman Tebogo Ramatjie said SANParks patrols found no oil on the beaches. There had also been no reports of oiled seabirds being spotted.
“The waste management plan is being implemented to ensure proper disposal of oily waste. The MT Lefkas has been cleaned of all traces of oil; however, the Umnenga II remains outside at anchor awaiting a suitable berth so that a small area near the rudder can be cleaned,” he said.
Ramatjie said the investigation into the cause of the spill was continuing and bunkering had resumed in Algoa Bay during the day.
A statement from the environmental group said the cleanup continued over the next four days, aided by spotter planes following the oil’s drift towards the bird-sensitive islands.
“Notwithstanding spill response efforts, the oil was dispersed as a surface shrapnel over a wide area in the direction of St. Croix Islands and Bird Island.
“The impact on seabirds and other animals will only be determined over the next few days. As of the date of this report, both vessels have significant oil deposits on the hull which still need to be cleaned up. for other hazardous substances and possible pollution,” the statement read.
“Site reports confirm the widespread spread of the oil slick drifting east. Media reports that the oil did not reach sensitive bird breeding and nesting islands…is misleading as birds feed in affected oil drift areas…
“The bay is teeming with schools of moving pelagic fish and seabirds may well escape the oil spill if they move away from an oil-affected area,” the statement said.
According to the group, this spill is significant because it involved two tankers with large quantities of fuel stored.
“The mother tanker, Umnenga II, has a declared capacity of 90,000 tonnes of oil and the smaller vessel, Lefkas, has 6,320 tonnes. The transfer was not the same as regular bunkering operations where, on average, 500 tonne fuel packages are transferred.
“It is therefore of a higher magnitude of risk due to the quantities and throughputs involved. Presumably, the incident investigation will assess these issues,” the statement said.
The group said it was the second spill in the past four weeks in the area.
“On April 23, 2022, an oil spill was detected by vessel tracking in the same area involving Umnenga II and the transfer vessel Kimolos (both operated by Minerva) and was confirmed by clean-up operations .
“Oiled seabirds were recovered from Bird Island on May 3,” the group said.
The dangers of ship-to-ship bunkering
The group said ship-to-ship bunkering can be described as an offshore fueling station dispensing hazardous and toxic marine fuel oils in large quantities.
“The annual marine fuel oil sale recorded in Algoa Bay shows that between 50 and 60 million liters are pumped per month, worth around R500 million per month.
“The numbers are undoubtedly startling… Algoa Bay is South Africa’s largest service station,” the group said.
The statement said the socio-economic benefits of ship-to-ship bunkering were outlined in general terms of employment and other related services.
“However, the full cash flow to the tax authorities and beneficiaries has not been transparently disclosed.
“There is no doubt that the main beneficiaries are offshore oil and energy parent companies and therefore the local financial benefits are questionable, while ecotourism and other marine commercial and recreational activities bear the brunt of the the negative impact of bunkering on such an industrial scale”.
Lack of environmental authorization
The group says it is unwise to allow ship-to-ship bunkering in an environmentally sensitive area adjacent to a marine protected area.
“The decision was taken without any risk assessment… without an environmental impact assessment (EIA) and without the participation of affected and interested parties.
“Although ship-to-ship bunkering is not a listed activity in terms of National Environmental Management Act regulations, it is suggested that an EIA should have been carried out due to the highly sensitive locality, the high-risk nature of these operations and the public. interest,” the statement read.
He added that the ongoing fuel oil spills are proof that a proactive approach must take place immediately before a catastrophic incident occurs.
Call to action
“It is clear from the ongoing spill and cleanup operations that a similar emergency response for a larger spill would be ineffective, with catastrophic consequences.
“This is confirmed by the fact that the spill occurred on Monday (May 23) at noon and clean-up operations continued for days in relatively inclement weather… [this] is indicative of the difficulties of containment and the inadequacy of equipment,” the statement read.
The group has called on Samsa and the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) to cease all ship-to-ship bunkering operations within the offshore limits of Algoa Bay with immediate effect, until a full risk assessment has been completed. carried out and a full environmental impact. assessment that addresses concerns raised and involves public participation and the African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan (AP-BMP) is finalized.
The group said that in the event Samsa or the TNPA are unable to halt the bunkering, “we are calling on Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to issue a Coastal Protection Advisory prohibiting the activity until that the risk assessment, EIA and AP-BMP are all completed and assessed”.
“The Algoa Bay Conservation and Concern Group has been proactive in challenging all issues that negatively impact the marine environment of Algoa Bay and bringing them to the public’s attention. .
“The first public meeting to inform about ship-to-ship bunkering was called in 2019 when the first major oil spill occurred, and was instrumental in putting in place a moratorium on the granting of new bunker licenses by Samsa,” the group said. DM/OBP