Halt Algoa Bay bunkering call to minister Barbara Creecy

Decision to call on environment minister to stop off-shore fuelling in Algoa Bay to allow for broad assessment

Stacey Webb, regional manager at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds at Cape Recife, tries to get a blood sample from an oiled endangered African penguin as the oil keeps clogging the needle of the syringe
Stacey Webb, regional manager at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds at Cape Recife, tries to get a blood sample from an oiled endangered African penguin as the oil keeps clogging the needle of the syringe
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

Concerned Nelson Mandela Bay stakeholders are set to call on new Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy to halt bunkering in Algoa Bay.

This was one of the decisions that emerged from a bunkering meeting hosted by Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism and the Sustainable Seas Trust at the Dolphin’s Leap Conference Centre on Thursday night.

Environmental chemist Ronelle Friend said although only some 380l of oil had been spilled into the sea last month, the impact had been serious, and the forecast was grim.

“Over 100 endangered African penguins were rescued after being found covered in oil, and the impact was probably much worse.

“What about all the birds that were not found or which were only partially oiled nevertheless possibly losing their insulation and their ability to survive and breed?

“What about the damage under the surface as the globules of highly viscous residual marine fuel oil leached toxic hydrocarbons into the ocean?”

Nothing that the presiding South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) had done showed that they were equipped to tackle the situation, she said.

“We are facing an oil spill risk with catastrophic consequences. We have to do something.

“We must stop all bunkering to allow for a strategic environmental assessment to be done to consider the broad environmental and socio-economic costs and benefits of the industry and to answer this fundamental question - is this the best way of using Algoa Bay’s resources?”

The Algoa Bay bunkering service was attractive to ship captains because they did not have to enter port, saving on port fees, turnaround time and cargo loading space because, with a convenient half-way point to fill up, less fuel was needed when they embarked, she explained.

Aegean was the first bunkering operator licensed in April 2016 and the company was involved in a spill four months later.

In January 2019 the second operator South African Marine Fuels was licensed and it was involved in a spill on July 6.

With the expansion of the new industry shipping in the bay spiked sharply and soon a a huge volume of fuel oil was being moved across Algoa Bay’s surface.

Despite outcries from the conservation and tourism sectors, a third operator was licensed at the beginning of July, she said.

According to Bunkerspot, the online information service serving the offshore fuelling industry, this will be a partnership including Colt Marine and Transfigura.

Friend said that, even as the industry was being grown, the authority had not consulted with the public or concerned stakeholders. The had also not done any environmental impact studies, or probes into the affect on tourism and fisheries or how many ships the bay could bear.

Because of this, details of the latest spill were only now emerging but photographs taken soon after the accident seemed to indicate the Liberian ship Chrysanthi S receiving the fuel either did not have slick-containing booms as it was supposed to have on board or else it did not deploy them.

A petition was circulated at the meeting and the aim was to spread the message and gather further support via other conservation and tourism communication channels before writing to Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, Friend said.

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism chairman Shaun Fitzhenry said government had rightly emphasised the importance of tourism to the economy and job-creation.

“But to fully realise this potential we have to address this issue. We need to get this thing out in the open and get the officials to follow due process and to be accountable. Without the environment we don’t have tourism.”

A number of people in the audience stood up to support the call for action against bunkering. One man, who said he worked in the sector, warned that the last spill was “the tip of the iceberg”.

Several other people said the bunkering operators and the authorities should also be present to put their side. Friend said they had been invited but had not pitched up.

One member of the audience said the metro as the presiding authority in the bay should be invited and should use its clout to force both bunkering operators and authorities to attend the next meeting.

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