Preparing for the worst . . .

Experts gather in Bay for workshop on dealing with oil spill disasters

Rupert Bravery, right, from the UK, specialising in oil spills, and top world salvage expert Nick Sloane attended the five-day oil spill response workshop at the Port of Nqura
Rupert Bravery, right, from the UK, specialising in oil spills, and top world salvage expert Nick Sloane attended the five-day oil spill response workshop at the Port of Nqura
Image: Werner Hills

Tons of crude oil are spewing into the ocean after two ships collided off Algoa Bay in what authorities have dubbed one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s maritime history.

This was the mock scenario that played out during the five day national oil spill contingency plan workshop held at the Port of Ngqura in Nelson Mandela Bay.

The workshop, which started on Monday, has attracted more than a 100 delegates from various government departments, local maritime businesses and international experts from the United Kingdom.

The initiative is part of the government’s Operation Phakisa that aims to tap into the economic potential of the ocean, such as offshore oil and gas.

The department of transport’s marine environment protection deputy director, Terrence Mabuela, said the plan was designed to be implemented across the country’s coastline in the event of an oil spill.

“Part of this plan is to have joint industry-government emergency response drills to prepare the country in the event of an offshore oil spill.

“South Africa has embarked on the implementation of the incident management system – an all-risk, all agencies, co-ordinated system for managing humanitarian emergencies – as the preferred model for the prevention of pollution by ships and the offshore oil and gas industry.”

Maritime salvage expert Captain Nick Sloane, who was involved with the workshop, said it aimed to ensure all industry role-players were synchronised in the event of an incident.

Sloane, who was involved in the salvage of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship off the Italian coast in 2013, said the contingency planning workshop was the largest that had been held in SA. “This is a vital and necessary workshop to ensure that all industry professionals are on the same page and can co-ordinate plans should any disaster happen along our coast line,” he said.

With the increase in bunkering taking place off Algoa Bay, it was vital to be prepared for such disasters, he said. The two-day practical leg of the workshop started on Thursday and involves a simulation where a container vessel leaving the Port of Ngqura collides with an oil tanker – leaking thousands of tons of oil into the bay.

Exxon Mobil emergency preparedness and response adviser Rupert Bravery flew in from the UK to facilitate the workshop.

Bravery said the plan would put SA on par with international standards allowing foreign aid in the event of an oil spill.

“The location for the scenario was chosen to be Algoa Bay due to the huge environmental impact such a spill could have.

“This includes being on a major shipping lane of a deepwater port as well as threatening the endangered bird colonies on the nearby islands.”

Three islands – St Croix, Brenton and Jahleel – are situated only kilometres from the Port, while Bird Island, which is home to about 200,000 Cape gannets as well as thousands of African penguins, sits on the outskirts of the Bay.

Bravery explained that the incident management system was the internationally accepted best practice.

“Adopting this system will ensure that international aid can be called and everyone assisting will know their role as they also use the same system.”

“The bottom line is having a plan like this is like having insurance. You want to have it in case something happens, but hope that you will never need it,” he said.

Three similar exercises will be held across the country by 2021.