Cape Town - Conservationists are furious after bad weather broke the wreck of the Seli 1 into three sections, releasing an oil slick which now poses a threat to marine life and to Bloubergstrand, one of the Peninsula’s most popular beaches.
They say they have been warning of an environmental threat since the bulk carrier ran aground in September 2009.
It also emerged yesterday that a request by the transport department for R40 million from the national Treasury to remove the wreck is expected to finally come before the cabinet this month – too late to prevent the third such spill, which occurred overnight on Friday.
Seabird rehabilitation organisation Sanccob, which has alerted Robben Island about the oil slick, was searching for oiled birds yesterday afternoon. It said it had long put pressure on the relevant authorities to remove the wreck, which was harming the marine environment, as well as seabirds such as the endangered African penguin.
Cape Disaster Management spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said strong winds and big swells apparently moved the vessel, resulting in the oil spill.
A frustrated SA
Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) regional manager Dave Colly added his voice to the controversy: “We have been warning the Department of Transport for far too long that this was going to happen. We suggested that the tanks should be opened carefully and have the fuel physically removed.”
Mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith also weighed in, saying the city had had constant meetings and sent a number of letters to the Transport Department regarding the issue since the previous spill, just less than a year ago.
“They advised us that they are awaiting a response from the national Treasury to their request for a budget for the removal of the vessel and its fuel,” he said.
Meanwhile, Solomons-Johannes said “black oil fingers” were spreading in a 500m radius towards Dolphin Beach.
Footage also showed black oil was visible at the high-water mark at the beach, for an 800m long stretch.
It was extending towards the Rietvlei Wetland Reserve, although no oil could be seen on the coast near Koeberg.
Rescue workers could not immediately begin the clean-up while the amount of fuel that had spilt was still being determined.
Feroza Albertus-Stanley, environmental officer for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said: “We have dispatched our oil spill aerial surveillance aircraft, Coastguard 9, over the wreckage, and it has reported that most of the oil is spilling from the central part of the vessel.
“It is unknown what section this is of the vessel as there are many compartments, and it is also unknown just how much fuel is on board,” she said last night.
She added that officials had, however, been able to determine that the worst of the spillage was over.
The clean-up was likely to take between two and three days.
Solomons-Johannes said the city’s disaster response teams attempted to clear up the oil spill yesterday, but “continuous oil washed ashore due to the rough seas and high swells”.
The operation had to be terminated… as a result, and will resume with its efforts on Monday when sea conditions will improve,” he added.
However, routine inspections would continue today.
But Solomons-Johannes appealed to the public to stay away from the affected area,
“Conditions in the vicinity are regarded as dangerous, and the directive issued by the SA Maritime Authority will remain in force, prohibiting any bathing and other recreational activities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sanccob has been placed on high alert, according to chief executive Venessa Strauss, who said several birds on Robben Island were affected in last year’s spill.
We are aware of the concerns about the financial implications [of removing the wreck], but something has to be done. Even if there are no oiled birds, the ongoing pollution from the wreckage has a negative impact on the marine environment and sea birds,” she said.
The Turkish bulk carrier was en route to Gibraltar carrying approximately 600 tons of fuel and 30 000 tons of coal when it ran aground in 2009.
l Any oiled birds can be reported to Sanccob on 021 557 6155.