Algoa Bay oil spill cleaned up before reaching beaches, islands and seabirds

The Algoa Bay oil spill happened when oil spilled during bunkering on Monday.

The Algoa Bay oil spill happened when oil spilled during bunkering on Monday.
Samsa
  • The Algoa Bay oil spill has been contained and is almost completely cleaned up, says Samsa.
  • So far there has been no damage to the clusters of islands, and the sea birds appear to be alright. 
  • Sanccob says no oiled birds have been reported either. 

After a massive operation, the Algoa Bay oil spill has been successfully contained and most of it cleaned up before it could spread to beaches or nearby islands, the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) says.

“None of the oil has reached the beaches, most of the oil was cleaned and there is no oil sheen visible on the waters,” said spokesperson Tebogo Ramatjie.

However, bunkering operations remain suspended. Bunkering is the ship-to-ship transfer of oil at sea.

The spill occurred when oil was being transferred between the the MT Lefkas and Umnenga II – both owned by Minerva Bunkering, on Monday.

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Algoa Bay stretches from Gqeberha, through the deep water water port of Ngqurha, and Cape Padrone.

It is part of the SA National Parks’ (SANParks) Addo Marine Protected Area and includes clusters of small islands. There was concern that the oil could spread to nearby beaches and damage feeding grounds for the marine life.

SANParks defines a marine protected area as a section of coastline or ocean specifically protected for the benefit of people and nature. They explain that these areas help rebuild fish populations, keep marine ecosystems working properly, and protect the range of species living there, so that people can benefit from the ocean.

A school of dolphins is seen is seen swimming outs

A school of dolphins is seen is seen swimming outside St Croix island in Algoa Bay.

Bird Island has the largest breeding colony of Cape gannets in the world, as well as African penguins and rare roseate terns, according to SANParks.

Seal Island is a breeding colony for Cape fur seals and St Croix Island, nearer to Gqeberha, has a large breeding colony of African penguins.

Samsa said five oil recovery boats had immediately been sent to collect the oil drifting on the surface since Monday. This was supported by a drone, and later a helicopter, to track the spill.

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A very recent oil spill practice drill meant that everybody was up to date with what had to be done.

By Thursday, Samsa was optimistic that it had managed to clean almost all the oil, but said the operation continued.

At the same time, the SA Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) monitored for any damaging effects to the delicate ecosystem there, including the nearby islands.

Bunkering

Monica Stassen told News24 that no oiled birds had been reported at this stage.

“Sanccob continues to oppose the continuation of bunkering in Aloga Bay, given its proximity to sensitive foraging and breeding grounds of endangered marine species and the Addo Marine Protected Area,” she said.

Fin24 reported that bunkering is regarded as part of the “oceans economy”, providing opportunities for businesses.

A colony of penguins is seen on St. Croix island i

The common sight of a colony of penguins on St Croix island in Algoa Bay.

However, after previous oil spills – 200 to 400 litres in 2019 and 80 litres in 2021 – the Bunkering Environmental Working Group called for a moratorium on issuing new bunkering licences.

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“Penguins and seabirds also contribute to the economy, bringing tourism to the area which itself creates jobs. True sustainability encompasses social, ecological and economic dimensions,” said Stassen.

Bunkering is a very task-specific service, which involves securing pipes, supporting the bunkering hose, and monitoring levels at the transfer destination, while the ships bob side by side on the ocean.

In the meantime, MT Lefkas has berthed in Gqeberha, and the oiled equipment was removed from the water. Samsa said boat patrols by SANParks revealed no oil near the Algoa Bay Islands andno oiled birds were spotted. A plane was chartered from Cape Town to keep up the aerial monitoring.

If anybody spots oiled birds, they must not touch them, but rather contact SANParks or Sanccob Gqeberha at Cape Recife Nature Reserve on 0639424702.

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