Introduction by the WCA
Ship-to-ship fuel transfers (also referred to as ‘bunkering’) are high-risk operations. Heavy fuel oil is extremely toxic and the environmental impacts of this oil entering the ocean can be devastating. Ship-to-ship fuel transfers began in Algoa Bay in 2016, with licenses issued by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA). Unfortunately, bunkering in Algoa Bay has increased in recent years and three oil spills have been recorded since operations began.
WCA Partner Raggy Charters, as part of the Algoa Bay Whale Heritage Site steering committee, have played a key role in addressing this issue and helping to protect Algoa Bay’s precious marine life. Here, they tell us about their latest campaign to reduce the threat.
Update from Raggy Charters
When Algoa Bay was in the process of being judged as to whether or not we qualified as a Whale Heritage Site, the only stumbling block seemed to be the ship-to-ship fuel transfers that had been taking place. With a good push and sturdy work by the Raggy Charters team, we started the long process of taking action.
A 32-page Concern Report was drawn up and submitted to the Minister of Environmental Affairs. As a result of this, the Minister applied a moratorium on the issuing of any more ship-to-ship fuel transfer licenses until a comprehensive risk assessment had been completed. In addition to this, with help from the WCA, Kirsten Youens from All Rise Attorneys for Climate and Environmental Justice drew up a legal opinion on how we should proceed against the ship-to-ship transfers.
In December 2021, without a risk assessment having been undertaken, and much to everyone’s shock and surprise, the South African Safety Authority (SAMSA) suddenly announced that this moratorium would be lifted on the 1st of April 2022 (we were hoping this was an April Fool’s joke, but alas not!). Our team jumped into action and made sure all the legal paperwork was in order.
As the result of a legal letter drawn up by Kirsten Youens, SAMSA reversed their decision and extended the moratorium until a comprehensive risk assessment is actually carried out. Celebrations went on well into the night on the 31st of March as we received the news.
A big thank you to Kirsten who did all this work pro bono and to the client who brought the application, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism. Well done on seeing this through. Plenty of work was done by our own eco warriors, Ronelle Friend and Michael Bellis. Without their extreme dedication in doing this unpaid work, we would be staring at another two companies spewing out their toxins into our beautiful Algoa Bay.
We have been asking for this risk assessment to be undertaken since 2019. All the media coverage, TV shows, and SANCCOB’s petition no doubt added impetus to SAMSA’s decision. The facts were so well spelt out that SAMSA had very little choice but to comply. Although media coverage and public opinion is important, the only way government institutions seem to take notice is via the legal route.
Included in this post is a beautiful photo of dolphins surfing the waves off the Alexandria Dunefield in Algoa Bay – close to where this scourge of ship-to-ship fuel transfers are taking place. Toxins released during the transfers end up in the sea and work their way up through the different trophic levels (food chain). It all starts with the plant plankton, which is consumed by the animal plankton, and in turn the bait fish. This is then consumed by top predators like the African penguins, dolphins, whales, sharks and game fish. When dolphins feed their calves, like the ones shown in the photo, these toxins are passed on in the breast milk.
If this madness carries on, our beautiful ‘Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World’ may be something of the past. It will have a huge effect on our tourism industry, which generates R7 billion per annum and employs 45,000 people. Compare this to the paltry 54 jobs created by ship-to-ship fuel transfers and the money which vanishes into unseen bank accounts!
Thank you again to everyone involved in extending the moratorium; it is a great win for Algoa Bay. This is not the end, but only the beginning. There is still a long uphill battle on the cards.