Oil pollution bills delayed

2013-08-14 14:55
Deputy transport minister Sindisiwe Lydia Chikunga listens to a presentation on the state of South African maritime at the Samsa offices in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Deputy transport minister Sindisiwe Lydia Chikunga listens to a presentation on the state of South African maritime at the Samsa offices in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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2013-07-23 10:25

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Cape Town - An "oversight" by the department of transport saw MPs on Wednesday delay processing draft legislation aimed at making South Africa a full member of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund.

"We don't want to process a bill without the entity being present. In view of this... we need to postpone," transport portfolio committee chair Ruth Bhengu told members.

The "entity" referred to is the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa), the absence of which body, according to a senior transport department official present, "just might have been an oversight on our part".

The committee was holding public hearings on two related pieces of draft legislation: The Merchant Shipping (International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) Bill, and the Merchant Shipping (Civil Liability Convention) Bill.

But these quickly ground to a halt when concerns by MPs prompted Bhengu to declare that they could not continue without Samsa.

Environmental damage

"We want to hear the voice of Samsa... because the agency is the implementing agency [for matters raised in the bills]," she said.

In a statement submitted to the hearings, the Maritime Law Association of SA said there had been "considerable delay" since SA had acceded to the 1992 Civil Liability Convention (CLC), and the Fund Convention of the same year.

"As matters stand, we would be terribly exposed in the event of a major oil spill, given the low limits of liability contained in the MPA [the Marine Pollution Act].

"It is simply imperative that both CLC 1992 and the Fund Convention are given force of law as soon as is reasonably possible so as to ensure that our limits of liability, at least in relation to pollution from tankers, are increased from the unacceptably low levels contained in the MPA, and to ensure a claimant's access to the 1992 fund," the association warned.

According to an open letter sent in June 2012 to then transport minister Sibusiso Ndebele, by Professor John Hare of the University of Cape Town's Shipping Law Unit, a tanker owner's liability is capped at R180m.

However, countries that are signatories to the fund could claim as much as R9.3bn to clean up any environmental damage from a major oil spill.

In his letter, Hare warned that the "long period of bureaucratic torpor" that had characterised the bills' passage left SA "dangerously and I respectfully suggest shamefully inadequately covered".

Clean-up costs

According to a maritime legal expert, who declined to be named for professional reasons, the delays in drafting and passing the bills were technical and related to the fact that more than one government department was involved.

He agreed that SA would be exposed to massive clean-up costs in the event of a major oil spill.

"The problem is, we are covered, but not adequately covered," the expert said.

Wednesday's cut-short committee meeting took place as salvors, including Samsa, battled to remove hundreds of tons of heavy fuel oil from the leaking cargo ship Kiani Satu, aground south of Buffalo Bay, just off the Goukamma Nature Reserve in the Southern Cape.

The 168m bulk carrier ran aground last Thursday. Some oil has already spilled from the vessel. Attempts to pull the Kiani Satu off the shore have so far failed, hampered by bad weather and high seas.

It was reported on Wednesday that the oil is to be pumped out of the vessel's tanks into plastic containers, which will then be flown off.

It was not immediately clear when the portfolio committee will again hold hearings on the bills.
Read more on:    samsa  |  cape town  |  environment  |  maritime

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