Samsa: Culture of silence over pollution

2013-07-16 14:30
South African coastal traffic is monitored from the Samsa Centre for Sea Watch and Response. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

South African coastal traffic is monitored from the Samsa Centre for Sea Watch and Response. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Foreign shipping vessels witness pollution on South Africa's coastline, but are reluctant to report it because of a culture of silence, a government agency has said.

"They [vessels] don't want to be part of court cases in countries. They can see poaching; they can see pollution, but it's better for them to keep quiet and quietly go past," South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) CEO Commander Tsietsi Mokhele told News24.

He said it was imperative that SA protected its coastlines as well the vulnerable species that make their home here.

"We've got a very rough coastline and we got the marine protect areas and some very unique species that ought to be protected from pollution by vessels."

The National Ports Authority has appropriate tugs to deal with fire hazards on ships, but the country is ill-prepared for a mass oil spill around near the coast, Samsa said.


"We're quite happy that finally, the issue of legislation of pollution by tankers has been resolved by parliament by passing that whole list of regulations amendments to the acts of parliament," said Mokhele.

The vulnerability of the South African coast was demonstrated in 1983 when the Castillo de Bellver oil tanker caught fire and broke up, spilling around two million barrels of oil.

Mokhele said that technology has improved significantly to deal with a marine disaster, but that shipping companies have to improve if there is to be a major improvement in lowering the risk of pollution.

"The challenge we have are these new standards. Environmentally friendly shipping practises and technology: On those we are talking to our universities to make sure that on the technology side, we can move, but we think that on the shipping practises, there is a lot that we need to do."

One of the successes is the establishment of the Marine Highway Project at the end of 2012. The five year project ensures that vessels operate in a narrow band around SA, giving authorities a more straightforward way to monitor them.

SA has been approached by other regions to give guidance on how to establish such marine highways that could play a critical role in protecting sensitive marine habitats.

Mokhele said that the highway ensure order off the eastern coast of Africa.

"The region that we have cleared makes sure that the oil tankers – when they come along the eastern part of Africa – coming out of the Arabian Sea, they stick to a lane, as on the roads. In the past, they used to be all over."

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