Fighting pollution key to unlocking SA ocean wealth

Johannesburg - Seen as one of the largest environmental polliuters, the maritime industry also offers an opportunity for research and technology innovations which are being implemented by some corporates.

The Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU), an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology hosted and incubated at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has conducted research into the impact of the maritime industry on South African waters. 

Research shows shipping is one of the fastest-growing sources of pollution in the world, but according to TLIU manager Ashley Bhugwandin the maritime sector could also combat pollution through data capturing and research.

The following are some of the ways in which ships pollute:

·         Using engines and generators that burn polluting bunker oil
·         Changing ballast water at ports in the process polluting the ports
·         Ships carry on their underbellies barnacles and other species  which can be invasive
·         Ordinary pollution when humans throw overboard unwanted items,

“Some research units and companies are now waking up to the fact that the ships which plough the world’s oceans every day, carrying goods between continents, may also be ideally placed to carry out research into the planet’s changing climate,” he told Fin24. 

Currently, the TLIU is actively looking at means to localise technology in the maritime sector. 

READ: Local shipbuilders tap tech to fight pirates

Maritime companies have become conscious of the impact their industry has on the ocean and some have adopted technologies to reduce its negative effects.

One such company is Damen Shipyards Cape Town, the South African company significantly owned by the Damen Group, a Dutch conglomerate with expertise in naval defence, shipbuilding, and engineering.

The company has been implementing new, more eco-friendly strategies, including the implementation internationally of low-emission eTugs.

The eTug project is also part of Damen's local portfolio. According to the company, it offers fuel efficiency and emissions benefits to all ports, irrespective of geographical location. 

Veteran naval expert Benny Bhali, who is Damen's newly-appointed spokesperson in SA, said the company has been using hybrid vessels, hull optimisation, and propulsion train optimisation to lower fewer fuel emissions. It also uses computational fluid dynamics (CFD) techniques and collaborates with co-developers and leading research institutes, like the TLIU and CSIR.

“Damen has conducted lots of research into low underwater radiated noise, which has a positive impact on marine life. We have been very successful with developing vessels that perform well in this area,” Bhali told Fin24.

“Ballast water treatment solutions – such as Damen’s innovative port-based solution, InvaSave - help to reduce the spread of invasive marine species. We also offer retrofitted ballast water treatment systems to vessels, applied in a modular fashion for ease of installation and maintenance,” he added.

Experts like Bhali and Bhugwandin maintain that lessening the industry's negative impact on the environment is of paramount importance to unlocking the ocean’s wealth through the blue economy.

As part of government’s National Development Plan, Operation Phakisa was born to meet government’s targets. Its starting point was that South Africa is surrounded by a vast ocean which has not been fully taken advantage of and is an untapped resource. 

READ: Private sector breathes life into Operation Phakisa

Operation Phakisa provides the maritime sector with an opportunity which however needs to meet stringent environmental standards. 

Government stated at the time that the ocean has the potential to contribute up to R177bn to the gross domestic product and create just over one million jobs by 2033. 

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) stated that the one of the organisation’s objectives is to prevent and combat pollution of the marine environment. 

Samsa acting chief operations officer Captain Nigel Campbell told Fin24 that one of their great concerns is that aerial coastal patrols are no longer being done. 

“Ports have become well regulated and numerous inspections of vessels take place by authorities and while ocean traffic has been reduced slightly, there is still a need for patrolling of the coast,” he said. 

Numerous incentives have been put in place to encourage the responsible disposal of waste, including a monetary incentive for vessels bringing waste back to land. 

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