Johannesburg - The government should urgently improve marine legislation, the World Wide Fund for Nature said on Thursday.
"The recent news of yet another Seli 1 oil spill again highlights the need for the South African government to urgently enact the International Civil Liability Convention (CLC) and Fund Convention into domestic legislation," it said in a statement.
This would increase protection of vital marine resources to prevent similar incidents.
"The Seli 1, which ran aground off Dolphin Beach, near Blouberg, in September 2009, is a relevant example of why this legislation needs to be passed as soon as possible," said WWF-SA senior marine programme manager John Duncan.
"This is particularly true, given the significant threats from shipping accidents."
He said the CLC and the Fund Convention were developed to allow member states to access international funds to help mitigate the disastrous effects of oil pollution from marine shipping accidents.
"Passing these conventions into local legislation will allow South Africa to claim up to R10 billion in compensation for damage from oil spills," Duncan said.
While the CLC and Fund Convention have been ratified by South Africa, it does not have access to these funds because it has yet to enact the conventions into domestic law.
"This means we are financially unprepared to deal with any major oil spill disaster. Currently, the South African public need to foot the bill for clean-up costs," Duncan said.
He said with the increased traffic in global shipping, the risk of oil spills in South African territorial waters must be seen as a growing threat.
"It will be difficult to close the stable door once the horse has bolted."
The City of Cape Town said oil leaked from the wreckage of the Seli 1 bulk carrier on Wednesday afternoon.
The navy had conducted controlled blasts to weaken the structure since Monday, said disaster risk management centre spokesperson Wilfred Solomons-Johannes.
"When it blasted one of the tanks underwater, it ruptured and it then released oil that was onboard the wreck."
He said this had resulted in an oil slick emanating from the tanks.
"There is no immediate threat to the shoreline and the marine life at this stage."
Solomons-Johannes said the city's disaster rescue teams would conduct investigations on Robben Island, Dassen Island, and at the Koeberg nuclear power station to see if there was any threat.
"Sanccob [the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds] was on high alert to assist with any birds which had been oiled or polluted."
He said all necessary procedures were in place, and people were not allowed within 1000 metres of the operation area.