The Garden Route remains on tenterhooks regards the Kiani Satu oil spill. SAMSA spokesperson, Nigel Campbell, has mentioned a larger spillage amount than previously reported but has also said that the crew on the salvage ship, the Smit Amandla, have reported less oil around Kiani Satu. The DA has said that the spill is much larger.
Attempts to re-float the damaged cargo ship failed again last night (Tuesday) and this morning. Weather predictions are notoriously incorrect for this region and this was no different. The crews are working in cold conditions which have included downpours (it even hailed in nearby Knysna early evening, yesterday) but the swells have not climbed as predicted. However, the Kiani Satu has been turned 45 degrees so that it is now facing out to sea. Campbell says that this is a better position – the ship’s bow will now divert some of the force of the waves that had moved and entrenched it only 50m from the beach. It is also in a better position to be towed.
The disaster management team’s only option is to attempt to float her every 12hrs. This begins 2 hours before each high tide with the Smit Amandla tug gradually building its engines up to full power.
Repositioning could have weakened the structure but if the reports that there is less oil are true then that would allay those fears. Public opinion tends to veer towards the worst without proof but there has been a contradiction in spillage estimates. SAMSA first stated that none was expected but changed that later to 3 tons yet, at that stage, off-the-record sources and members of the public (through second-hand information) were varying between 10 and 30 tons. The latter seemed closer to the truth as Campbell stated today that it was 35 tons. Pieter van Dalen, Shadow Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has publicly stated that he reliably knows that it is in fact 70 tons. What no one has supplied is how this is being measured.
As a temporary measure, oil was being pumped from the leaking storage container into safer containers above. But the goal is to get the oil off the ship. The next step is to remove it altogether. As it has cooled, it can now be stored in plastic containers and flown off the ship via a line attached to a cargo helicopter.
All Africa reports that the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has used the oil spill to call for “harsher penalties to be imposed on sea polluters in order to protect fishery living resources around the country’s seashore”. Although the public would agree with that sentiment, it’s important, in the case of the Kiani Satu, to determine what went wrong first. SAMSA has emphasised that they are impressed with the responsible support that they have received from Esmeralda Schiffahrts GmbH, the ship’s German owners. They are from Hemmoor, Germany and immediately dispatched experts from around the world and assured that they have good insurance.
Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) is the official carer and rehabilitator of oiled seabirds. As of today, they have received 13 feathered victims. Working with the Tenikwa Awareness and Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, the team is reporting success. Recovery will be completed in SANCCOB’s facility at St. Francis. The possible breadth of a disaster is hinted at as birds were found as far away as Tsitsikamma and Herolds Bay. Members of the public who discover distressed birds are asked call Wilna on 082 326 4143 or Vernon on 072 670 5108). They will arrange for their collection and have them dropped off at either Wilderness Ebb and Flow, SANParks’ office in Knysna or Tenikwa. DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN THE BIRD YOURSELF as detergent could kill it. A beach expedition to find more birds in trouble was started today.
Campbell has said that the costs of this operation will likely exceed the R38 million it cost to float and sink the MT Phoenix in 2011 (which ran aground off Billito near Durban).
Whilst the wind has been flattening the waves, a storm is brewing which will increase the chances of the Kiani Satu being torn apart and dumping the oil on one of South Africa’s most prized environmental areas. Even if the tug does succeed in pulling her off, there is a chance the tow rope could snap (as it did with the MT Phoenix).
In case of a major oil spill, the best hope would be for the oil to head further into the Indian Ocean so that it is given the opportunity to break up. The alternative is too horrifying to local residents i.e. the threat to some of South Africa’s most prized waters, the Swartvlei and Goukamma estuaries, as well as the famous Knysna Estuary (often misnamed as the Knysna Lagoon).
Thankfully, there are over 350 people working hard to prevent this disaster.