South Africa’s failure to retain its seat in the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) Council last Friday, coupled with Nigeria’s failed effort to gain a seat, has come as a significant disappointment for the country.
That is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) following the country’s loss of its seat during elections of the IMO’s 40-member Council for the 2022-2023 biennium in London last week.
South Africa, along with Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, and Morocco were the five African IMO Member States and candidates vying for a seat in the IMO 40-member council. Egypt, Morocco, and Kenya retained their seats.
Reacting to the development at the weekend, SAMSA said it was disappointed for South Africa following Friday’s IMO Council elections. SAMSA, a State agency operating under the Department of Transport, works closely with the department and relevant others in terms of IMO related matters. SAMSA and DOT officials often travel to the IMO in London where they serve of different IMO committees and South Africa also has a permanent representative at the organisation.
However, both DoT and SAMSA officials could not make it to London this time around for this year’s IMO 32nd Regular Session of the Assembly where the IMO Council was elected, due to strict travel conditions related to the recent and currently ongoing resurgence of Covid-19 pandemic infections across the world.
The United Kingdom immediately placed South Africa on its travel ‘red list’ shortly after the announcement by South Africa health scientists of the discovery in South Africa of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19.
Thus, on Friday, senior DoT officials inclusive of the Deputy Minister of Transport, Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga; Acting Director-General, Mr Mthunzi Madiya supported by staff from Maritime Branch as well as SAMSA Acting CEO, Ms Tsepiso Taoana-Mashiloane and Head of SAMSA Corporate Affairs, Mr Vusi September; gathered at a Pretoria venue to participate virtually during the IMO Assembly session from Monday last week.
Leading to Friday’s IMO Council elections, South Africa was cautiously optimistic it would retain its seat on the Council. However, when the vote outcome was eventually announced in London late afternoon, there was visible disappointment among all the officials gathered in Pretoria for the event.
For limited highlights of Friday’s event in London and Pretoria, click on the video below.
In the aftermath, with a formal country reaction statement expected from Minister of Transport, Mr Fikile Mbalula; SAMSA’s acting CEO, Ms Tsepiso Mashiloane expressed disappointment insofar as SAMSA was concerned.
“For SAMSA, it is just to say that we are deeply disappointed by the outcome of the IMO Council vote, but even so, we will continue supporting the IMO work and ensure that we continue with our concerted efforts in respective committees to advance the African approach with respect to implementation of IMO Conventions we have acceded to. So, emphasis will be enhancing our work in Legal, Technical Committes, MSC and MEPC,” she said.
After the conclusion of the elections, the IMO congratulated the 40 Member States that were voted to constitute the Council for 2022-2023 biennium as follows:
Category (a): 10 States with the largest interest in providing international shipping services (listed in alphabetical order)
China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Panama, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States
Category (b): 10 States with the largest interest in international seaborne trade:
Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates
Category (c): 20 States not elected under (a) or (b) above, which have special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world:
Bahamas, Belgium, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, the Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and Vanuatu.
The IMO statement further said: “The newly elected Council will meet, following the conclusion of the 32nd Assembly, for its 126th session (on 15 December) and will elect its Chair and Vice-Chair for the next biennium.”
With only a day to go before the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 176 Member States gathered in London this week, and next; for the 32nd Regular Session of their Assembly, decide on who among 49 countries vying for election will constitute its IMO Council on Friday, South Africa remains cautiously optimistic to retain its seat.
South Africa, located at the most southern tip of the African continent with approximately 3000km of a coastline stretching across three oceans, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Southern Ocean to the south and the Indian Ocean to the east – and therefore holding a globally significant geographic maritime position – is among a group of five countries from the continent vying for a seat in the IMO 40-member Council for the 2021-23 period.
The others are Egypt, Morocco (Mediterranean), Kenya (Indian Ocean), and Nigeria (Atlantic Ocean). Voting for the 40 member IMO council takes place on Friday, using an in-person-private vote system.
South Africa, one of the founding members of the IMO but subsequently suspended from active membership for many years until 1995 submits that it is optimistic, however, cautiously; that it will retain its seat.
According to its submission to members of the IMO Assembly this week, its optimism arises from its consistent, active participation in especially the technical work of the IMO, this in addition to its being a “State Party to the key IMO Conventions that promote safety, security and the protection of the marine and atmospheric environment.”
Among these are the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS); the Marine Environment Protection Convention (MARPOL) and the Search and Rescue Convention.”
South Africa states: “The Government of the Republic of South Africa is convinced that South Africa’s re-election to the Council will further contribute to the ongoing efforts towards the achievement of the goals of the International Maritime Organization (MO).”
These include safety of property and life at sea, protection of the environment from pollution by ships, as well as active promotion of the maritime sector domestically, regionally and globally – all mandated through legislation to a strategically located agency, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) to discharge, under the watchful eye of the national Department of Transport.
With eight specialised commercial ports and several small vessels harbours spread across the coastline from the border of Namibia to the west (Atlantic Ocean) to Mozambique in the east (Indian Ocean) – variously catering to an ever-growing global trade cargo, marine tourism and academic research fleet of vessels of various sizes – the country’s active and continuous contribution to IMO activities remains vital.
South Africa is also a part of the western Indian Ocean regions that contain 14 major commercial ports – seven of her own (Cape Town, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, Ngqura, East London, Durban and Richards Bay (South Africa) as well as those in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Maputo, Beira, Nacala, Quelimane, Pemba (Mozambique), and Mombasa (Kenya). These serve as hubs for traffic emanating from, and destined for, Europe, Asia, the Americas and the east and west coast of Africa.
In addition to the large cargo ships traveling internationally, the country says; many smaller boats serving local needs ply the coastal waters and harbours and, in the process, adding to the considerable navigation risks faced by large ships.
In its submission to the IMO Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session ahead of Friday’s IMO Council Elections, the country states: “South Africa as a fully democratic country continues to be an active and loyal member of the International Maritime Organization. The Government of South Africa is very keen to continuously work with the IMO towards promotion of safe, secure, environmentally sound, efficient and sustainable shipping.
“South Africa has developed domestic legislation to implement the adopted Conventions and such pieces of legislation include the South African Maritime Safety Authority Act, 1998. The Act establishes SAMSA as an agency of government charged with the responsibility to promote safety of shipping; protect the marine and atmospheric environment and promote South Africa’s maritime interests.”
To this end, South Africa boasts among other things; a dedicated Maritime Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) that positions her as a regional leader in terms of hosting state-of-the-art search and rescue infrastructure and services for the Southern African Region:
“As a coastal State, we manage and maintain a system of AIDS to navigation including lighthouses, a fully-fledged Marine Hydrographic Service, as well as Emergency Response Capacity, which includes a Search and Rescue Centre, Emergency Towing Vessel, Information and Communication Systems.
“These systems give assurance to international shipping on the safety of shipping along the SA coastline as well as supports the entire Southern African Region.
“Our search and rescue region extend to Antarctica and our LRIT Data Centre caters for more countries in the region. We have over the years fully discharged our duty of ensuring order at sea by all the systems we have put in place, including our anti-piracy initiative in the Mozambique Channel.
“South Africa (also) became a member COSPAS/ SARSAT programme since May 2001, and the system in Cape Town detects on a yearly average 607 Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacons (EPIRBS) that transmit on 121.5 MHz. Detection of the modern and new technology 406 MHz beacons is 4 increasing and at the moment, the averages are 200 detections per annum, and this is based on the information passed on to South Africa.
Alongside that aspect of work, SAMSA conducts inspections on foreign vessels visiting her ports and regionally, the country works in tandem with neighbouring countries conjoined by their borderline access to the affected oceans. South Africa is a member of two port state control regimes; the Indian Ocean Memorandum of Understanding and the Abuja Memorandum of Understanding.
It is also notable that South Africa was the first country worldwide to formally implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) inspired and driven Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) – a pioneering position that has since led to her consulting extensively with other countries still at early stages of the convention’s implementation.
At this year’s General Assembly, South Africa is backing fully the IMO General Assembly’s adoption of entry into force and implementation of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement. In her submission South Africa says that in terms of current arrangements, for the Agreement to be in force, at least 22 States with an aggregate number of the qualifying fishing vessels must ratify/accede to it.
To date, 16 States with an aggregated fleet of 1907 eligible fishing vessels have ratified the instrument.
South Africa’s view is that: “South Africa, as the host of the International Conference on the Safety of Fishing Vessels held in Cape Town in 2012 and signed the Agreement and the 2019 Torremolinos Declaration, supports the adoption of the draft resolution on the entry into force and implementation of the Agreement.
“The entry into force of the Agreement will increase safety standards on fishing vessel design, construction and equipment will also positively impact the working conditions of fishing vessel personnel and the safety of the search and rescue and emergency response services in mitigating the consequences of fishing vessel casualties. Furthermore, the Agreement will assist in the prevention of marine pollution, including plastic pollution, from fishing vessels and in combatting IUU fishing.”
In addition, from a global marine law perspective, South Africa has a long tradition with the Maritime Law Association of South Africa populated by some of the world respected jurists, thereby ensuring that its maritime arbitration capability is one of the well-respected in the world.”
The country states: “South Africa can therefore, with its strategic position at the tip of the continent straddling three oceans, coupled with our well-established technical capability and skills base, make a meaningful contribution to the activities of the IMO Council in service to international shipping.
On global collaboration in general, South Africa was due to host the World Maritime Day Parallel Event in 2020 but the IMO had to postpone the event due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The outgoing IMO Council had, however, approved retaining South Africa as host of the event in 2022 conditional to the COVID-19 pandemic trends.
During this year’s IMO Assembly, South Africa also intends to sign the Jeddah Amendment to Djibouti Code of Conduct (the Code) with the IMO Secretary General. The Code aims to suppress transnational organised crime and other illegal activities at sea.
On the elections of the new IMO Council for 2022-2023 biennium , while South Africa remains optimistic of retaining her seat, should things go completely awry for some inexplicable reason, the country may still stand a chance of returning to serve in the council as currently there is a proposal before the IMO Assembly to expand the council’s membership from 40 seats to 52.
The proposal, which South Africa has given her support, further calls for the IMO Council’s term of office to be extended from two (years) to four (years).
In her submission to the IMO Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session currently underway, South Africa states that: “South Africa would like to support the draft amendments to Articles 16, 17, 18, 19(b) and 81 of the IMO Convention and the associated draft Assembly resolution.
“We believe that the expansion of members to the IMO Council will ensure that there is diversity, geographical spread and representation of the interests of all IMO Member States.”
Contestation among Member States for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 40-member Council comes to a head this Friday when the organisation will announce who among the 48 contestants will either retain, lose or secure their seats; and South Africa is among five African countries in the list of contestants.
The Council is an executive organ of IMO, responsible for supervising the work of the organization. The Council is made up of 40 Member States, elected by the Assembly for two-year terms. The outgoing was elected in 2019.
An interesting new development before the IMO General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session currently underway in a hybrid model in London, from Monday this week through to Wednesday week, is a proposal by the outgoing Council for the expansion of the body by an additional 12 members, to a total 52.
However, according to the world’s maritime regulatory body, until such proposal is approved and adopted by at least two thirds of the IMO Membership, or 116 Member States (based on the current membership of 174 Member States and two Associate Members), the status quo will remain.
Therefore, the IMO says; on Friday (10 December), a new 40-member IMO Council for the 2022-2023 biennium will be elected utilising in-person private ballot.
Contestation for the 40 seats falls into three categories;
Category A (10 States with the largest interest in providing international shipping services:),
Category B (10 States with the largest interest in international seaborne trade) and
Category C, (20 States not elected under (a) or (b) above, which have special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world.)
According to the IMO, 48 countries including South Africa are in the running. These include 10 Members States in Category A, 11 Members States in Category B and as many as 27 Members States in Category C.
However, with Category (A) having virtually no seeming contest (10 seats and 10 candidates), and Category (B) having 11 contestants for the 10 seats available; the biggest challenge is – for all intents and purposes – in Category C, the one in which South Africa slots, where 27 Members States are vying for the 20 seats available.
The IMO provided the names of candidate Members States for the 40-Member Council in each category as follows:
Category (A): China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Panama, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Category (B): Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and the United States.
Category (C): Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vanuatu.
In terms of the current contest for seats and due to end Friday, in Category (A), all the listed Member States candidates are already serving, except for Northern Ireland. In Category (B), new candidates are the United States and Sweden, the former having slotted in Category (A) of the outgoing Council in 2019.
In Category (C) where the battle for a seat is truly hot, new contestants include Bangladesh, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, and Vanuatu – with Kuwait, which served in the outgoing Council, not listed as a candidate.
The newly elected Council to be confirmed on Friday will then meet on 16 December for the Council’s 126th session and will elect its Chair and Vice-Chair.
Technological advancements in global shipping and related activity in the maritime sector, along with the global impacts of the rampant unseizing spread of the Covid-19 may remain central to discussions of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 175 Member States General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session currently on – in a hybrid format – from London; however, women empowerment in the sector also remains central.
That’s at least according to the immediate past president of the Assembly, Ms Nomatemba Tambo – currently South Africa’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the country’s permanent representative at the IMO.
According to the IMO, citing a BIMCO/ICS 2021 Seafarer Workforce Report, women represent only 1.2% (or 24,059) of the global seafarer workforce. However, the IMO says that while this may seem miniscule in comparative terms, in actual fact, “..this represents a positive trend in gender balance” as it reflects a 45.8% increase compared with 2015 figures.
Currently, the IMO working in conjunction with the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA International) is conducting a global maritime industry survey intended to “obtain baseline data on the number of women in maritime and oceans fields and the positions they occupy.”
The plan, say the IMO and WISTA; “…is to repeat the survey every three years…..our aim (being) to support implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by having comparable data that will assist us in creating programmes and proposing policies that will increase the participation of women in maritime.
“This will help promote a more diverse and inclusive environment in our sector. We will publish a report on the aggregate numbers that will be available to all interested parties.”
In her final presidential speech reflecting on work of the IMO over the past two years, on Monday Ms Tambo applauded the international organisation for formally endorsing the establishment of a dedicated day to celebrate women directly, annually, in the maritime sector, beginning next May.
She said: “I ….commend the IMO for declaring 18 May as the International Day for Women in Maritime. This is a great step in celebrating women’s efforts and their contribution to the maritime and shipping industry. I believe that this initiative will succeed in raising the profile of women, removing the barriers of entry and addressing gender imbalance faced by women in the maritime and shipping sector.”
The IMO Council agreed on the establishment of the dedicated day for women in maritime at its November 2020 meeting and now, it’s due for formal adoption as a resolution by the General Assembly currently gathered in London for its 32nd Regular Session, beginning Monday this week through to Wednesday next week.
From a South Africa pespective, the development is partly a direct result of the IMO’s inclusion of more female officials in its governance structures, as exemplified by Ms Tambo’s ascendancy two years ago to the presidency of the organisation’s General Assembly.
South Africa, one of several southern and eastern African countries involved in an initiative to relaunch the Women in Maritime Sector in Eastern and Southern Africa (WOMESA), but rescheduled due to South Africa’s inability last October (2020) to host the IMO General Assemby Parallel Event billed for Durban owing to the global oubreak of Covid-19, views Ms Tambo’s contribution in the maritime sector as pioneering.
Ms Tambo’s two-year reign ended on Monday with the election of Philippines’ permanent representative to the IMO, Mr Mr Antonio Manuel R. Lagdameo as the successor. However, his 1st Deputy is yet another Southern Africa woman, Ms Linda Scot of Namibia.
Effectively, this means that two women, both of Southern Africa will have been at the helm of the IMO General Assembly for a combined four years both as President and deputy President respectively and successively – a historical record to date.
Ms Tambo remains South Africa’s permanent representative at the IMO.
On the establishment of a dedicated maritime women’s day, last November, the IMO Council’s explanation of its decision was that; “Once adopted by the IMO Assembly in December 2021, the observance will celebrate women in the industry, promote the recruitment, retention and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector, raise the profile of women in maritime, strengthen IMO’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) and support work to address the current gender imbalance in maritime.”
The development immediately received praise from the IMO’s Secretary-General, Mr Kitack Lim. “I welcome the Council’s adoption of this proposal. Not only does it further efforts to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality, but it is a perfect follow-on action to the IMO Assembly’s resolution and call to achieve a barrier-free environment for women, so that all women can participate fully, safely and without hindrance in the activities of the maritime community, including seafaring and shipbuilding.” said Mr Lim at the time
After being formally endorsed this week by the General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session members, the day will feature prominently among the global maritime sector’s annual calendar that already includes a Day of the Seafarer (June) and a World Maritime Day (October).
In the meantime, in his opening remarks of the IMO General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session in London on Monday, Mr Lim confirmed that the 2022 World Maritime Day will be “New technologies for Greener Shipping”. This year’s World Maritime Theme was: “Seafarers: at the core of shipping’s future“
The start of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) General Assembly’s 32nd Regular Session, held as a hybrid model, in London on Monday marked both a low point and watershed moment for South Africa – the latter as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the former owing to its expected weighty contribution in this session.
The Assembly – traditionally meeting once every two years – is the highest governing body of the IMO, responsible for approving the international body’s work programme and budget, determining its financial arrangements and electing the IMO Council.
Durban, South Africa; was billed to be the next host of the 175 Member IMO World Maritime Day Parallel Event in 2020, but that was postponed due to the outbreak globally of the Covid-19 pandemic, and whose grip remains tight in many countries across the world even this year. That effectively robbed South Africa of the opportunity of hosting the prestigious event on its home soil, and the African continent, for the first time ever.
However, on the upside, it has emerged that South Africa may still host the event in 2022.
South Africa, – a founding member of the IMO in 1959 but whose membership was then suspended during the apartheid era and only readmitted during the dawn of democracy in 1995 – plays a highly significant role as an IMO Member State from the African continent, inclusive of holding membership of the IMO’s 40 Member Council, thereby currently placing among only four maritime countries holding membership of the body from the African continent.
South Africa holds a Category C level membership of the IMO Council, along with the Bahamas, Belgium, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey.
As it were, at this year’s gathering that began in London early on Monday, South Africa lived up to its reputation as a significant contributor at the IMO, playing a critical role in the nomination process of the next IMO Assembly regular session President, by lending its full weight behind a United Kingdom proposal of Mr Antonio Manuel R. Lagdameo of the Philippines as the next President of the IMO Assembly. Other supporters were Peru and Turkey.
With his election confirmed, Mr Lagadmeo will succeed a South African, and the first woman from the country to hold the position of an IMO General Assembly President; Ms Nomatemba Tambo, after her election to the position in December 2019. She was and remains South Africa’s High Commissioner to the UK since 2018.
Leading South Africa representation at Monday’s first sitting of the IMO General Assembly was the country’s national Transport Deputy Minister, Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga who during the first plenary at about lunchtime, announced the country’s support of the UK’s choice of Mr Ladgameo – an ambassador and permanent representative of the Philippines at the IMO – as the IMO’s next General Assembly president.
In her brief remarks announcing the country’s secondment of the nomination, said Ms Chikunga: “The resume presented by the distinguished delegate of the United Kingdom gives us the sense of comfort and confidence that His Excellency Mr Antonio Manuel Lagdameo has the required skills and expertise to preside over this important session of the Assembly successfully. On that note, Madam President, South Africa humbly second the nomination of His Excellency Mr Antonio Manuel Lagdameo as the President of this 32nd regular session of the Assembly.”
For Ms Chikunga’s brief remarks, click on the video below
Later, in her congratulatory message of Mr Ladgameo’s formal confirmation as president, Ms Chikunga said: “South Africa would like to congratulate His Excellency, Mr Antonio Manuel Lagdameo of the Philippines for elected as the President of the 32nd regular session of the Assembly. We have no doubt that he will lead this session with success and distinction.”
South Africa further delighted also in the election of Ms Linda Scot of Namibia as the 1st Vice President of the Assembly. Acknowledging her also as one of South Africa’s own – a claim based on Ms Scot’s academic education obtained at the Universities of the Free State and Cape Town – Ms Chikunga described the moment as a reaffirmation of “our role and commitment of the SADC to enhance the blue/oceans economy.”
South Africa also congratulated Mr Raphael of Italy as the 2nd VP, with Ms Chikunga stating that: “…we have no doubt that these two distinguished nominations will be of great assistance to the President of the 32nd regular session of the Assembly.
She added: “Madam President, South Africa would also want to take this opportunity and thank all the IMO Member States for electing the High Commissioner of South Africa to the United Kingdom, Her Excellency, Ms Nomatemba Tambo in 2019 as the President of the 31st regular session of the Assembly. Your tenure as the President of the 31st regular session befitted the 2019 theme of the IMO of “Empowering women in the maritime community”.
“We are most grateful to the IMO Member States and the Secretary-General who offered this prestigious opportunity to South Africa to preside over the last Assembly.”
Meanwhile, in her remarks as the outgoing president of the IMO’s General Assemby, Ms Tambo reiterated the country’s full commitment to ensuring that work and programmes of the IMO are fully supported both by South Africa and the continent.
Expressing her own gratitude for the opportunity she had leading the IMO General Assembly, said Ms Tambo: “South Africa is a country with special interest in maritime transport and is strategically located in one of the major shipping routes. It is surrounded by three oceans: the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean and Atlantic Ocean.
“South Africa continues be a good partner with the IMO and as well as in the Djibouti Code of Conduct system to deter and curb the spread of piracy to our sub-region. In this regard, South Africa maintains the deployment of military craft along the Mozambique Channel as a deterrence against the spread of piracy, armed robbery and human trafficking.
“This record of accomplishment of providing the port services to ships calling our ports, excellent coastal state services and search and rescue capabilities in the region are of critical importance to the mandate of the IMO and international shipping.
She added: “For my country, South Africa, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to all Member States for your confidence in electing me in 2019 as the President of the 31st regular session of the Assembly.
Next up for South Africa this week will be the election of Members of the IMO Council on Friday morning, an event during which the country is vying to ensure that it retains its Council membership and status.
The IMO General Assembly’s 32nd Session’s 11-day sitting ends on Thursday next week.
The clean-up of the Algoa Bay ocean and adjacent coastline has been terminated in the absence of evidence of any further spread of the fuel, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) announced at the weekend.
In the statement, SAMSA said: “The clean-up of patches of small tar balls that were washed ashore, following the spill of bunker oil into the water during a vessel bunkering operation on the 17th of November 2021 in Algoa Bay, has come to an end.
“The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), SANPARKS and other stakeholders including the Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) continue to monitor the remaining stretch beach for any additional oil/tar balls that may wash out. No further sightings of tar balls have been reported. The Incident Command team is in the process of demobilising and scaling down the response,” said SAMSA
The termination of the clean-up exercise which according to SAMSA, saw approximately 400 liters of oil recovered from the water, shall exclude the continuous monitoring of Algoa Bay’s islands by SANParks rangers and others involved for signs of oiled wildlife and birds.
“The Islands in Algoa Bay are being monitored for signs of oiled wildlife and birds by rangers from SANPARKS and SANCCOB as part of the routine operation.
“To date four (4) birds (three Cape Garnets and one African Penguin) were found to be contaminated by oil and have been captured. Two (2) of the captured birds have died – one, of malnutrition and the other of a fractured leg. The remaining ttwo (2) are being cared for by the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB),” said SAMSA.
The procurement and arrival in South Africa next week of an Inert Gas System and a specialist excavator operator from Europe is expected to relieve pressure and provide enhanced safety to management efforts of transferring an unstable chemical cargo off a constrained vessel currently docked in St Helena Bay.
That is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in a statement in Pretoria on Thursday confirming the docking yet again of the Marshall Island flagged bulk carrier, NS Qingdao, back at St Helena Bay on Tuesday, after days spent off shore due to its unstable chemical cargo.
The saga with the vessel, according to SAMSA, began on 23 October 2021 in Durban where it had docked to offload its chemical cargo, but had to be sent back offshore and rerouted to St Helena Bay after her cargo suffered a chemical reaction, releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere.
According to SAMSA, redirecting the bulk carrier, now under constant escort, to St Helena Bay on the country’s west coast (Atlantic Ocean) was intended to provide it with protected anchorage, “with the advantage of being in close proximity to the Vissershok waste deposal site where the cargo could be safely discharged and neutralised.”
However, with stormy, wet weather unrelenting, said SAMSA: “Last week (25 Novembe)r the vessel was instructed to sail offshore (again) under tow to help ventilate her No3 cargo holds after the hold was closed due to a change in weather conditions causing an increase in hot spots in the hold and fumes to enter the engine room through the engine room vents.”
In the meantime, said SAMSA that all non-essential personnel were removed as a safety precaution, with only a minimum crew onboard. In the intervening period, plans were made to procure a special Inert Gas System and a specialist excavator operator from Europe. SAMSA said the Inert Gas system would be used to blanket the cargo with an inert gas to prevent any further reactions in the cargo.
However, the discovery of and an announcement in South Africa about a new Covid-19 variant, Omnicron, which almost immediately sent several countries abroad in a tailspin of panic, followed by the closure of borders and bans on international flights to the country, “delayed operations slightly,” said SAMSA, adding that the salvage crew was, however, “optimistic” that the Inert Gas System would arrive in St Helena Bay by Tuesday next week (07 December 2021).
MarineInsight.com contextualises the use of an inert gas system as follows: “Inert gas system is the most important integrated system for oil tankers for safe operation of the ship. Inert gas is the gas that contains insufficient oxygen (normally less than 8 %) to suppress the combustion of flammable hydrocarbon gases. The inert gas system spreads the inert gas over the oil cargo hydrocarbon mixture which increases the lower explosion limit LEL (lower concentration at which the vapours can be ignited), simultaneously decreasing the Higher explosion limit HEL (Higher concentration at which vapour explodes).
“When the concentration reaches around 10%, an atmosphere is created inside the tank in which hydrocarbon vapours cannot burn. The concentration of inert gas is kept around 5% as a safety limit.”
Meanwhile, in Pretoria on Thursday, SAMSA further reiterated its earlier assurance that the toxic fumes emitted from the vessel do not pose any danger either to humans or the oceans and coastline environment. Providing specific detail of the bulk carrier’s water sensitive and reactive chemical cargo, SAMSA said: “SAMSA would like to assure the public that this is a controlled event and neither the environment nor any person is at risk at this time and that all safety precautions are taken to prevent the situation from escalating.
Of the cargo’s nature, the agency said: “The bulk cargo consists out of a mixture of Sodium Metabisulphite, Magnesium Nitrate Hexahydrate ,Caustic Calcined Magnesite, Electrode Paste, Monoammonium Phosphate, Ferrous Sulphate Monohydrate, Zinc Sulphate Monohydrate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Sulphite Anhydrous and Calcium Chloride.”
With the recall of the vessel to dock at St Helena Bay on Tuesday, said SAMSA: “The cargo is being discharged into skips to remove all hot spots in the cargo hold to help neutralise the chemical reaction and gases under the watchful eyes of experienced salvors and chemical experts.
“The first two skips were discharged yesterday morning in the care of SPILLTECH for transportation to Vissershok under controlled conditions. SAMSA would like to reaffirm that there is no immediate risk to any person ashore and that all persons involved in the operation onboard is using all the required personnel protective equipment.”
However, just to be sure, extra measures undertaken since the rerouting of the vessel from Durban to St Helena Bay have included the constant watchful eye of a tug UMKHUSELI that, according to SAMSA “will remain on site to act as a static tow while the vessel is at anchor and ensure that any toxic gases are blown offshore during the operation.
“The ship owner is cooperating with SAMSA, DFFE, TNPA, Salvage Team and local authorities.SAMSA would like to assure the public that this is a controlled event and neither the environment nor any person is at risk at this time and that all safety precautions are taken to prevent the situation from escalating,” said the agency.