Pretoria: 28 July 2017
The world’s oceans may be drowning fast in a mess of global plastic waste – estimated currently at some 275 million metric tons and in its wake, threatening all life on earth – but the shipping industry on which close on 90% of world trade depends, is not the culprit. Well, not quite.
That is because global shipping practices at sea are highly guarded through a number of international regulations, otherwise known as conventions, and closely monitored by member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) including South Africa, the latter through the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).
This was revealed by SAMSA’s Centre for Sea Watch and Response (CSWR) during a mini conference hosted jointly by the SAMSA, United States Consulate, the International Ocean Institute and the V&A Waterfront held at the Two Oceans Acquarium at Cape Town’s Waterfront recently.
The mini conference occurred within a week of the wrap up of an even bigger oceans plastic waste gathering, the Africa Marine Waste Conference, held over five days in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape in early July, attended by about 250 delegates including a high contingent of scientists from Africa, the US, and Asia Pacific countries.
At the Cape Town event, keynote speakers included Dr Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Georgia, United States, and director of the Center for Circular Materials Management at New Materials Institute; John Duncan of the World Wildlife Fund and Dr Anthony Ribbink, CE of Sustainable Seas Trust.
SAMSACSWR national operations manager, Captain Ravi Naicker, explained that global shipping involving millions of trade cargo vessels at sea daily – and therefore the most potential culprits for massive plastic and related waste pollution of the oceans – were actually not the culprits.
The revelation came against the backdrop of statistics showing that South Africa ranked No.11 in the world for waste management production and that the country alone was responsible for 12% of global plastic waste and about 2% of total mismanaged plastic waste, leading to between 0.9-0.25 megatons of it ending as marine plastic waste annually.
With an estimated population of some 12.9-million people occupying the coastal line of South Africa, this amounted to about two kilograms of plastic waste per person per annum.
Globally, the world’s 192 countries situated along oceans and seas across the globe were said to generate as much as 2.5-billion metric tons of solid waste, of which 275-million metrics tons was plastic waste and an estimated 8-million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste ended up in the seas in 2010, according to statistics by Dr Jenna Jambeck.
Just over 6-million metrics tons of the global (coastal countries) mismanaged plastic waste dumped at seas was currently still floating freely at the surface of global oceans waters, in the process, placing all life both in the oceans as well as on land, at extremely high risk.
According to Dr Jambeck, one of the contributing factors to widespread distribution of plastic waste is that: “In use – (plastic) items that are designed to last forever are only used a short period of time. 40% of plastic production is for packaging – and there are packaging needs for essential foods and things, but I will argue that we should rethink our systems and designs to meet those needs”
Captain Naicker said ocean going vessels globally in South Africa’s ocean space contributed very little to this as waste management on ships was highly regulated.
He said the Africa region alone had about 18 000 vessels traversing its water annually, with just over 3 000 of these sailing through South Africa’s oceans space equivalent some 1.5-million square kilometers of an Economic Exclusive Zone, from the Atlantic, the Southern Ocean through to the Indian Ocean.
Yet, of 1469 vessels randomly stopped for inspection over a six year period between 2011 and 2017, only 2.5% were detained for violation of environmental management protocols at sea, and with only about 0.1% responsible for garbage and record keeping violations.
SAMSA is the country’s State agency tasked through legislation (the SAMSA Act 1998) with responsibility for ensuring safety of life and property at sea, the combating and prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships, and promoting South Africa’s maritime interests.
Guiding the agency’s activities with regards the first two objectives relating specifically to safety of life and property as well as sound integrity of the marine environment, were six (6) International Conventions for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships (MARPOL Annextures) pieces of legislation binding member port states of the IMO for strict implementation in their respective ocean spaces.
In addition all trade vessels registered (flagged) in countries that are signatories to MARPOL are subject to the legislation and associated regulations regardless of where they sail in the world.
“These clearly state that ships using South African waters have no right to pollute seas while sailing here and that we are entitled to take action against should they fail to observe the law.
“However, member states are also required to provide facilities that enable ships to dispose of waste they cannot manage responsibly on board the vessels.” said Capt Naicker.
For his full presentation (about nine  minutes) Click on the video.