Toxic fumes off cargo vessel in St Helena Bay pose no immediate threat to marine environment or people: SAMSA

A screen grab of a marinetraffic.com map location of the vessel, NS Qingdao as of Wednesday afternoon.

Pretoria: 10 November 2021

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has given assurance that toxic fumes coming off a vessel offshore near St Helena Bay pose no immediate threat to neither the marine environment nor to humans.

In a statement in Pretoria on Wednesday afternoon, SAMSA described the vessel concerned as a bulk carrier named the NS Qingdao, some of whose chemical cargo had apparently become unstable due to contact with rain water while it was discharging cargo in the port of Durban. Once the incident had been identified, the vessel was evacuated from the port and towed out to sea in order to ventilate its hatches offshore.

The SAMSA statement said: “The South African Maritime Authority are (s.i.c) aware of a vessel releasing toxic fumes in St. Helena Bay. The geared bulk carrier NS Qingdao suffered a chemical reaction after its cargo came into contact with rain water while discharging the cargo in the port of Durban. Concentrated toxic fumes were released into the atmosphere and as a result, the Transnet National Port Authority in consultation with SAMSA, DFFE and other stakeholders decided to evacuate the vessel from the port so that the hatches can be ventilated offshore.

“SAMSA directed the vessel to sail to a protected anchorage under the escort of the tug UMKHUSELI. The vessel has a full a team of salvors, chemical experts, hazmat teams and other emergency personnel on board to manage the operation safely, following defined emergency protocols. The owner is co-operating with the Authorities and has been very proactive to help contain the situation.

“The cargo will be discharged into skips, chemically neutralised and landed ashore at an approved dumping site in a safe and controlled manner.The vessel poses no immediate threat to the marine environment and humans,” said SAMSA

For an audio version of the statement click below:

A SAMSA statement by the Acting Chief Operations Officer, Captain Vernon Keller

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Africa’s support of Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessel safety crucial to implementation in 2022: IMO

Pretoria: 25 February 2021

With 14 countries now already on board and needing just eight (8) more to bring to 22 the number of States required for implementation of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) sactioned Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessels safety globally, support by African countries in particular has never been more necessary, according to the London based United Nations (UN) body.

This emerged once again strongly this week during a two-day webinar for African region countries hosted by the IMO on Tuesday and Wednesday, essentially to share more information as well as ganner support for the Agreement ahead of its scheduled implementation in 20 months time (October 2022).

Several African countries including South Africa as represented by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), neighbouring Namibia and Gambia participated in the two-day webinar held over two hours on each of the two days, chaired by head of IMO Africa section subdivision for Maritime Development and Technical Co-operation, Mr William Azuh.

The webinar this week was one of several launched a year ago, beginning with Latin America in November 2020 and intended to cover all maritime regions across the world for information sharing and promotion of the ratification of the CTA treaty on fishing vessel safety ahead of its coming into effect next year.

According to the IMO, the CTA adopted in South Africa in 2012 by 51 of its Member States essentially; “outlines design, construction, and equipment standards for fishing vessels 24 meters or longer and details regulations that countries that are party to the agreement must adopt to protect fishing crews and observers. It also calls for harmonized fisheries, labor, and safety inspections.

“The agreement will enter into force once 22 States, with an aggregate fleet of 3,600 eligible fishing vessels, become parties to it. Once in force, this treaty will raise global safety standards for one of the most dangerous professions,” says the IMO

Key features of the CTA in terms of enhanced fishing vessels safety, according to the IMO, are:

  • Improve(ment of) safety of life at sea
  • Fighting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing
  • Protecting the environment

The CTA, a predecessor to two previous failed treaties; the 1977 Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, and the 1993 Torremolinos Protocol, is one of four instruments intended to develop, entrench and enhance fishermen working conditions for safety globally in a standardised and harmonious way. Three of these have since been ratified for global application, supported and driven by the IMO and other organisations including the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The three include:

  • the IMO’s International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F), 1995 – in force since 2012 and currently being revised to align its standards with the current state of the fishing industry,
  • the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention 2007 (Convention No. 188) now force since 16 November 2017 and implemented first by South Africa in December 2017. It sets minimum requirements for work on board including hours of rest, food, minimum age and repatriation.
  • the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)’s Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA), 2009, which entered into force in 2016. The latter is aimed at preventing, deterring and eliminating IUU fishing through the adoption and implementation of effective port State measures.
A Pew video outlining in detail the Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessel safety. (Source: Pew [YouTube])

However, even with three of the instruments now in play, formal implementation of the CTA to enhance fishing vessels safety universally worldwide is crucial, according to both the IMO and its associate, and global research and advocacy group, Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew).

In a statement encouraging African countries’ support and ratification of the CTA ahead of the Africa region IMO webinar this week, Pew stated: “Fishing continues to be recognized as one of the most dangerous occupations in the world and despite major efforts to tackle this problem there is currently no international binding instrument in force that addresses the design, construction, and equipment of fishing vessels.

“But the 2012 Cape Town Agreement (CTA) which was adopted at a Conference in South Africa in 2012 addresses all the difficulties that had been identified by States with large fishing fleets trying to improve vessel safety.

“It is expected that the CTA’s entry into force will give States a powerful tool to ensure that vessels flying their flags are held accountable for the safety of their vessels and crews; that fishing operations are conducted safely and legally; and that their safety obligations as responsible flag States are fulfilled. It will encourage vessel owners and operators to adopt a responsible approach to what is an inherently dangerous activity. And it will also help States to safeguard their citizens who work on board foreign-flagged vessels and mitigate the risk of IUU fish entering their markets.

“At this juncture in time and considering the African continent’s longstanding battle with illegal fishing hindering fish products coming to the African markets and our own artisanal fishing industry being threatened by large scale industrial operators, it is time to act and make ourselves heard, said Pew.

At the IMO webinar this week, some African countries, among them Namibia, expressed keen interest to support the CTA, however, some citing numerous challenges involving technical expertise, as well as setbacks recently experienced with the outbreak and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic since December 2020.

Meanwhile, South Africa, a key contributor both to the development and implementation of the ILO’s C188 Convention and a forerunner as signatory of the CTA, indicated that it remains “proactive in efforts to effectively implement the required Flag State requirements of the “Agreement”.

Domestically, the country’s main representative at the IMO, SAMSA, said that the country was among the lead 14 IMO Member States to have ratified the CTA agreement. The 13 others include Belgium, Congo, Cook Islands, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, Spain

Speaking on Tuesday, the first day of the webinar, SAMSA deputy Chief Operations Officer, Captain Vernon Keller outlined some of the South Africa’s achievements to date since implementing the instruments aimed at fishermen safety. Among these was the significant and consistent reduction in the number of fishers fatalities in the two decades from 2000 to 2020. In the period, recorded fatalities fell from double digits of between 20 (2000) and 57 (2002) to single digits now hovering at about four (4) per annum in 2020.

It was also significant, he said, that in the 14 years between 2006 to 2020, the majority of fishers fatalies (55) involved fishing vessels measuring less than 10 meters in length, followed by those measuring between 10-24 meters (53) while the largest at 24 meters and above accounted for less than half (20) of the smaller vessels in both categories.

Of the few “lessons learnt’ by the country over the years, Capt. Keller said no country could afford to be a spectactor in its own as well as the global maritime environment. “Be more than a spectator country in the business of ocean and fisheries economy.” This, he said, implied a greater need for collaboration betwen multiple government departments and agencies “to ensure harmonised legislation in support of each others’ objectives.

Captain Vernon Keller. Deptuy Chief Operating Officer: South African Maritime afety Authority (SAMSA)

“Collaborate with the fishing industry and make them part of the solution to obtain a ‘buy-in’, modernise fishing vessel construction, equipment, safety and labour regulations. Equally important is the systematic implementation of new regulatons to allow for a change management process to take place,” said Capt Keller, further indicating that due to South Africa’s legislative process being slow, the country had to prioritise legislation for the implementation of the ILO’s C188 Convention.

Further, according to Capt. Keller, South Africa’s other lessons included knowledge sharing among key government agencies and departments as crucial, as the country soon noted with SAMSA’s training of Department of Environment, Forestry and Fishing (DEFF) fishing inspectors to help identify safety deficiencies during IUUF inspections onboard vessels at sea. And so was the case with close supervision of training institutions, programs and facilitators to formalise training. The country also found it worthwhile to create awareness with respect to fishers rights as well as allocating dedicated resources to seafarer welfare that SAMSA now operates.
Capt. Keller pointed out however’that, on the flipside of the coin, effective implementation of all the approved measures also had its negative consequences. Some of the emerging issues, he said; included Flag States who were failing to fulfil their obligations towards own fishers – with some fishers being abandoned by fishing vessel owners once foreign fishing vessels were detained.

“Abandoned fishing vessels are a financial burden on the State due to caretaking costs of vessel and the fishers onboard. In addition, there is port revenue loss due to abandoned fishing vessels remaining in port for extended periods and confiscating and selling an abandoned foreign fishing vessel is difficult due to the low financial value and conditon of the vessels.

(Source: IMO)

In terms of support of African countries, South Africa has continously availed itself for providing guidance based on development of own draft regulations. As part of that support effort, in October 2017, the country hosted a regional seminar for several African contries over five days at the historic Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town’s. The gathering – attended by 50 delegates from several English-speaking or Anglophone African countries in central and southern Africa – was the seventh in a series held by the IMO worldwide since the founding of the ‘Cape Town Agreement’ five years before.

For a brief glimpse at that Cape Town gathering of some of African countries for information on the CTA under the guidance of the IMO and SAMSA in 2017, click on the videos below:

Wrapping up this week’s IMO webinar on Wednesday evening (7pm South African time), participants issued a statement expressing gratitude to the government of South Africa, Liberia, and Spain as well as the IMO, ILO, FAO and Pew.

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