An investigation into how millions of nurdles came to envelope the Cape coast, from south of Port Elizabeth through George and nearby towns is currently still underway, while an effort is made to clean the coastline of the small plastic pellets.
This is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in a statement in Pretoria on Tuesday. This was a further reaction to reports last month of the discovery of nurdles across the southern Cape coastline – from Fish Hoek in False Bay to Plettenberg Bay and lately, along the Eastern Cape coastline.
According to SAMSA on Tuesday, the source of the nurdles is still unknown but the agency confirmed that this latest incident is not related to the spillage that occured in KwaZulu-Natal in 2017.
“Authorities are working hard to address the nurdles recently washing up along certain regions of the south Western Cape coastline from Fish Hoek in False Bay to Goukamma Marine Protected Area and Plettenberg Bay.
“The nurdles are also reported to be washing up along the Eastern Cape coastline, the exact locations are still to be confirmed.
“The authorities, including, the Departments of Transport, Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, local authorities, NGOs and volunteer groups have all been working consistently to clean up nurdles washing up on beaches,” said SAMSA
The organisation described nurdles as “… small plastic pellets used in the manufacture of plastic products. In the raw stage (pre-moulded and packaged) they are not toxic to touch, but probably shouldn’t be chewed given the unknown synthetics that make up the pellets.
“However, once released into the marine environment they have a high attraction to harmful substances such as land-based pesticides, herbicides, other organic pollutants as well as heavy metals that end up in the ocean. At this stage they are very harmful to life, especially to wildlife when mistaken for food.”
SAMSA said: “The source of the nurdles is not yet confirmed but an investigation is currently ongoing and being led by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). These nurdles are not related to the spillage that took place in Kwazulu-Natal in 2017.
“While the investigation into the source of the nurdles is being undertaken, SpillTech has been appointed to assist and conduct clean-up efforts along the affected sections of coastline. Spilltech will also be storing the nurdles collected through clean-up efforts and are working with authorities, NGOs and volunteer groups to identify collection points and arrange the pick-up of nurdles.
“The extent of the clean-up operation is significant and is anticipated that the removal of nurdles from the affected coastline will continue for some time to come. The authorities and NGOs look forward to working with SpillTech as the lead agent for the duration of cleanup-operations.
“Spilltech can be contacted on 063 404 2128 for information on collection points and pick up of collected nurdles,” said SAMSA
There were sighs and clear signs of relief on the faces of both a group of seafarers as well as the handful of family members as the SA Agulhas II – the country’s most advanced polar research vessel – berthed at Eastern Mole 1 at the port of Cape Town on Monday evening with the seafarers safely onboard.
It was the end of a +5 000 kilometer journey for the 60 seafarers on board – 47 of them South African – who narrowly escape injury two weeks ago some 2600 kilometers deep in the Atlantic Ocean, after their Balize-flagged fishing research vessel, the Geo Searcher, sank within a mile off the Gough Island after it reportedly struck underwater rocks, quickly took water and sank.
The hair raising incident, and during which two of the 62 sailors suffered minor injuries had, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), occured in the late afternoon of Thursday, 15 October 2020, while the group of seafarers was sailing in the vicinity of Gough Island.
When the vessel reportedly struck the underwater rocks and rapidly took water, the seafarers scrambled onto safety boats that helped them reach dry land.
SAMSA through its Sea Watch and Rescue linked Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) based in Cape Town not only first picked up the frantic calls for help from the vessel’s crew after it got into difficulty that Thursday afternoon, but also co-ordinated the entire rescue mission – working hand in glove with various institutions and State departments including the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), owners of the SA Agulhas II.
With Captain Knowledge Mdlase as Master of the SA Agulhas II, a week ago the vessel was dispatched to the Gough Island to fetch the stranded seamen and after initially battling with choppy ocean winds, it succefully reached and fetched all the seafarers for on boarding onto the SA Agulhas II for the 2500 kilometer trip to Cape Town, which ended on Monday evening.
From a SAMSA perspective, the safe rescue and return of the 60 seafarers (two more others were dropped of at Tristan da Cuhna) marked the successful completion of South Africa’s most biggest sea rescue mission in over a decade.
This is according to the head of SAMSA’s MRCC in Cape Town, Mr Jared Blows. In a brief chat on Tuesday, the morning after the return of the SA Agulhas II from Gough Island, Mr Blows said constant alertness and closer cooperation with various others institutions was key to the success of the mission.
For his views (+3 minutes) click on the video below.
Meanwhile, Captain Bengu described the rescue mission as having been relatively smooth, this despite challenging weather conditions initially on their arrival near the Gough Island last week. It took the vessel the entire four days to get there.
According to Captain Bengu, the rescue mission started hurriedly during the evening of Thursday, 15 October when he and his SA Agulhas II crew had to drop off in Cape Town a group of passengers that were onboard returning from a research mission, and had to rush back towards Gough Island.
“The vessel departed at about 11pm on Thursday and sailed full speed – at about 16 knots per hour – towards Gough Island, which took us about four days.
“Unfortunately when we got to the island on 20 October, the weather was unfavourable to conduct any flight operations especially with regards flying seafarers onboard. We had to wait it throughout the evening until we decided to call off the operation for the day. The following day, as soon as there was a weather opening – a two hour gap in the weather – a very brave helicopter crew took a decision to fly even as the conditions were not so good. They managed to bring on board all 62 seafarers safely and unharmed,” said Captain Bengu.
He said in addition to rescuing the stranded seafarers, the SA Agulhas II crew also conducted an environmental inspection for oil spillage around the wreck of the sunken vessel, the Geo Searcher.
Later upon departure from the island, the SA Agulhas first headed for Tristan da Cunha where it dropped two of the 62 seafarers after which it headed for South Africa.
“On our arrival at Tristan da Cunha, the Tristanians were very generous and donated clothing and food for the rest of the survivors,’ he said.
For Captain Bengu’s full remarks, click on the video below (+-4minutes)
He also described the 62 rescued seafarers as “most grateful and with full appreciation of the hospitality they received.”
Regrettably, this blog could not convince any of the rescued seafarers on Monday evening to speak on record about their ordeal this past week. This notwithstanding, several seemed happy to have made it back home in good health and were full of praise for the SA Agulhas II crew.
The awarding of fishing permits for the first time ever to more than 4 000 subsistence fishermen in the Eastern Cape at the weekend, along with the launch of the province’s ‘Oceans Economy Masterplan’ marked a major positive economic turning point for one of South Africa’s poorest regions.
This is according to both the province’s government in Bisho as well as national Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Ms Barbara Creecy during a function to both launch the province’s maritime economy development masterplan – the first of its kind focused expressly on the sector – as well as the handing over of fishing permits to 53 rural community fishing cooperatives in Mthatha on Friday.
The 53 cooperatives with a total membership of some 4361 members, are part of a group of 78 cooperatives recently formed in the province representing as many as 5335 artisanal rural community fishermen now accorded long term fishing rights spanning a 15 year period.
They join 174 other communities in the country’s three other coastal provinces – KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Northern Cape – who are now official beneficiaries of an amended legislation four years ago that formally recognised fishing needs and rights of subsistence fishing communities in the country’s rural coastal areas.
“Today is a special day in the history of the long, long struggle of traditional small fishermen and women. Today is the day we formally hand over 15 year fishing rights to over 4361 individuals organised into 53 cooperatives in the Oliver Tambo, Alfred Ndzo and Amatole Municipalities.
“This is the largest group of small fishermen and women to have ever been given rights anywhere in our country. Today is, indeed, a day to celebrate,” said Ms Creecy during the occasion.
According to Ms Creecy, this will benefit no less 14 000 members of rural communities members with a food resource, but also an opportunity for business. She added: “The rights being handed over today are free of charge. Coperatives are exempted from paying any fees for the next three seasons.”
In terms of the rights accorded, the rural community fishermen in the area will be allowed to harvest with immediate effect an assortment of fish species ranging from East Coast rock lobster, mussels, seaweed, hake to sardines and some other.
However, the harvesting of some of the allocated fish species will depend on the intended end-utilisation, between self consumption or commercial sales by the cooperatives. In addition, the newly righted rural community cooperatives, in terms of fish harvesting, will be assisted with as many as 20 fishing vessels, to be used interchangebly among them pending a formal promised allocation of commercial fishing rights in the 2021 fishing season.
Ahead of the fishing vessels allocation this year, as budding businesses, the cooperatives will also be assisted with business and financial management training and support through agencies under the Department of Small Business Development as well as the National Skills Fund.
Said Ms Creecy: “The Eastern Cape, as we all know, is blessed with over 800 kilometres of a coastline. Across the world, more and more nations recognise the role our oceans can play in combating poverty, unemployment and creating inclusive growth and jobs in parts of the world where land is overcrowded and degraded.
“Our country in one of many African countries to adopt an oceans economy strategy following the decision by the African Union in 2015 to launch the African Intergrated Maritime Strategy by declaring the following 10 years to 2025 ‘the decade of the African seas’.
“This strategy recognised that African nations rely on the ocean for trade, transport, energy, food, tourism, recreation, and many other goods and services. This means our oceans must be managed responsiblly and cooperatively for the benefit of all African countries.
“Here in OR Tambo, Alfred Ndzo and Amatole District municipalities, the oceans economy masterplan aims to assist our people to take advantage of this unique natural resource by developing infrastructure of both small harbours, promoting tourism by improving facilities include beach access, safety, recreational areas and nature reserves,” she said.
For Ms Creecy’s full remarks, click on the video below
Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape government, represented by MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, Ms Nomakhosaza Meth, described both the handing over of the fishing rights to rural community artisanal fishermen and the launch of the province’s historical ‘Oceans Economy Masterplan’ as a culmination of efforts emanating from the country’s ‘Operation Phakisa (Oceans Economy)’ initiative launched in 2014, as well as the provincial government in partnership with stakeholders’ efforts aimed at capitalising on the province’s coastal location, towards enhancement of the region’s economic development.
Over the next 18 years, the province’s plan, developed with the assistance of the Nelson Mandela University, hopes to create no less than 1.8-million jobs deriving from investment projects across nine (9) prioritised subsectors of the maritime economic sector.
Thesr include marine transport and manufacturing, tourism, offshoare oil and gas, tourism, construction, renewable energy, fisheries and acquaculture, communication, desalination and related business economic activities.
“This event marks an important milestone in the policy evolution of the Oceans Economy policy trajectory as a product of an enduring partnership driven by the Eastern Cape Government with tremendous support from the National Department of Forestry and Fisheries and the Nelson Mandela University.
“The combined celebrations to launch of the Eastern Cape Oceans Economy Master Plan and the presentation of 15 years long licenses to the small-scale fisheries sector is a major achievement in the local development of the nascent Oceans Economy, indicative of the progress made through aligning of policy to practical implementation of projects,” said the provincial government in a statement.
According to the provincial government, the masterplan comprises four ‘centrepiece’ documents:
a Baseline Study offering “an analysis of the state of the oceans economy in the Eastern Cape and outline the rationale for the selection of catalytic projects.
a Research Agenda – intended to “enable decision-makers with reliable data updated information and empirical evidence to make informed decisions.”
a Strategic Road Map that “sets out the 20 year trajectory and implementation strategy of the Oceans Economy Catalytic Projects.”
a Bid Book – “essentially for mobilizing resources and attracting investments for financing the catalytic portfolio and funding Oceans Economy Projects.”
For more on this, click on the two videos below. (Please note that MEC Ms Meth’s remarks are entirely in the local language, isiXhosa).
The South African Maritime Safety (SAMSA) both applauded the development as well as pledged its ongoing support through standard services it offers in terms of its legislated mandate involving ensuring the safety of property and life at sea, guarding jealously against the degradation of the oceans natural environment through prevention of polution of the seas by ships, as well as promoting South Africa’s maritime interests.
SAMSA acting Chief Executive Officer, Mr Sobantu Tilayi, among other things, formally announced the establishment recently of a SAMSA office in the Wild Coast town of Port St Johns.
He also reported on progress being achieved with the agency’s Maritime Youth Development Programme (MYDP) which has already impacted that part of the country positively over the last three years through creation of hundreds of employment opportunities for local youth in the world’s cruiseliner business. He also spoke on the agency’s involvement in the country’s fishing vessels’ recapitalisation programme, as well as SAMSA’s rural communities maritime economic development programme which includes marine tourism development.
Fishermen’s welfare, be it in the commerical or hitherto informal subsistence sector. is primary to SAMSA’s objectives and goals and is recognised worldwide, hence South Africa became the world’s first country to both adopt and implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 188, in 2018.
As recently as five months ago, the country, an active member of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), hosted a week long workshop for five East Asian countries that needed assistance and guidance on the implementation of the ILO’s C188.
For Mr Tilayi’s full remarks, click on the video below.