An MSC container vessel caught up in foul weather in Algoa Bay, leading to loss of some cargo overboard in the process, about a week ago, has been released from the city to continue on its sea journey.
This is according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in a statement late on Wednesday confirming the release of the MSC Palak from the Indian Ocean port of Ngqurha, the same day, exactly a week after it was detained following to the loss of a reported 22 containers overboard at sea while battling a stormy and wet weather in Algoa Bay.
According to SAMSA, a salvage operation that soon took place shortly after the incident last week also involving the vessel owners, MSC, had been successful so far in relocating some debris to facilitate safe passage of ships in the area.
In the statement, SAMSA reported: “The South African Maritime Safety Authority has been involved in coordinating the salvage of containers and debris drifting off the coast as a result of the incident on the MSC Palak on the 14th July 2020. The vessel lost various containers overboard as a result of heavy weather experienced in the bay on the same day.
“The salvage operation currently in progress involves SAMSA, the vessel’s Insurance, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), the vessel owners, MSC and local clean-up services providers. They have been working tirelessly to salvage what is left of the containers that came adrift during the incident.
“Aerial surveillances have been carried out to spot the drifting debris along the coast and salvage crews using boats have towed the spotted debris to a safe place such that it poses minimal risk to ships navigating along the coast and to avoid the environment.
“MSC has given full support to the salvaging operations to recover any floating debris and assist with making the shipping lanes and the general area safe for navigation.
MSC further committed their organization to be financially responsible for any clean up that may be required in the bay and areas in the vicinity for the next five years, if deemed to be linked with the incident.
“The MSC Palak has since been released from detention by the South African Maritime Safety Authority on 21st July 2020 and she has been allowed to sail to her next port.”
The fate of six stranded Asian sailors found in a desperate situation in a poorly conditioned vessel off the port of Cape Town recently may remain uncertain still, but their safety and general well-being going forward is ensured for time being, thanks to the timely intervention and assistance efforts of the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).
According to the agency, part of whose mandate is to ensure the safety of property and life at sea, the epic drama involving the six foreign sailors – two from Taiwan and four others from Mynmar, and some of whom now face possible legal sanction – apparently unfolded after SAMSA officials were alerted by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and the Department of Environment, Fisheries and Forestry (DEFF) about a drifting, fuel-less and permit-less vessel spotted at sea, off the port of Cape Town on 02 December 2019.
Four of the six member crew of the Yong Qing Fa No.666 currently believed to have been abandoned by their employer and who are currently residing on board the crippled vessel at the port of Cape Town after it was detained following its unauthorized entry and anchorage in SA waters, and a subsequent C188 inspection that found it not seaworthy. The six member crew of the vessel consists of four seafarers from Mynmar and two others from Taiwan.
Captain Pierre Schutz, a deputy Principal Officer at SAMSA’s western region Cape Town office, recounted this week about how the agency’s officers scrambled to the rescue of the foreign seafarers to ensure primarily their safety and general welfare while their sea sailing troubles including legal issues were being interrogated for a possible resolution.
The legal woes facing both the owners and crew of the now quarantined fishing vessel known as the Yong Qing Fa No.666 but whose flag state has yet to be determined, it emerged, include the vessel’s unauthorized entry into South African sea waters, the absence on board of necessary documentation including certificates of nationality, tonnage, drawing plans, crew list, Voyage Management System (VMS) transmitting, and an off Automatic Identification System (AIS).
On entering South African waters without permission and dropping anchor near Cape Town harbor without authorization on 30 November 2019 due to apparent desperation for bunkers, the six member crew on board reportedly also initially failed to communicate properly their plight with local authorities due to language difficulties, until the Taiwanese Fisheries agency in South Africa got involved, almost a week later.
In fact, on entering the country’s waters in the Atlantic Ocean and putting anchor near the Cape Town port, according to SAMSA, based on TNPA reports, the vessel’s crew did so without following any protocols and had maintained complete radio silence, something unusual and illegal.
It had since emerged that the six crew members and their poorly maintained vessel had were likely abandoned by the owner, with four of the crew members having not been paid their wages.
According to SAMSA on Wednesday this week, two of the stranded seafarers, from Taiwan, had since been charged with certain law transgressions (unspecified) and were due to reappear in a Cape Town magistrate’s court on 27 January 2020.
Reporting about the drama, Capt. Schutz says SAMSA got drawn initially to the plight of the crew of the vessel – and which had since been established to have been sailing from West Africa to Mauritius – after respective authorities including the TNPA, DEFF and others, all bound by relevant legislation and protocols, were initially reluctant and refused it entry into a South African port without standard procedures having been fully observed.
These included a 21 day offshore containment period to determine the vessel and crew health condition that it did not carry any communicable diseases such as – in this case – Ebola, as the vessel had reportedly sailed from a West African region where the deadly disease is reputably rife.
He says 12 days after the drama ensued, with engagements ongoing among respective authorities, SAMSA appealed to the TNPA, DEFF and others to allow an inspection of the vessel and crew in order to facilitate provision of basic essentials to the crew, such as food and water. Crucially, this was also to ensure the safety of the vessel given its unauthorized anchorage which could prove hazardous to other sailing vessels in the vicinity if left unattended for too long.
By 13 December 2019, according to Capt. Schutz, the vessel was eventually allocated a berth in an isolated area at the port of Cape Town following to which nutrition was brought on board for the vessels’ crew while a variety of inspections were conducted.
He confirmed that a SAMSA inspection in terms of local and international legal instruments including the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) C188 – Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) found the vessel to be not seaworthy and it was officially detained, while a DEFF inspection led to the arrest of the vessel’s skipper and his subsequent appearances in court.
As of last week, according to Capt. Schutz, the vessel still had no power and it still had no local agent appointed to attend to its needs as required by law. Meanwhile Taiwanese authorities in South Africa were still not taking responsibility for a majority of the crew members on board the vessel while DEFF officials’ efforts to seek assistance from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) had proved fruitless so far.
Capt. Schutz says: “The SAMSA (Cape Town office) is liaising with DEFF in terms of the court appearance of two of the seafarers. It is also liaising with the local Apostleship of the Seas in terms of welfare and food. Currently also, SAMSA is supplying food while awaiting for the court appearance.”
Regarding the detention of the vessel, Capt. Schutz says its release will be conditional to the owners carrying out the repairs it is so advised to do and on completion, inform SAMSA.
“Once so advised, SAMSA would conduct another inspection, and if the vessel is found in good condition, the vessel would be released from detention. There is no time frame attached to this,” he says, save for a range of port charges it will incur, accruing to the TNPA, for its safekeeping at a South African port, and which could escalate depending on how long it takes to repair it.
Capt. Schutz says further that the vessels’ crew will be repatriated once all matters related are finalized to the satisfaction of South African authorities.
“The responsibility however lies with the owners. There has been no final decision in this regard,” he says.
Please note that this story has been updated to provide additional details and correct certain inaccuracies.
South Africa’s leading role globally on development of safety and security measures for fishermen – inclusive of its pioneering role in the implementation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 188 two years ago – is proving a draw card for most other countries also keen on improving labour conditions for their workers in the fishing sector.
In Cape Town this week, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is hosting delegates from South East Asia countries to share knowledge and experiences accumulated in the development of safety and security for fishermen on board fishing vessels.
Also attending the South Africa (ILO) C188 Workshop for the South East Asian countries are local labour and bargaining council organisations in the fishing sector, as well as some of the major employers in the sector.
From South East Asia are officials from Thailand’s Department of Labour Protection and Welfare, the Thai Office of Maritime Security Affairs, Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Ministry of Manpower as well as those from the Philippines’ Bureau of Working Conditions.
Addressing the approximately thirty three delegates during the start of the workshop on Monday, SAMSA acting CEO Sobantu Tilayi said the gathering was being held in response to a request from the ILO for South Africa to assist with hosting inspectors from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines who are interested in seeing a port-state fishing/labour inspection regime in action.
The ILO had identified South Africa as a role model for the work it is doing to ensure that fishermen have decent conditions of work on board fishing vessels in compliance with the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No.188).
In fact, South Africa was the first country in the world to formally implement the C.188 two years ago, involving inspection of two fishing vessels – one domestic and the other, a Japanese flagged trawler.
South Africa had since detained one other vessel for violations of the C188.
“It is a great honour to be recognised for the work South Africa and SAMSA are doing to promote the working conditions of fishermen on fishing vessels,” said Mr Tilayi.
He said: “The South African Constitution holds that everyone has the right to fair labour practices and SAMSA, as the custodian of South Africa’s maritime interests, is committed to improving the working conditions of fishermen in South African territory.”
For Mr Tilayi’s full remarks during the opening , Click on the videos below.
Responding to Mr Tilayi’s welcome note, International Labour Organisation (ILO) representative from Thailand, Ms Anymanee Tabitimsri said the South East Asian countries represented were grateful for the opportunity South Africa offered to share knowledge and experiences with implementation of the C188 as all three sought to strengthen the safety and security of the fishing sector labour in their respective countries.
She said Thailand was a pioneer in its own right in Asia in terms of its early endorsement of the ILO’s C188 and was keen to also share insights and experiences.
For her full remarks (4 minutes) Click on the video below:
The SAMSA led week-long workshop which will include visits to the ports of Cape Town, Saldanha and St Helena, has on the agenda:
South Africa’s implementation of the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No.188) since its ratification in 2013.
South Africa’s Maritime Legislative framework and the institutional arrangements in the implementation of the ratified Work in Fishing Convention.
The amendments to the South Africa Merchant Shipping Act to cater for the Work in Fishing Convention.
The practical implementation of the Work in Fishing Convention with visits to different types of vessels.
Showcasing the implementation of the safety construction of fishing vessels (new builds).
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) says an investigation is underway to establish the cause of the oil spillage incident during a bunkering service off the port of Ngqhura near Port Elizabeth on Saturday morning,
This follows confirmed reports of an oil spillage at sea while a trade vessel was being refuelled. It was reported that as much 200-400 litters of fuel spilt into the ocean. However, the bunkering services company involved, SA Marine Fuels, soon activated an oil spillage control exercise to contain its spread on water.
A Department of Environmental, Forestry and Fisheries’ statement on Saturday said the vessel involved was the Liberia flag carrying trade ship known as the MV Chrysanthi S. The department said it had been “notified of an oil spill that took place in Algoa Bay in the early hours of Saturday. The incident took place at approximately 04h40 (in the) morning during offshore bunkering operations in Anchorage 1 of the Port of Nqura.
“It was reported that approximately 200 to 400 litters of fuel from the receiving vessel MV Chrysanthi S, flag state Liberia, was spilled into the sea as a result of overflow during the fuel transfer. SA Marine Fuels proceeded to dispatch a commercial oil spill response service provider to mitigate and contain the spread of the spill.
“This incident is currently considered a Tier 1 level incident which does not require intervention from the national authorities as local resources are sufficient. The department will provide assistance if the incident escalates and requires it.”
The department further said weather conditions in the Algoa Bay area on Saturday were hindering operations, which include wildlife assessments.
“However, the situation has been reported to be managed and under control. The oil is not expected to reach the coast and currently moving in an offshore direction. Transnet National Ports Authority, South African National Parks (SANParks), the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and other environmental bodies have been notified and are monitoring the situation along with our department.
” A contingency plan is in place for the Diaz Zone (Algoa Bay) and the Department will activate it should it be determined that oil is likely to wash ashore.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, SAMSA said it had become fully aware of the incident and that an investigation was being rolled out to establish its cause.
The agency in a statement said: “SAMSA with other authorities will conduct a comprehensive investigation of the incident. An inspection will be conducted tomorrow (Monday) to check if the beach and islands are not affected.”
SAMSA noted however at the time of its statement on Sunday, that monitoring of the oil had indicated that there were no oil traces on the water in the areas yet.
In its earlier statement, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said it was responsible for matters relating to the combating of oil pollution at sea under Section 52(1) of the South African Maritime Safety Authority Act.
The department said: “Specific arrangements and tactics for responding to incidents are contained in a suite of local oil spill contingency plans managed by the department.
The department further added than an Incident Management Organisation (IMOrg), consisting of various stakeholders including the department, had been established through Operation Phakisa Oceans Economy to address South Africa’s oil spill response capability in the marine environment.
“The IMOrg hosted an oil spill exercise in November 2018 testing the response capability in Algoa Bay and is also keeping a close watch of the incident circumstances and status,” said the department.