It may not be until after another 12 months before authorities get to know the real cause of the problematic chemical cargo South Africa has had to grapple with daily since arrival of the Marshall Islands registered cargo vessel bearing it, the NS Qingdao, initially in Durban, some six months ago.
Crucially though, according to the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) in a statement in Pretoria last Thursday, ridding the vessel of the reactive chemical cargo has finally, successfuly been achieved and disposed of.
In the statement announcing the important milestone, SAMSA said: “The NS Qingdao has now completed the discharge of waste chemical cargo from hold No. 3 in Saldanha Bay, which brings to an end a salvage operation that started in October 2021.
“Waste cargo from the vessel’s hold No.3 was discharged in almost 1,000 skips and was responsibly disposed of at Vissershok High Hazardous Waste Management Site. Potentially contaminated ballast water pumped into ISO tanks was disposed of at the same site. During the discharge operation in the port of Saldanha Bay, no cargo residue entered the water,” said SAMSA.
Authorities also continued to keep a watchful eye in the surrounding ocean areas, without evidence to date that marine life and the environment were affected, said SAMSA.
“To date no threats to the marine life or environment related to the emergency disposal of cargo approximately 250 km offshore have been noted. Environmental Monitoring in accordance with the agreed EMP by the P&I Club’s appointed environmental specialists, in collaboration with DFFE, which includes amongst others satellite imaging of the area will continue,” said SAMSA
The agency further confirmed that an investigation into the cause of the chemical cargo’s instability and related matters would continue, involving a collaborative approach between vessel’s flag state, Marshall Islands and South African authorities, with the vessel remaining in detention pending proof of its seaworthiness.
Said SAMSA: “The vessel remains detained, subject to further inspections and repairs as required and will not be put to sea unless her seaworthiness can be confirmed. The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) and the Department of Forestry Fisheries and the Environment (DEFF) have reached agreement with the vessel’s owners and P&I Club to implement a medium to long term environmental monitoring program (EMP). The program will deal not only with any immediate impact but also monitor and mitigate any future impacts.
“The vessel’s Marshall Islands Flag State appointed Investigation Team is still investigating the root cause, with SAMSA sharing any available information. A final report which will be shared with SAMSA is expected to take approximately 12 months to complete.
“Again, SAMSA wishes to thank local and international members of a multi-disciplinary team who contributed to the containing and bringing of this emergency situation under control. The vessel owner should also be thanked for their continued cooperation with South African Authorities.”
It may be another two to three more weeks before troublesome chemical cargo is fully offloaded from the NS Qingdao vessel, currently docked at the port of Saldanha on South Africa west coast, said the South African Maritime Safety Authority late Friday.
This would be about six months since the Marshal Islands registered commercial cargo vessel first set anchor at the country’s ports only to prove a major headache after its cargo of a chemical product reacted to rain water at its first attempt to offload in Durban last October, thereby setting in motion one of the most intense, delicate and time consuming unstable cargo containment exercises ever undertaken by authorities in recent times.
In a statement on Friday afternoon, SAMSA confirmed the vessel was still at anchor in Saldanha Bay for the continued discharge of its waste cargo.
“The vessel will be alongside a berth again on or about Sunday 6th March to continue operations. Operations are proceeding in a safe and well-coordinated manner and good progress has been made,” said SAMSA
The agency added that: “As of the 1st of March 2022, approximately half of the cargo in cargo hold No.3 had been discharged and disposed at Vissershok High Hazardous Waste Management Site. Wastewater will also be pumped into tanks and sent for disposal at the same waste management site.
“It is anticipated that once the vessel is alongside a berth that it would take approximate 2 to 3 weeks to discharge the remaining waste cargo from the ship and dispose it at Vissershok. The vessel will then be inspected by SAMSA and its classification society to ensure she is safe to continue her voyage to Brazil to discharge remaining cargo onboard.
According to SAMSA, the agency and the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment (DFFE) have reached agreement with the vessel’s owners and P&I Club “to implement a medium to long term environmental monitoring program so that any potential immediate and future impacts can be assessed and mitigated.
“The P&I Club’s appointed environmental specialists in collaboration with DFFE are continuously monitoring the coast and sea area to determine any threats to the marine environment resulting from the emergency disposal of cargo dumped approximately 250 km offshore. To date, satellite imaging shows no immediate indications of harmful effects to the receiving environment or marine life.
“The Marshall Islands Flag State Investigation team have (also) started their investigation and it is expected to continue over the next few months until the root cause can be established. As part of the co-operation agreement, SAMSA is sharing the available information with the vessels flag. It is expected that the detailed investigation will take an estimated 12 months to complete and that the final report will be shared with SAMSA,”said SAMSA
The agency also expressed its gratitude to all people it has worked closely with to date in managing the vessel.
“SAMSA would like to thank the salvage team onboard, who at great peril to themselves, said SAMSA, “risked everything to successfully bring this emergency situation under control where normal cargo operations could continue. The support from all the person involved in managing this emergency since it started in Durban in October 2021 has been very good, despite the difficult choices that had to be made over the last 6 months by the Authorities.
“The vessel owner continues to co-operate with all authorities and have covered all expenses to date regarding this salvage operation,” said SAMSA.
The launch of the South African Inland Water Strategy by the Department of Transport on Friday (22 October 2021) might have marked a critical turning point in the effective and efficient management of the country’s inland waters – from rivers to dams and similar – but its successful implementation will depend largely on collaborative governance among all the parties involved.
At least that was the shared view of virtually all attendees to the event held on the banks of the Vaal River, at the luxurious Lake Deneys Yacht Club, some +-30 kilometers south of Vereeniging. Among them were senior officials representative of the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment (DEFF), the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), boating and sailing organisations including SA Sailing, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), the Free State provincial and local govenrments, and related.
Deputy Minister of Transport, Ms Sindisiwe Chikunga delivered the main address during launch of the Inland Water Strategy and about which she said it represented a major positive turning point as well as a clear framework for the effective and efficient management of the country’s inland waters, inclusive of clear regulations on the utilization of the facilities for the benefit of all citizens. The benefits, she said; included leisure, business investment as well as generation of much needed job opportunities and employment.
In terms of the Inland Water Strategy and whose launch this month formed part of the DoT’s National Transport Month, inland waters are made up of dams, lagoons, lakes, rivers and wetlands but exclude tidal lagoons and tidal rivers.On these, over 1,2-million small vessels of all shapes and sizes, operate – mostly for sport, recreation, tourism as well as fishing largely by local subsistence and recreational fishers.
According to Ms Chikunga, the launch of the Inland Water Strategy by the DoT on Friday came against the backdrop that legislatively, the Department of Transport is tasked with the responsibility to ensure that South Africa’s inland waterways are safe for public use. The strategy’s four major goals include: “safe and secure lives and property for all users and marine environment protection, standardised procedures and processes on all inland waters, improved maritime domain awareness on all inland waters as well as contribution towards alleviation of poverty of inland waters communities”.
Challenges however, in the absence of a formal Resource Management Plan, were noted to include unregulated boating activities that were resulting in accidents – some fatal – as was demonstrated recently by an incident in Jozini, KwaZulu-Natal and which is still under investigation. In addition, environmental pollution from such boating activities had also triggered the spread of invasive aquatic hyacinth plants now clogging some of the dams.
To counter some of the challenges, but specifically those relating to effective management of boating use, the Inland Water Strategy incorporated the implementation of the Merchant Shipping (National Small Vessel Safety) Regulations 2007, with focus on basic safety requirements related to commercial operations, approval of commercial and passenger vessels, the reporting of incidents as well as pollution prevention.
It was in this specific area, said Ms Chikunga; that SAMSA – the country’s dedicated agency for maritime safety now including inland water spaces – would play a critical role, working in tandem with all interested and affected parties both in the public and private sectors.
“We believe that this stratregy could and will greatly assist in promoting a culture of safe and responsible boating when implemented in the spirit of cooperative governance among all three spheres of government and in partnership with the maritime industry, she said.
Ms Chikunga further said that in addition to the anticipated high safety and pollution free conditions generally in inland waters as envisaged in the strategy, a similarly crucial aspect was a need for the optimal utilisation of the country’s inland waters productively in terms of its general economic contribution through both investment and jobs creation.
For her full remarks (duration: 18 minutes), click on the video below
The South African Navy Hydrographic Office (part of the country’s national Defence Force) took advantage of the event to handover a set of dams navigational charts to the DoT, while the depatment and SA Sailing also used the opportunity of the event to ratify a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)
Meanwhile, SAMSA which has already been working on the implementation of the Merchant Shipping (National Small Vessel Safety) Regulations 2007 for a few years now – warmly welcomed the formal launch of the overall strategy especially with regards the extent of its formal inclusion of various other players critical to inland water safety controls, both in the public and private sectors.
SAMSA deputy Chief Operations Officer, Capt. Vernon Keller who attended the event along with several senior SAMSA officials, among them the Acting Chief Executive Officer, Ms Tsepiso Taoana-Mashiloane and SAMSA Boating Centre manager, Ms Debbie James; said: “The launch of the Inland Water Strategy today (Friday) is the result of a collaboration of all the stakeholders to make boating safer on inland waters. It’s about cooperative governance among parties that include the South African Police Services, Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment, as well local municipalities and other agencies to all work together to make it safer.
“And so, from a SAMSA perspective, we are excited because it is now putting a spotlight on boating, and boating is normally one of those areas that is overlooked because people always focus on the big ships. There are also a lot of opportunities out there to develop youth and generate careers for them in small boating, like delivering yachts, or (getting) in the boat building or fishing industries, said Capt. Keller.
For Ms James, however, the greatest opportunity and challenge for SAMSA was in ensuring the development and placement of measurements to ensure effective implementation of boating regulations for sound management of boating activities on inland waters evenly across the country, anchored on ongoing co-operation and collaboration among the various authorities and communicaties.
For its part, she said; SAMSA has since about two years ago started rolling out training workshops for both internal and external boat surveyors and boat safety officials in terms of the National Small Vessels Safety Regulations. Following to the launch of the Inland Water Strategy, this work would now be intensified, she said. For both Capt. Keller and Ms James remarks, click on the respective videos below (average duration +-3.11 minutes)
Several other attendees to the launch event of the Inland Water Strategy also shared their views about the event relative to their assigned roles. In the list are SA Sailing deputy President, Mr Vernon Brown, SAPS Emergency Services Unit, Brigadier M. de Meillon; Depatment of Fisheries, Forestry and Environmental Affairs national coordinator, Environmental Projects, Ms Debbie Muir, as well as representatives of the Metsimahulu local municipality as well as the Free State provincial government.
For their respective full remarks, please click on the video below: (duration: +-35 minutes)