Race to avert oil spill

22 August 2013 - 02:59 By SCHALK MOUTON
Greek-owned bulk carrier VS Smart, a 230m-long cargo ship carrying an undisclosed amount of coal, ran aground just off Richards Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast
Greek-owned bulk carrier VS Smart, a 230m-long cargo ship carrying an undisclosed amount of coal, ran aground just off Richards Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast
Image: COURTESY THE ZULULAND OBSERVER.

Maritime authorities are working against the clock to avert the second environmental disaster in two weeks, as the bulk carrier VS Smart ran aground just off Richards Bay on Monday.

The Department of Environmental Affairs has sent an emergency response team to the Richards Bay area to be at hand should the ship break up further and up to 2000t of oil spill into the ocean.

Spokesman Zolile Nqayi said the department's priority is to close off the Mhlathuze Sanctuary - south of the wreckage - from any possible oil spills.

"The sanctuary is a breeding and nursing area for important fish species, and it provides a home to over 20000 birds," said Nqayi.The Greek-owned VS Smart ran aground carrying 149t of coal on Monday after it lost steering, four minutes after the harbour pilot handed control over to its captain, said Sobantu Tilayi, chief operating officer of the South African Maritime Safety Authority.

"The tugboats were still close by and came to assist but they weren't strong enough," he said.

The ship has already broken into two parts, with the stern and bow lying at an angle of 60 degrees from each other.

But Tilayi said there was no immediate threat of its fuel spilling into the ocean.

The weather conditions on the coast are currently favourable, but if they change, they could cause a leakage or further damage to the ship , said Tilayi.

The pumping of oil into a barge (a flat-bottomed boat) would start either this afternoon or tomorrow, he said.

Another bulk carrier, the Kiani Satu, yesterday sank off Buffels Bay, near Knysna, Western Cape.

It developed mechanical problems in heavy seas on August 8 while carrying 330t of fuel oil and 15000t of rice.

Tilayi said the plan had been to tow the vessel 30 nautical miles (48km) into the ocean before pumping out its oil, but the vessel quickly started to take in water.

The Kiani Satu sank at 4am yesterday, in 1000m-deep water 111 nautical miles (205km) off the coast of George. It had just over 300t of oil on board.

"The water at that depth is 2 degrees .[and] the oil will solidify to a jelly, so there is no environmental threat," he said.

Nqayi said the department's aerial pollution surveillance aircraft, the Kuswag 9, spotted no pollution around the vessel yesterday.

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