Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds

MV Treasure Oil Spill: 20 year Commemoration

On 23 June 2000, the MV Treasure sank off the coast north of Cape Town – between Dassen & Robben islands, resulting in the spill of 1,300 tons of bunker oil into the ocean. 19,000 African penguins and hundreds of other seabirds were oiled and a further 19,500 penguins were captured and translocated while the oil was cleaned. Watch a brief video compilation here.

2020 marks the 20th year since this event, which is still recorded as the biggest animal rescue operation in the world. The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) worked together with an international team, including governmental and conservation authorities, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), International Bird Rescue and thousands of animal professionals and volunteers from all around the world, to rescue and rehabilitate the endangered birds and save the species from further decline. The rehabilitation operation spanned over three months, where local and international teams of experts supervised over 45,000 volunteers.

Sadly, the total amount of African penguins in the wild today is equivalent to the number of birds affected in the Treasure spill and together with our partners in conservation, we continue to rescue and rehabilitate seabirds facing a variety of threats.

After 20 years since the MV Treasure sank, we are commemorating the incredible efforts of institutions and people, who selflessly dedicated their expertise, time, donations and overall support to an operation that not only saved the birds affected but also connected people.

Share your memorable Treasure experience below and together, we will reconnect and reminisce about the achievements and struggles. We honour those who have passed on and invite you to share messages of your loved ones and how you remember their involvement.


  • WATCH OUR WEBINAR HERE, with video clips from some of the major role players and volunteers, who contributed to saving the lives of the African penguins affected. The webinar was hosted on the 20th anniversary on 23 June 2020, presenting the entire story of the MV Treasure oil spill incident and personal experiences shared by Rob Crawford, Leshia Upfold, Samantha Petersen, Estelle van der Merwe, Mariette Hopley, Mark Russell, Valeria Ruoppolo, Barbara Callahan, Paul Kelway, Sue Jackson, Anton Wolfaardt, Peter and Barbara Barham.

Photo credit: Jon Hrusa | IFAW

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Stories Submitted

  • We were some of the first volunteers at the Salt River warehouse facility. My wife helped in the kitchens while I was bitten, pecked and flapped by these unbelievably strong little guys while trying to force fish into them. A memorable experience!

    Brendan Stein - Volunteered

  • My friend and I volunteered at the Marine Research Aquarium in Sea Point. I landed up in the sick bay with the really bad babies. I still bear a scar on my right wrist from a sharp beak and I had bruised thighs from those ‘wings’.

    Sharon Lundy - Volunteered and Donated

  • I applied to join IFAW as a veterinarian in 2000; rather than being interviewed in London - I flew down to cape town and was interviewed on the job! Spent the next 8 weeks in cape town as part of the vet team working with the most brilliant team!

    Jo Fielder - Volunteered

  • Feeding and taking them swimming and working with the baby chicks. I was out from the Middle East for our summer vacation. I was 16 years ago. Such a humbling experience.

    Tarryn Rae - Volunteered

  • I walked into Salt River warehouse with Jay Holcomb, head IBRRC & IFAW's Int. Oiled Wildlife Response Team with Estelle & Mariette to face thousands of boxes of oiled penguins. We cried then got to work to pull off the biggest wildlife rescue ever

    Sarah Scarth - Volunteered

  • Not sure if it's really true that I volunteered. I worked at the time for David Barrit and Company and IFAW was our client. We got a call to go down to CT for a weekend to help with the oil spill - and stayed for 12 weeks!

    Caroline Smith - Volunteered

  • As wildlife rehab officer/research Officer, I volunteered for 3 weeks as part of Australian contingent from late July through August I ended up running indoor, post-wash group. Then moved to outdoor pens and waterproof checking

    Marg healy - Volunteered and Donated

  • I was blessed to be unemployed at the time of the spill. As the first birds arrived at Sanccob, I was there to help - at first, feeding from 8am till 11 pm, then as they got stronger, washing and rinsing 24/7 ...... a time I will NEVER forget ♥♥

    Lizelle Mostert - Volunteered

  • This rescue was the most grueling experience of my life, but also the most rewarding! I was part of the 1st team of penguin experts from the US to help manage the rehab effort. The 12,500 volunteers who helped us save the penguins are all my heroes!

    Dyan deNapoli - Volunteered

  • My mum & I volunteered together. What a way to spend uni holidays! We fed the cleaned penguins medicated fish. I remember strong beaks, wriggly wet birds, the smell of oil, yellow oilskins, holding firm, stroking throats to swallow. So tired & proud.

    Cath Ross-Innes - Volunteered

  • I was devastated when on the radio they asked for help. I was at Table View as a washer and feeder. From the start to the finish I went everyday. Still show the scars! My husband came up with the arm covers using an old surf suit. Great people.

    Gail Van Litsenborgh - Volunteered and Donated

  • I was working at Sea Point research aquarium at the time, and we fed and packed thousands of clean penguins to be trucked up to Port Elizabeth. Our labs were full of penguins 🙂 I also assisted Mike Meyer with the tagging of Pamela and Peter. xx

    Maryke Musson - Volunteered

  • I worked for about two weeks helping to teach volunteers to wash and rehab the Penguins....and safely handle them. It was an unforgettable experience and have gained life long friends and memories. We’ve continued to be present in South Africa .

    Laurie Macha - Volunteered

  • I was on the IFAW-IBR team managing the oiled penguin rehab program at Salt River as part of an amazing team for over 2-months. I met loads of wonderful staff and volunteers as we moved the oiled penguins from stabilizing, cleaning, & waterproofing.

    Linda Elliott - Volunteered

  • I was 17 and my sister was 14 when we volunteered. From bathing, tubing, feeding them and the chicks, to then teaching others, being interviewed by discovery and offered a job at Sea world. It was the most humbling experience of my life.

    Fiona Wither - Volunteered and Donated

  • I volunteered in helping feed these awesome little characters at the huge Salt River Railway sheds - we were allocated to feeding 'pens' (Porta Pool) - It was an interesting and never to be forgotten experience.

    Bruce Templeton - Volunteered

  • I flew out in late June for 3 weeks and returned in September!!! It was daunting, but exciting and so very rewarding to work together across such an international field, learn from such amazing mentors from SANCCOB and IBRRC and help these creatures!

    Sharon Noble - Volunteered

  • I feel privileged to have been a part of this massive operation from 23 June. The sadness, the exhaustion, the highs and lows of it all. The friendships formed. The endless washing, then bleeding and testing plumage for release. Tragedy to Success!!

    Lindy Oakes - Volunteered

  • I was 17 when the Treasure Oil Spill hit. SANCCOB called me in to help and I spent the next 3 weeks working 18+ hours a day to help save those precious lives. Because I was one of the youngest volunteers my picture was published in Nat Geo Mag.

    Laura Barker - Volunteered

  • For 4 weeks at Salt River I lead the rehydration team, plus worked on the bleed team. I will never forget my first view of pens full of penguins, going on a release, or the marvelous people, both professionals (e.g. Jay, Barbara, Heidi) & volunteers.

    Debra Bourne - Volunteered