The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) has been activated to respond to an oil spill in Algoa Bay, resulting from offshore bunkering by the Croatian-flagged, MV Solin, on Wednesday, 17 November 2021, when heavy fuel oil overflowed from the receiving fuel tank. The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) has detained the vessel and is investigating the incident.
Since 2016, this is the third oil spill to occur in the region since ship-to-ship bunkering has been permitted, and SANCCOB fears that as industrialisation around Coega in Nelson Mandela Bay expands, so does the likelihood of further affecting marine wildlife. In accordance with the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, SAMSA swiftly initiated all relevant oil spill response teams yesterday, which includes SANCCOB, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), SANParks, Transnet National Ports Authority and Xtreme Projects. Containment and clean-up operations have already commenced and surveillance by boat and air is underway.
The trajectory indicates that the remaining oil could reach the ecologically sensitive St Croix Island – based on forecasted weather conditions – placing a variety of endemic and endangered seabird species at risk of being oiled. Migratory waterbirds at the Swartkops Estuary are also at risk of oil pollution. SANCCOB is always prepared for such crises and is currently in response mode to mobilise staff and equipment to rescue, stabilise and wash birds that may need rehabilitation if oiled.
The African penguin population census carried out in 2021 by members of DFFE revealed there are only around 1,500 African penguin breeding pairs on St Croix, compared to 3,638 breeding pairs from the previous census in 2019. “The African penguin population decline at St Croix Island and Bird Island in the Eastern Cape is alarming and seabirds are already threatened by the lack of food, climate change and disease, so we are extremely concerned about the added threats of shipping practices in Algoa Bay and surrounds; vessel traffic has doubled since 2012. The numbers of African penguins at St Croix have declined by over 70% since 2014, making this previously world’s largest breeding colony, rank only fourth largest in South Africa in 2021,” says Nicky Stander, SANCCOB’s Head of Conservation.
Research has shown that African penguins that were previously oiled and released have lower breeding success than unoiled birds. This is an outcome that should be prevented and not addressed post-oiling events. The increase in shipping traffic and practices of oil and gas industries is deeply concerning and an oil spill of any size threatens the existence of the African penguin and other endangered species. Research is currently underway to assess the effects caused by the increase of shipping traffic, as well as the associated effects of noise and vibrations on the marine wildlife.
Sighting of oiled seabirds can be reported to SANCCOB Gqeberha on 041 583 1830 or emergency after hours on 064 019 8936.
For media enquiries, contact Ronnis Daniels at Ronnis@sanccob.co.za and Nicky Stander at Nicky@sanccob.co.za or call 021 557 6155.