Oiled Wildlife Preparedness & Response
One of the biggest threats currently facing African penguins and other seabirds in South Africa is offshore fuel ship-to-ship bunkering in Algoa Bay. Currently 34% of the African penguin population is found in Algoa Bay, a marine biodiversity hotspot, and a proclaimed Marine Protected Area. The bay also holds the largest population of Cape gannets and is a sanctuary for many other marine species.
Ship-to-ship bunkering has been permitted in the bay since 2016, allowing more than 50 ships to be anchored at the same time at approximately 48km distance from shore, and only a few miles away from the busy shipping lanes on routes to Europe, America, Asia, and Australia. Massive oil tankers and commercial vessels prefer this method of refuelling because it is cheaper than in-port bunkering*, however it is also dangerously close to the crucial and largest African penguin breeding island of St Croix.
Sadly, since bunkering began in 2016, two major oils spills have occurred that oiled hundreds of penguins and other seabirds in the bay, yet no environmental assessment has been conducted for the type of bunkering operations that led to these two disasters.
Marine life and ocean ecosystems are also being threatened by renewed interests in offshore oil drilling as well as seismic surveys. As part of Operation Phakisa, the South African government’s drive to promote the blue economy, offshore drilling companies have been encouraged to explore for gas and oil. Offshore oil drilling will most likely be permitted after a major discovery was found off the south coast of South Africa. This is bad news for the African penguin as many young penguins travel past this the oil drilling area, and are at risk of oil spills as well as other pollution.
What SANCCOB does
SANCCOB strongly opposes the practice of offshore fuel ship-to-ship bunkering and will lobby to minimise current offshore oil drilling practices off the south coast of South Africa as the potential risks on marine life and related livelihoods outweighs the potential oil-related economic benefits to South Africa. As such, our organisation has been engaging with the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) urging the Minister to retract permits and halt this practice which threatens marine wildlife, especially in the vicinity of marine protected areas.
SANCCOB would also like to see that the South African government issue a legal prerequisite to the maritime industry so that all vessels have an oiled wildlife contingency plan. While SANCCOB strongly opposes the practice of offshore fuel ship-to-ship bunkering, we also believe we must work with oil industry and encourage behaviour change. SANCCOB therefore provides and facilitates industry stakeholder training for all willing parties in the oil and gas industry. Specialist training in line with best practice is required to ensure a common understanding of basic oiled wildlife response principles.
What does this programme need?
SANCCOB’s Oiled Wildlife and Preparedness Response Programme is in need of support for the remuneration of the manager, who advises on policymaking, engages relevant stakeholders to identify the main issues to be considered in national oiled wildlife response planning, and engages with bunkering companies (for instance by testing the oiled wildlife response plan). The programme is also in need of equipment and funds to cover traveling expenses to attend important stakeholder meetings with businesses or fellow partners in Oiled Wildlife Response (when these are not covered by independent foundations).
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* Algoa Bay is the only place along the coast of southern Africa with ports that have the capability and permanent permission for anchoring and bunkering points. In other major ports in southern Africa, the ships are required to go into port (with the associated additional costs and time delays).