Protect our Penguins in Algoa Bay

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Prevent an Oil spill disaster in Algoa Bay - stop Ship-to-Ship Bunkering Now!

The world is abuzz with the ecological oil spill disaster in Mauritius.

On the 25th of July 2020 a Japanese ship spilled around 1,000 metric tons of oil after hitting a coral reef near the pristine Blue Bay Marine Park. It is one of the worst environmental catastrophes for Mauritius, causing the ecosystem immeasurable damage. Protected mangroves and unspoiled corals were destroyed. Marine life was fighting for survival while dying fish, crabs, eels and birds were observed. The toxic sludge settled on sandy white beaches. 40 dolphins died following the spill. More concerning, the devastation from this environmental tragedy is expected to last for decades.

The disaster united the Mauritians in doing everything they can to clean up the mess, from placing absorbent straw barriers in the oily sludge, to cutting off their hair as absorbents. But it was too late. Their environment, food source and income from tourism are in jeopardy. It seems that Mauritius was not prepared to deal with such an accident. [1]

Environmentalists and conservationists are fearing that a similar scenario can playoff in Algoa Bay in the near future.

The cause of this justifiable anxiety is Ship-to-Ship (STS) bunkering, a process of refuelling ships at sea as opposed to refuelling them within the safety of a harbour.

Algoa Bay is a world-acclaimed biological diverse hotspot at the south east-coast of South Africa.  STS refuelling is conducted adjacent to the Addo Marine Protected Area (MPA), in front of the ecologically important Swartkops river estuary and close to pristine sandy beaches of Bluewater Bay. And if that was not alarming enough, the refuelling is conducted less than 5 km from the biggest breeding colony of endangered African penguins in the world!

There can be no worst place in the bay for a floating fuelling station!

So, what is there to fear?

Just like Mauritius and according to the SAMSA “South Africa’s state of readiness for maritime emergencies along its expanse of oceans at the southern tip of Africa remains porous at the very least" [2].

The refuelling oil is stored in huge fuel tankers before being pumped into transferring vessels that dock alongside the receiving ship. The tankers and transferring vessels are permanently anchored in the bay awaiting deliveries to passing cargo vessels. The fuel is known as Heavy Fuel Oil and is classed by the Global Harmonized System as a dangerous chemical substance. It is listed as “extremely toxic to aquatic environment with long-lasting effects”. Furthermore, it is also toxic to humans. Spilled fuel will affect the whole ecosystem from marine plants, fish, birds, to cetaceans. The complete ocean food web and fish sources will be impacted.

Currently, three operators have been granted bunkering licenses in Algoa Bay. The capacity of fuel held in just one of the supply tankers is about 95,715,000 litres. This is the equivalent of the fuel stored in the tanks of 468 medium sized, land-based fuel stations! Just remember, this is for one operator, we have three.

Risks in refuelling at sea are ubiquitously… leaking oil pipes, overfilling, malfunctioning of equipment, vessel collisions, anchor failing, rough seas, freak waves, and acts of God.

With this staggering quantity of fuel floating on Algoa Bay, posing immense risks to the biodiversity and our livelihood, one would have expected that very careful and detailed ecological and environmental assessments were done and that global best practices were prescribed prior to bunkering licenses being issued.

Astonishingly, none of this was ever done.

Should this bother us? 

Yes, indeed, because it is against the most fundamental global environmental principles, it is against hazardous chemical practices, it is against environmental ethics, and it is against our constitutional right. It signifies a lack of environmental leadership, lax attitudes toward sustainable development, failure in cooperative governance, and poor regulatory oversight.

Sadly, the alarm bells have already sounded!!

Algoa Bay has played witness to two oil spills during the first three years of bunkering operations. The most recent spill was on the 6th of July 2019, while a bulk carrier ship was being fuelled at sea. 200 - 400L of HFO spilled into the sea (a minute amount if the total fuel on the surface of the bay is considered). Yet, it took ten hours to partially recover the spilled heavy fuel oil. 130 endangered African penguins, Cape gannets, and cormorants were covered in oil, destined to certain death.

50L of spilled oil was unaccounted for and was dispersed into the sea. The impact of this on the ecosystem can only be speculated, but contamination of fish, plants, and general marine life from the polluted water would have occurred. The oil spill, the impact on protected species, and the inadequacy of the cleaning operation left us disillusioned.

The situation beckons the question: do we want to continue to gamble with our biodiversity, our livelihood, our food source, and our fisheries and tourism-related jobs?

We can learn from Mauritius… the risk for a tragic disaster is always present on the seas.

Risk management dictates that, whenever possible, the best way in mitigation is to remove the risk completely.

We absolutely want to keep Algoa Bay as an eco-tourist destination, a biodiversity hotspot, an area where marine life and our fish food source are safe and protected; not a ship fuel-filling station.

We cannot do it on our own, we need your assistance. Please sign and share our petition.

We are calling on Minister Barbara Creecy to uphold her constitutional mandate to protect our environment “for the benefit of present and future generations.         

We appeal the Honourable Ministers to place an immediate moratorium on STS bunkering in Algoa Bay until such time as the following has been completed:

1. A Socio-economic assessment of STS bunkering and the impact of the operations and major incidents on tourism, fisheries, and recreational activities in Algoa Bay.

2. An Environmental assessment of the impacts of STS bunkering on the marine life in the Addo MPA, specifically on the endangered African penguins at St Croix island.

3. Dispersion modelling of HFO oil spills from the STS bunkering operations.  

4. An environmental and emergency preparedness evaluation of ports along SA south and east coasts to identify alternative ports where STS bunkering can take place.

5. Implementation of a public participation process by consulting with interested parties and concerned citizens.

In addition, we have issued a Concern Report on STS Bunkering in Algoa Bay to the departments in January 2020. We request a response to our concerns, please.

Links to sources:

[1] - Lessons for Africa from devastating Mauritius oil spill, Daily Maverick 17 August 2020

[2] - STS Bunkering, Public Concern - Lack of Readiness to Deal with Oil Spills at Sea -

Maritime emergencies a real threat for South Africa: SAMSA

More information on bunkering is available:

Video “Ship to Ship Bunkering in Algoa Bay - Gambling with our Biodiversity"

The Concern Report is available here -