Environmental organisations represented on the Bunkering Environmental Working Group (BEWG) are opposing the lifting of a moratorium on new licences for ship-to-ship (STS) bunkering in Algoa Bay.
As previously reported, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) opened the filing of new applications on 1 February. The lifting of the moratorium on bunkering licences, which was placed in August 2019, will come into effect on 1 April.
The BEWG, a working group of the Bunkering Stakeholders Forum (BSF), opposes the move over what it calls the ‘high risks involved’ and ‘the proximity to foraging and breeding grounds of endangered marine species’.
Moreover, the group says SAMSA did not seek input from the BEWG prior to the decision to lift the moratorium on new bunkering licences.
‘Seabirds are ocean indicators and are often the first to warn us after a pollution incident. Oceans are the world’s largest source of protein, with nearly half of the world’s population depending on the oceans for their primary source of protein,’ said Nicky Stander, The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).
‘Oceans absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming. We are indeed linked to our oceans in all possible aspects. The future of the oceans and our future are inseparable.’
Dr Melissa Lewis, BirdLife South Africa, said ship-to-ship bunkering had ‘already demonstrated a risk of oil spills’ in the ‘ecologically sensitive and valuable’ area.
‘We find it inconceivable that this activity should be further expanded without a thorough assessment of its full range of environmental impacts, and of whether (and, if so, how)
these can be mitigated to an acceptable level,’ said Lewis.
‘It is crucial that decision-making regarding ship-to-ship bunkering in this and other areas be informed by a proper understanding of the risks involved and that – in the face of uncertainties – a precautionary approach be applied. It is also crucial that such decision-making be preceded by meaningful stakeholder consultation.’
Dr Eckart Schumann of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA) said deliberations in the stakeholders forum, as well as the environmental working group, were separating into ‘well-known stereotypes’.
‘Environmentalists are regarded as blocking legitimate economic initiatives, while the STS operatives are regarded as unconcerned about consequences of their actions, as long as they make money,’ he said.
Instead, Schumann called for greater collaboration between stakeholders to determine the optimum operating conditions that would preserve the long-term integrity and ecological functioning of Algoa Bay, while at the same time allowing such operations which will bring economic benefits for the local community.
‘In order for this to happen there must be functional government controlling bodies which comply with the requisite laws and carry out any necessary investigations to determine optimum conditions for bunkering to occur,’ said Schumann.