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Kieran Legg and Daneel Knoetze
The city’s disaster response team resumed oil spill clean-up operations at beaches in Table View at first light today.
Additional resources, including vessels from the Transnet National Ports Authority, had been made available, said Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, spokesman for the city’s Disaster Risk Management Centre.
These vessels will assist in breaking up the oil slick of eight nautical miles and three metres wide, offshore between Cape Town harbour and Robben Island.
The oil spill in Bloubergstrand is going to cost ratepayers as the city will be forced to dip into its coffers to cover the costs of the clean-up. But the city said this could easily have been avoided had the Department of Transport acted earlier.
“Like it or not, due to the department delaying the removal of the wreck, now we have to pay,” JP Smith, the mayoral committee member for safety and security, said yesterday.
Smith estimated the removal of the vessel would cost about R40 million, a figure which has steadily risen since it ran aground. Its disintegration had made removal more complicated.
By comparison, said Smith,the clean-up would not cost the city a “crippling amount”, but this was the fourth time ratepayers would be called on to cover the costs.
“If the wreck had just been salvaged as was suggested then we could have avoided the unnecessary costs,” he said.
On Friday, bad weather caused the Seli 1 wreck off Bloubergstrand to split apart, spilling dark fingers of oil into the water.
But the ship, which ran aground in 2009, has been haemorrhaging fossil fuel for the past three years, polluting the surrounding waters and damaging the environment.
Smith has been vocal in the past, calling on the Department of Transport and the Department of Environmental Affairs to remove the wreck, but he said he saw no point in criticising them now.
“It’s no use crying over spilt milk, the worst has already happened,” said Smith.
“It’s the Transport Department’s legal obligation [to remove the wreck] and they should do so.”
City officials were meeting the Department of Transport today to discuss progress towards a permanent solution for the removal of the wreckage
A request by the Transport Department to secure the budget to remove the vessel is set to be brought before the cabinet this month.
Smith said a decision would be made by the cabinet in two weeks.
At the time of going to print, the Department of Transport had not responded to enquiries.
Until the clean-up is completed, Blouberg’s Dolphin Beach will remain closed to visitors.
“We have decided that the beach is unsafe as long is there is still oil being washed up on shore,” said Solomons-Johannes.
The wreck was also damaging the shoreline, causing “dunes to erode and change shape”.
The clean-up would be labour-intensive – scouring the beaches to remove oil and debris – and would be completed by Wednesday at the earliest. But the oil spills are not over.
Solomons-Johannes warned there was still the risk of the wreck leaking more oil: “We don’t know how much oil is still in there. We can confirm there’s another fuel tank that we cannot access safely.”
Residents near Bloubergstrand complained about the smell of oil, which since Friday has been hanging over the area like a thick cloud.
“You walk out of the door in the morning and it just hits you,” said JP Swart, who has been operating an ice cream van on the beach for more than 11 years.
“And kids will often come running to me for serviettes because they are covered in sticky black oil.”
Candice McCarthy, who lives in nearby Parklands and visits the beach often to walk her dog, said she could not understand why the wreck was still there. “It’s ugly and it messes up the beach. They moved the one in Camps Bay straight away. Why can’t they do the same here?”
Venessa Strauss, chief executive of seabird rehabilitation organisation Sanccob, said the oil slicks harmed marine creatures and seabirds.
At the time of going to print, the oil slick near Robben Island had already claimed its first victims.
“Five oiled penguins have been found already,” said Strauss.
She said the penguins would captured and taken to Sanccob’s headquarters in Milnerton to be cleaned and assessed by a vet.