Insure your car, home and valuables with iWYZE
THE relatively minor fuel oil spill from the wreck of the Seli 1 onto Blouberg’s Dolphin Beach over the weekend should act as a powerful wake up call for the powers that be, and especially for the national Department of Transport, which is responsible for that section of Table Bay.
The department can be grateful that it is just the Seli 1 for which they are currently responsible: the bill for getting rid of the wreck has been estimated at R40 million by the City of Cape Town. The city and the Department of Transport have asked the Treasury for that amount to fund the removal.
But there is a much more fundamental issue at stake here, one that UCT Professor of Shipping Law, John Hare, and our own shipping columnist, Brian Ingpen, have repeatedly highlighted in this newspaper. South Africa has yet to pass into law the legislation that would make us a full member of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund.
At present, the maximum amount that we can claim should there be a major oil spill and subsequent environmental disaster is a paltry R180 million from the ship’s owner or insurer. As Prof Hare has pointed out, other major maritime states that are signatories to the Fund can claim a staggering R9.3 billion.
It is a truism that our waters off the Cape of Good Hope are some of the most dangerous, and also among the busiest, in the world. The second biggest oil-spill in world history, the 292 000 tonnes that spilled from the Castillo de Bellver when the Spanish tanker caught fire and broke in half on August 6, 1983, happened 12 miles off Saldanha Bay. A massive disaster was only averted because the bow was towed 300 miles offshore, and all the oil either burned off, spilled into the ocean far from our shores, or still lies trapped in the bow section.
The clean-up operation for the relatively small 53 000 tons of crude oil from the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 cost R20bn.
We can only repeat what Prof Hare wrote in the Cape Times on July 12 in pointing out that the issue has dragged on for 16 years: “our government needs to grasp the reality that the ghastly mess that an oil pollution catastrophe would cause on our coast will flow all the way to the corridors of Pretoria – and could cost the Treasury and the taxpayer billions.”