By Bill Blumenfeld
A slick of bunker oil was sighted six sea miles (about 9km) off the Cape west coast on Friday, near the spot where the bulk carrier Treasure sank earlier in the day, said marine officials.
The pear-shaped slick, about three sea miles by four in area, was spotted around noon by Kuswag VII, the department of environmental affairs' oil pollution patrol aircraft.
The Treasure sunk in the area in 50m of water at about 4am.
The South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) said cursory diving inspections were being conducted on Friday afternoon to determine the source of the oil coming to the surface.
Samsa said if at all possible, the source will be sealed.
Earlier on Friday booming arrangements were put into place to protect the Koeberg power station and the colony of penguins on nearby Robben Island.
Samsa said further survey patrols were being flown by Kuswag VII to determine the direction in which the slick was moving and its possible growth.
Patrol vessels were on the scene breaking up the slick and attempts were being made to boom the oil and skim it into a floating receptacle, said Samsa.
The department of environmental affairs activated the marine and aquatic pollution unit's contingency plans after the Treasure sunk.
All municipalities along the coast and the Robben Island Museum had been alerted, said the department of environmental affairs' chief director of environmental quality and protection, Jerry Lengoasa.
Lengoasa said the oil slick did not pose an immediate threat to the coastline.
He said the department was co-ordinating with Samsa and Pentow Marine to make sure the oil slick was controlled to fight possible pollution of the coastline.
Lengoasa said Environmental Affairs Minister Valli Moosa was being kept informed of the latest developments.
Lengoasa said another vessel was being diverted from Mossel Bay to assist other Kuswag vessels.
"At this stage it is not clear how fast the Treasure is losing oil," said Lengoasa.
The department was still awaiting the reports of Pentow Marine divers who assessed the damage. - Sapa