Cape Town - The oil spill in Bloubergstrand is going to cost ratepayers as the City of Cape Town is forced to dip into city coffers to cover the clean-up. But the city said this could easily have been avoided had the transport department acted earlier.
“Like it or not - due to the department delaying the removal of the wreck - now we have to pay,” JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said on Sunday.
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, with little to no success, but he said he sees 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.”
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 cabinet in two weeks.
At the time of going to print, the Transport Department had not responded to queries.
Smith estimated the removal would cost about R40 million, a figure which has steadily risen since the vessel first ran aground; its disintegration has made removal more complicated. He said that in comparison, the clean-up operation 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.
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 Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, the city’s disaster management spokesman.
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.”
Meanwhile, reports from aerial surveillance conducted on Sunday by the Department of Environmental Affairs revealed the extent of the spill. There was oil within a 500m radius of the wreck, a slick of about eight nautical miles long and about 3m wide moving south between the harbour and Robben Island, and a 1km stretch of oil along Dolphin Beach.
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 for seabird rehabilitation organisation Sanccob, said the oil slicks had a negative impact on 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 were set to be captured and ferried to Sanccob’s headquarters in Milnerton. At the time of going to print, one penguin had already been captured and was taken to Milnerton to be assessed by vets and cleaned.
“African penguins are classified as an endangered species and there are only 40 000 left in the world,” said Strauss. “We can’t retrieve all the animals that have been oiled and they could potentially die.”