Cape Town 120613. Seli 1 split in three off Blouberg. Cape Town. Photo by Michael Walker

THE wreck of the Seli 1, which has been lying offshore from Blouberg for nearly three years while the authorities wrangle over payment for its removal, is now eroding the beach and threatening council infrastructure.

The wrecked ship, abandoned by its owners and Russian P&I insurers not long after it ran aground in Table Bay in September 2009, has already cost the public R24m.

Now hidden costs are emerging: the wreck has changed wave patterns, causing sand banks to build up in one section of beach, but scouring out and shrinking other areas.

The city council has underground electric cables and service pipes immediately behind the shore which are at risk if the beach continues to be eaten away.

All the authorities concerned agree that the wreck must go – but no one has come up with the money to do so.

The city council met the Department of Transport and other government departments two months ago to discuss solutions for the Seli.

The meeting came after the city council had threatened in February to declare an inter-governmental dispute against the Department of Transport and Department of Environment Affairs because officials had missed “critical meetings” to discuss the removal of the wreck.

Councillor JP Smith, mayco member for safety and security, said the subsequent meeting with transport officials to sort out the problem with the wreck had been “very positive”.

They had said they also wanted to get the wreck removed, and would apply to the Treasury for funding, as well as asking other bodies such as Transnet, Environment Affairs and the Ports Authority to chip in to the costs.

The city had agreed they would contribute money as well.

The city was now waiting for feedback from the Department of Transport.

Cape Town would not have had the problem if the Turkish owners and the Russian P&I insurers had not walked away from their responsibility for the wreck. And according to Dave Colly, regional manager of the SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa), the wreck would not be on our shore if the authorities had co-operated in the critical few days immediately after the ship had run aground.

Samsa has wanted to dump 8 000 tons of its cargo of coal into Table Bay to lighten the vessel so it could be pulled off the beach.

However, Environment Affairs would not allow that; the port would not allow the coal in the harbour and the city council would not allow it on the shore.

“There is already more coal scattered in the bay than that from the old coal ships,” said Colly.

“We had scientists saying it would not cause damage. But precious time was wasted and that shut down the very short, precious window nature gives you.

“You have to act quickly. There would have been absolutely no problem in getting it off had they let us act quickly,” Colly said.

He said although the ship appeared to be in four pieces, it was possible that the bottom may still be intact.

There are still about 9 000 tons of coal on board, but Colly said much of this may have washed out into the bay by now.

Samsa needed clear instructions from the Department of Transport, with a budget, before they could put out a tender to get rid of the wreck.