Plastic pellets, which are called nurdles, have been spilled along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline and pose a grave danger to marine animals and birds.
Plastic pellets, which are called nurdles, have been spilled along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline and pose a grave danger to marine animals and birds.

Shipping company admits to port nurdle accident

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Oct 28, 2017

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DURBAN - The Mediterranean Shipping Company has taken responsibility for the nurdle pollution crisis along the South African coastline after the October 10 super storm.

Operations manager Captain Ian Rosario said MSC would foot the bill for the clean-up operation the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) had hired the company Drizit Environmental to carry out.

“We can’t put a figure to it,” Rosario said, but said the shipping company was talking to insurers.

The country is facing a health and environmental hazard after billions of small plastic pellets, known as nurdles, washed up on city beaches. These came from a container washed off a cargo vessel.

“It has been initiated by virtue of the fact that the cargo (containing the small plastic pellets) was from a container on an MSC vessel,” said Rosario.

Read: #DurbanStorm: Now our beaches are littered with plastic pellets

Asked what he thought about a call from Desmond D’Sa, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, for the company to be prosecuted, Rosario said it was not illegitimate for its vessel, the MSC Susanna, to be carrying polyethylene.

“It’s allowed to be carried by sea and in containers. It was just an unfortunate incident that occurred. The ship’s crew were caught unaware. They dropped anchor and did everything they could. It is unfortunate that there was a small collision with another vessel that led to the containers falling off. By virtue of this the cargo spilled out.”

Rosario said he was not aware of nurdles becoming toxic with time.

The toxicity is a huge concern for environmentalists and fishermen.

D’Sa said the spillage threatened the livelihood and health of 12000 subsistence fishermen in Durban.

According to Jone Porter, of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research, which is spearheading a citizen clean-up operation, the pellets attract toxins and may then be eaten by sea creatures.

She added that the plastic would not degrade in the sea but would break into smaller particles which collectively had a larger total surface area to absorb toxins than the original nurdles.

Volunteers are expected at beaches on Sunday to help collect nurdles. The pellets have been found on the Transkei coast and there are fears they could threaten North Coast beaches and even Mozambique.

D’Sa said he was worried that human health could be threatened by people eating contaminated fish.

The Department of Environmental Affairs said two 40- foot containers fell into the port waters during the storm.

“Each container contained 990 bags of low and high density polyethylene packed in 25kg bags. The total tonnage lost is estimated to be 49.

“Nurdles, or plastic pellets, are mostly made from synthetic substances, some even derived from petrochemical products that give them high mouldability for manufacture of familiar plastic products. In their raw stage (pre-moulded and packaged) they are not toxic to touch. However, once released into the marine environment they attract harmful substances that end up in the ocean.”

Port manager Moshe Motlohi said that the port’s pollution control department was contacted immediately Transport National Ports Authority (TNPA) divers working in difficult conditions discovered 25kg bags of plastic pellets floating underwater on the evening of the day after the storm.

“The pollution control manager immediately alerted the harbour master, as per protocol, and contacted TNPA’s emergency spill response contractor who arrived soon after.

“Our spill response contractor conducted their assessment and commenced their clean-up operation late on the night of October 11.

“By October 12, all bags that had been located within the port waters had been removed by the spill response contractor.

“The pollution control department and another specialist service provider are still conducting daily clean-up operations to address the significant inflow of waste discharged into the port.

“As our area of responsibility is within the port, TNPA has been working closely with other role-players and authorities regarding the spillage of nurdles which is a regrettable consequence of the extraordinary circumstances of October 10.”


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