Workers from Spill Tech work to clear crude oil at the Durban harbour yesterday. Thousands of litres of oil from a Transnet pipeline spilled into the Umbilo River, which flows into the harbour, on Monday. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)
Workers from Spill Tech work to clear crude oil at the Durban harbour yesterday. Thousands of litres of oil from a Transnet pipeline spilled into the Umbilo River, which flows into the harbour, on Monday. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)

Massive Umbilo River crude oil spill linked to theft

By Sakhiseni Nxumalo Time of article published Oct 22, 2020

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Durban -TRANSNET has been given 14 days to submit a report to the provincial government detailing how thousands of litres of crude oil spilled into the Umbilo River.

On Tuesday, Transnet Pipelines (TPL) said the spill, which had been contained, had been the result of an attempted theft incident on the underground crude oil pipeline.

“Transnet activated its emergency response plan and team, whose focus was on limiting the extent of the spillage and recovering product. The leak from the pipeline has been plugged and preparation is currently under way to commence full repairs,” TPL said.

It said cleaning and rehabilitation of the stream between the source of the spill and the harbour had begun.

KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, yesterday visited the Durban harbour to assess the clean-up operations.

She also visited the Umbilo River, which flows into the harbour, on Tuesday.

Dube-Ncube said even though the clean-up operations were under way, there was likely to be a huge impact on the biodiversity in the area.

She said the department was discussing the possibility of bringing in more scientists to assist the clean-up and environmental teams.

“We are also assessing whether we might need to relocate some of the birds and other species until its safe for them to return. The plants will also suffer serious impact,” she said, adding that even when the cleaning was taking place, care was being taken to ensure the preservation and the restoration of the environment.

The department further advised that for at least seven days, fishing in the harbour area would be prohibited, due to safety and health reasons.

“We are working together to ensure that moving forward, we minimise any serious or devastating impact on our biodiversity. We are confident that law-enforcement agencies will establish what happened,” Dube-Ncube said. She called on communities to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who are responsible for vandalising Transnet pipelines are brought to book.

Dube-Ncube said Transnet had recorded more than 80 incidents of fuel theft and of attempted theft.

She said they had also recorded cases of tampering with pipeline infrastructure with the intention to steal fuel.

According to the department, Transnet operates and maintains a network of 3800km of high-pressure petroleum and gas pipelines from Durban to Gauteng across five provinces.

“We have a responsibility as the people of this province to ensure that we protect this valuable infrastructure which is critical for our economy,” she added.

Sandra Streak, from the Umbilo River Community, said that as the community, they would demand a full investigation and for the law to take its course.

“Someone needs to be held liable for what happened because this should have not happened. We will also be calling for a report to be issued in public about what happened in the river.

“It’s sad that nature had to suffer. We are hoping that the clean-ups will be thoroughly done across the river through the beach,” she said.

The Mercury

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