Controversy surrounds the ownership of a vessel that spilled oil in Durban Harbour on Thursday morning causing damage to 48 yachts and affecting marine life.

The oil had apparently leaked from the vessel docked at Berth 7 because of a failure to adhere to fuelling procedures, Marina Manager Chris McCann said.

He could not say how much oil had spilled, but said it was the worst spillage he had been aware of.

The leak happened early in the morning and the oil was pushed by the wind to the Wilson's Wharf yacht and restaurant area, causing a strong smell.

McCann said the estimated damage to the yachts stood at R400 000.

A fisherman, who did not want to be named, said the spill was the worst he had seen in years. He added that marine life had been depleted because of such incidents.

According to the National Ports Authority, the vessel belonged to Safmarine. However, the company said the ship was neither owned nor managed by it.

Safmarine spokesperson Debbie Owen said the vessel was under charter to Safmarine. She cited a Durban-based company, Diamond Shipping, as the agent for the ship's unidentified owner.

However, Diamond Shipping also denied any connection to the vessel.

Desmond D'Sa, Chairman of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said it was time the government clamped down on offenders.

He said oil spills in the harbour occurred more often than was acceptable and that it negatively affected marine and human life each time it happened.

According to D'Sa, two or three oil and fuel spills had occurred in the harbour every year since 1998.

"This is too much. We need tough legislation to deal with these offenders," he said, adding that shipping companies deserved harsh sentences for negligent behaviour.

Businesses in the area said they had not been negatively affected by the spill because cleaning up had begun early.

  • [email protected]