Plastic pellets were washed up on to the KZN coastline following the massive storm that hit the Durban area on October 10. The public and environmentalists expressed their anxiety over the impact on marine life. Picture: Archives

The Mediterranean Shipping Company said it was accelerating the clean-up of plastic pellets known as “nurdles” after a freak storm caused cargo to fall into Durban harbour on October 10.

Clean-ups have been held on parts of the KZN coastline, particularly in the Durban area, by both volunteer members of the public and professionals, after concern about the environmental impact to marine life and the coastline.

MSC, in a statement issued on Friday, said it was a key supporter of South African importers and exporters in all industries.

“Small, pre-production plastic pellets are legal cargo with practical purposes, such as the manufacture of plastic bottles, buckets, children’s toys and paddling pool liners. MSC transports these pellets between the companies which make them and the companies that use them for manufactured goods.

“Unfortunately, some of these pellets made their way from the cargo-owner’s bags into the water of Durban harbour during the epic storm of 10 October.”

The company said it was facing storm-damage losses of about $10 million (R141.4m) due to impact of the severe weather on three MSC ships on that day.

Shipping company admits to port nurdle accident

MSC said it was grateful to members of the public who acted as first responders and helping with the initial stages of the clean-up, before the owner of the cargo of plastic pellets appointed a specialist company, Drizit Environmental, to clean 200km of beaches.

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

She told The Independent on Saturday 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.

MSC said it had moved swiftly to engage an experienced global salvage and emergency response company, Resolve Marine Group, led by expert Nick Sloane.

“Resolve and Drizit, which have been collaborating on the problem since 24 October, have stepped up the clean-up and are now using specialised boats and machinery to extract materials from the harbour water. Workers are also painstakingly sieving sand by hand on the beaches in search of ‘nurdles’.

“MSC wishes to clarify that the government is acting only as a monitor of the work and MSC of course does not expect the taxpayer to foot the bill for the clean-up.”

The company said it would continue to co-operate with Transnet National Ports Authority.