By Francis Hweshe

Authorities are cautiously optimistic that the small bulk carrier which ran aground off Table View beach last week will remain intact despite worsening weather conditions.

The Seli 1 ran aground in heavy winds and high swells last week. Its 25-man crew, all Turkish sailors, were rescued.

The SA Weather Service warned that cloudy weather conditions accompanied by a strong north-westerly wind were expected to prevail across the peninsula.

According to the vessel's joint operations committee, chaired by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa), the ship "sustained significant structural damage" when it ran aground last week.

In a statement the committee said "some residual oil may be released as a result of sea conditions affecting the structural integrity of the vessel".

The committee launched an operation late last week to have salvors remove the 630 000 litres of fuel in the ship.

But the pumping rate had been slow because of the "viscosity of the fuel/water mix" from the ship.

Carol Moses of the Department of Environmental Affairs said about 100 000 litres of fuel had been removed as two salvage vessels worked in a relay, discharging the fuel at the Port of Cape Town

Ocean Pride, with a storage capacity of 60 000 litres, and Kuswag IV with a capacity of 1 280 000 litres, were being used in the salvage operation.

Moses said the vessel had sunk two metres deep into the sand, making authorities "a bit optimistic" that the ship will stay in place. She added it was difficult to predict how long it would take as the job was dependent on good weather.

Moses said booms were being deployed across the mouth of the Milnerton lagoon to reduce the possible impact of oil pollution.

The committee appealed to recreational boaters and kite surfers to keep clear of the ship for the safety of both the public and the salvage team as well as to prevent disruptions to the operation.

The public has also been "kindly requested" to limit its land sightseeing activities to demarcated areas and to be aware that dunes adjacent to the beach "are environmentally sensitive".

The committee said that viewing areas had been arranged and authorities would be on hand to assist the public in that regard.