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SST calls for controlled bunkering in Algoa Bay

Ship-to-ship bunkering, or the transfer of fuel (often oil) from a supplying ship to a receiving ship at sea, has been one of the issues SST has weighed in on recently. If not strictly controlled, the process can be harmful to our marine environment, since oil spills, noise, and increased ship traffic all carry risks to marine life. Recently, after careful consideration, SST submitted its comments on the revised South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) Bunkering Code of Conduct.

Why was this necessary? Having declared a moratorium on new bunkering licences in 2019, SAMSA announced in January that it would be lifting the moratorium and once again granting bunkering licences to ships in Algoa Bay. SST has submitted its comments in the hope that our input will be taken into consideration before any new licences are issued.

Since bunkering’s inception in 2016, Algoa Bay has experienced four major oil spills affecting more than 200 seabirds. It is also estimated that the population of African penguins on St Croix Island has declined by 85% due to this practice.

Having been declared a Hope Spot by Dr Sylvia Earle in 2014, Algoa Bay is recognised as a sentinel site for marine biodiversity in South Africa due to its unique ecological and biological characteristics. Two islands in Algoa Bay – St Croix Island and Bird Island – are home to the endangered African penguin and the largest breeding colony of the endangered Cape gannet in the southern hemisphere. In 2016, Algoa Bay was also named the ‘Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World’, having the largest pods and most frequent sightings of this graceful creature.

It is vital, therefore, that we do everything we can to protect this sensitive area.

Ship-to-ship bunkering can result in a host of destructive consequences for marine life and has become synonymous with toxic fuel spillages, collisions, accidents, fuel emissions, noise generation, and increased vessel traffic. Currently the only place in South African waters where bunkering takes place is Algoa Bay, with possible expansion planned to St Helena Bay.

We hope that SST’s contributions to public comment on this issue will ensure that ship-to-ship bunkering is kept to an absolute minimum and that strict control measures are applied. We also hope that continuous investigations are conducted to monitor all activities surrounding bunkering operations, along with its impact on the area’s wider marine life.

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