/ 22 February 2022

No evidence yet of harm to marine life after West Coast chemical cargo dump

Us Environment Pollution Oil
The department of fisheries said it conducted “as much” monitoring as possible prior to the cargo disposal “through the acquisition of satellite imagery and ocean current modelling”.(Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

A preliminary assessment has found that marine life was not harmed after contaminated cargo was dumped 250km off the West Coast near Saldanha, but a medium to long-term environmental study is still to be done. 

“Current monitoring does not indicate any deleterious impacts at the moment, but further medium to long-term monitoring will be done to ascertain if there are any delayed or longer term impacts,” said Wouter Kriel, spokesperson for the Western Cape’s MEC of local government, environmental affairs and development planning, Anton Bredell

The department of forestry, fisheries and the environment said the longer term study is expected to start in mid-March or sooner.  

The NS Qingdao bulk cargo ship was off-loading cargo at the Port of Saldanha when a chemical reaction took place, causing toxic fumes. After an urgent submission to the department of fisheries and the South African Maritime Safety Authorities (Samsa), the ship was given permission to dump the cargo. 

The authorities gave the green light for about 1 450 tons of chemical cargo to be deposited in 3 000m deep water offshore. 

“This was done to protect the integrity of the ship, and to prevent a full-scale disaster where the ship might have broken up due to an onboard fire, potentially polluting our coastline with its cargo as well as the fuel it carried,” according to the Western Cape government, which is overseeing the ongoing salvage operation. 

“Nobody wants to hear that the ocean is being used as a dumping site, but in this case, all the relevant authorities are working together to minimise the risks to prevent a potential environmental disaster if left unchecked,” says Kriel. 

The salvage operation thus far has resulted in 200 skips of 1052 tons and 17 intermediate bulk containers of 17.82 tons of chemical waste being transported to the Vissershok High Hazardous Waste Management Site near Cape Town. The salvage operation will continue into March. 

Environmental Impact Study

The department of fisheries said it conducted “as much” monitoring as possible prior to the cargo disposal “through the acquisition of satellite imagery and ocean current modelling”.

A second study “will identify what parameters would be tested for in the longer term”, said the department’s communication head, Albi Modise. 

“Further small reactive based research assessments will be conducted, should there be any major animal wash-ups,” said Modise. “Ecotoxicological studies will be conducted on any impacted animals as and when needed.” 

Water quality will be assessed to determine any adverse effects to the organisms. The study will also collect mussels along the shoreline of St Helena Bay, some 45km from Saldanha, for assessment. 

The department does not yet have a timeframe for the completion of the study.

The assessment will be coordinated by the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation at the NS Qingdao’s cost.