SANCCOB on high alert following Port St Francis Spill

SEPTEMBER 1, 2014

The MFV Sikelela vessel, a local chokka fishing boat, ran aground at the entrance of Port St Francis on Wednesday, 27th August 2014, at around 7.30am. The  boat lost engine power as it entered the harbour and was swept onto the rocks as a result of breaking swells of 5 meters and a 10 to 15 knot westerly wind. 13 fishermen were pulled to safety but the 14 meter boat had been split in half due to the crashing waves and was leaking diesel into the harbour.

SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) Eastern Cape deployed its expert Oil Spill Response team to the scene and activated key volunteers in the surrounding coastal area to identify and alert SANCCOB’s seabird rehabilitation centre of any oiled seabirds.

SANCCOB engaged with South African Maritime Safety Authority and the Department of Environmental Affairs to assess the situation and plan for any affected birds. Upon arrival of the SANCCOB Oil Spill Response team at the Port on Friday, there was no sign of oil on the surface of the water in the harbour or on the open water outside the port. The rocks and surrounding areas were checked for signs of diesel and only a few small pools were found between the doloses.

Extreme Projects, an oil spill management team, was commissioned to attend to the diesel leakage and debris from the vessel. They installed an oil and debris boom to prevent the hazardous material from entering the harbour, while the diesel outside the port dispersed quickly as a result of the rough seas. 

The vessel had sunk and broken up into pieces around 3pm on Wednesday afternoon and all the diesel had dissipated. Nicky Stander, SANCCOB’s Rehabilitation Manager, reported, “The Port Master has confirmed that there is no diesel left at the wreckage site and therefore poses little risk to the surrounding seabirds”.

During the inspection, the SANCCOB team saw some sixty plus White-breasted -and Cape Cormorants swimming and diving in the bay with no definite signs of having been affected by the spill. This was a great relief to the SANCCOB team, especially since the Cape Cormorants are endangered. No penguins have been spotted, but the SANCCOB  team remains on high alert for any oiled seabirds and is requesting the public to assist in monitoring the beaches over the next few days. 

Mariette Hopley, SANCCOB's Logistic Consultant, who accompanied Nicky, confirmed SANCCOB’s preparedness to deal with oiled birds at the St. Francis facility, which was the base for the Kiani Satu response just about a year ago.

In August 2013, SANCCOB Eastern Cape succesfully responded to the oiling of 277 seabirds after the MV Kiani Satu ran aground near the Goukamma Nature Reserve, a marine protected are, in Buffels Bay. SANCCOB successfully released 95% of the seabirds back into the wild.

Members of the public can contact SANCCOB on 082 890 0207 or 083 874 3067 if they spot an oiled Cormorant or any other affected seabirds along the coastline.

Photo caption: AGROUND... The MFV Sikelela vessel, a local chokka fishing boat, ran aground at the entrance of Port St Francis on Wednesday, 27th August 2014, at around 7.30am. The  boat lost engine power as it entered the harbour and was swept onto the rocks as a result of breaking swells of 5 meters and a 10 to 15 knot westerly wind. 13 fishermen were pulled to safety but the 14 meter boat had been split in half due to the crashing waves and was leaking diesel into the harbour.