Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Seli I, Marine Oil Spills & Who is Responsible?

The most recent leaking of oil from the Seli I vessel off Blouberg confirms just how dysfunctional national government in this country has become. Between the Departments of Transport, Environmental Affairs and Fisheries, no one seems to know who is responsible for sorting this mess out three years after the vessel was abandoned by its owners and insurers. 

As Prof John Hare of UCT has pointed out, South Africa remains hopelessly under-insured should a large oil spill occur along our coast. South Africa is presently only insured for approximately R185 million while a significant oil spill could result in clean-up costs in the billions of Rands. Despite government being warned repeatedly of this over the past decade, the Department of Transport can't seem to sort something this basic out. Can you imagine the levels of incompetence that plague a department if it is unable to attend to something as simple as regularly reviewing and adjusting what is effectively an insurance policy. 

Over the past few days, Pieter van Dalen of the DA has again laid blame for the present oil leak and consequential pollution at the door of the fisheries minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson. Van Dalen has justified this on the basis that South Africa's patrol vessels, and particularly its three inshore patrol vessels continue to be tied up in Simonstown harbour. As this BLOG and every other commentator has pointed out, the reasons for the effective decommissioning of these vessels is without doubt the fault of the Minister and her incompetent and bungling department - hell she said so on 21 March 2012 at a press conference

Joemat-Pettersson's spokesperson issued a statement yesterday stating that her boss was not to blame as ocean and coastal protection (including oil spill management and clean-up) is the function of the Department of Environmental Affairs. While this is technically correct because of a stupid and ill-conceived national government decision in 2010 to split the management of fisheries and oceans between two different departments, the patrol vessels are under the control of the department of fisheries and it is these vessels that were built to contain, mitigate and manage oil spills. And while these vessels remain tied up in Simonstown harbour because of the Minister of Fisheries' bungling not only are poachers raping our oceans without any concern of detection or arrest, our oceans and coast remains entirely exposed to pollution as a result of an oil spill - even a relatively minor one like the present leak from the Seli I. The Minister of Fisheries is directly responsible for this threat.

The availability of the Environmental Patrol Vessels is critical to the protection of our oceans and coastline. 

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