The grounding of the Kiani Satu before the Womens Day long weekend along the majestic but remote Goukamma coastline puts into perspective again South Africa's failure to manage its fleet of patrol of vessels.
The grounded Kiani Satu is vaguely visible toward the top of this picture showing the pristine beach at Buffels in the Goukamma Marine Protected Area near Knysna. [Pic: Shaheen Moolla, 9 August]
The potential ecological damage of not having had patrol vessels looking after our fish stocks for the past 18 months (and counting) is hard to convey to the general South African public. The fact that there are oil soaked comorants now needing rescue and the potential of a pristine marine protected area being soaked with 330 tons of heavy fuel oil should hopefully bring the message home clearly that the South African government, and particularly its fisheries minister is directly responsible for this looming ecological catastrophe.
The patrol vessels were designed not only for fisheries patrols but are equipped as environmental patrol vessels (EPV's). As EPV's, they are equipped to deploy oil booms that are designed to contain any oil spill from a vessel in a boomed off sea area. They are further equipped to disperse oil dissipating chemicals that break up oil slicks and thus drastically reduce oil pollution.
The last time South Africa suffered a similar grounding in a remote and ecologically sensitive area was October 2004 grounding of the BBC China off the Pondoland coast. Although the EPV's had not been delivered at that stage to the Environmental Affairs Department (as it was then in charge of fisheries as well), the department utilised the services of various "kuswag" or coast watch patrol vessels. With the October 2004 BBC China stranding, the Kuswag I, an anti-pollution patrol vessel, together with the Pentow Service, remained on standby at the scene and supported the beach-based clean-up. In addition, the Department also had an anti-pollution patrol aircraft, the Kuswag VIII, in service which provided aerial surveillance of any developing oil slick.
And today, we have none of these tools available to protect our invaluable marine and coastal resources. Instead, we have unqualified and unskilled Cadres and politicians running our government departments as if they know anything. As an aside, the SAMSA, Environmental Affairs and P&I teams used Lake Pleasant Hotel outside of Sedgefield as their base from where they worked this past holiday weekend. I could not help but notice that not a single cadre-employed "senior" and "top" manager (as they refer to themselves) was present in the late-night planning meetings or on the beach "managing" the clean-up.