Monday, September 9, 2013

MV Smart Coal to be Dumped in Ocean: Is it Legal?

The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) announced today that the Minister of Environmental Affairs has authorised the dumping of some 10,000 tons of coal from the stricken MV Smart off Richards Bay. 

According to SAMSA, the dumping has been authorised in terms of an "emergency" dumping permit. The question is, is this legally permissible? 

Section 72 of the Integrated Coastal Management Act of 2009, permits the dumping of materials into the ocean on an emergency basis but only if - 

  • the dumping of the materials is necessary to avert an "emergency that poses an unacceptable risk to the environment or human health and safety". In other words, rather dump the polluting materials into the sea as opposed to dealing with a subsequent catastrophic environmental or human distaster. For example, rather sink the Kiani Satu in the deep as opposed to have her leak her oil onto a pristine coastline in a marine protected area; AND
  • there is no other feasible solution. 
It is entirely unclear how the Minister could have satisfied herself that these two pre-conditions for the issuing of an "emergency" dumping permit could have been met. 

Firstly, by permitting the dumping of  the coal (presumably) where the MV Smart is presently located, what emergency posing an unacceptable risk to the environment or to human health and safety is being averted? 

Secondly, there appears to have always been a feasible alternative solution - transshipping the coal to a receiving vessel, the Armada Condor or another vessel. 

Further, Section 71(2) of the ICM Act makes it mandatory that the Minister of DEA first consults with the IMO before issuing an emergency dumping permit. It is not clear whether the Minister consulted with the IMO and further, what conditions were stipulated by the IMO permitting such an act. 

Based on the information presently before us, it certainly does appear that the issuing of the emergency dumping permit is contrary to the ICM Act. 

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