A quick response has been prompted following concerns after diesel from a sunken ship flowed to the surface in Port Elizabeth harbour.
An estimated 40 tons of diesel has leaked from a shipping trawler, Baratz the that sank in November last year.
Environmentalists expressed concern over the impact the spill posed on the sea life, especially the penguin colony.
A ship salvage company, Extreme projects, in partnership with commercial diving contractors has responded to a call to remove diesel from the sunken fishing trawler, the Baratz, off Cape Recife in Port Elizabeth.
It sank late last year after taking on water. Sea divers and those taking care of marine life have raised concerns about the dangers posed by the diesel spill on sea life.
Owner of Xtreme Projects, Kevin Kelly, says they are hoping to begin with the removal process on Saturday, weather permitting.
“We are just confirming this with all the authorities involved, as we don’t want to just go and do it, but at the end of the day Extinct project will carry the cost of the removal of this diesel and bring it back to shore.”
“We hoping to remove whatever is left, there was 40 000 litres on board, we do not know how many litres have escaped to the surface, but we definitely going to try and remove all the diesel from the vessel.”
A founder trustee of SAMRE, Libby Shellwood, is more concerned about the impact of diesel on the highly-endangered penguins.
Scientists estimate that in the next four years, these species might no longer exist.
“The diesel in fact is even more dangerous than just ordinary crude oil as it destroys the penguin’s liver, it’s not as visible, so we often don’t even realise the penguins could become oiled.”
At this point in time the only thing that has been taken out of the wreck is equipment to be reused
However, Nigel Campbell from South African Maritime Safety Authority insists that the diesel will soon vaporise.
“There is no dangerous navigation on the wreck at this stage, there is no reason to remove it however the equipment is floating around the vessel and this equipment is still attached to the vessel and has to be removed.”
Campbell says, “The majority of things on board like guess oil, guess oil comes to the surface and is often broken up by the wind, the waves and the spill action and it’s often more damaging to spray it with chemicals. So while Mother Nature is dealing with it, we are monitoring it on a daily basis.”
However, an environmentalist based in Port Elizabeth, Reiner Skimf, rejects this argument.
“At this point in time the only thing that has been taken out of the wreck is equipment to be reused, but nobody actually took care to think about the diesel. I raised that concern from the beginning because of my concern of possible health risk for the public on the beaches.”
“ I seriously doubt that diesel will completely vaporise. I have a Jar of diesel at the back of the house since the wrack sank it’s filled, it’s been standing there and there is a mark on it and it has not at all vaporised. On top of that even if it would vaporise it wouldn’t vaporise the heavy metals on it,” Skimf says.
It is a race against time for the salvage company to remove the diesel as hundreds of visitors still frequent the beaches to cool off this summer.