All at Sea
||17 June 2012 07:00
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
It's not for nothing that the sea around Cape Town, with its monster swells and wild weather is called the "Cape of Storms". Countless ships have been swept ashore and the coastline is littered with wrecks. Three of the biggest oil spills in maritime history took place off our coastline.
Capetonians woke to another near disaster on a misty Sunday morning in May. Thankfully, the Eihatsu Maru was a small long-line fishing vessel, and not an oil tanker or bunker laden with fuel.
Dave Colley (South African Maritime Safety Authority): 'Very thick fog, captain was asleep, two sailors, or fishermen, one on each bridge wing, not allowed to come into the wheel house. And the captain tells them: 'Call me when you see the lights.'"
Dave Colley, regional manager for the South African Maritime Safety Authority, SAMSA, was woken at 5am to the news that there was a ship parked on Clifton's First Beach.
Derek Watts (Carte Blanche presenter): "The Eihatsu Maru is now lying peacefully at anchor in Cape Town harbour and it's a miracle that she ended up on soft Clifton sand instead of on the rocks; it could have been very different."
Dave C: "It was lucky for everybody in Cape Town because, on either side, if it had hit the rocks at full tilt it would have been an awful mess."
Derek: 'Now what have you got at your disposal if there is a major shipping disaster today?'
Dave C: 'Spades and packets."
Derek: "You serious?'
Dave: "I am serious. It's very difficult to even get a helicopter in South Africa today. And so if you can't get to a casualty you can't even get started on resolving problems, never mind if you start taking ships off the board and other assets."
Smit Amandla Marine holds the government salvage contract to be on standby 24/7. The company's head of salvage, Dave Main, says this was one of their trickier salvage operations.
Dave Main (Smit Amandla Marine): "We had 16 different companies/organisations involved in that salvage."
It took five days to dislodge the ship and the salvage cost R7.5-million. But the ship isn't insured and SAMSA hoped to sell the load of tuna on board to cover the bill. It turns out that the Japanese won't buy tainted fish and the tuna won't even cover a third of the costs. Now the legal battle begins.
Dave M: "If I look over the last two years - out of nine cases, seven had major insurance issues. There have been problems with underwriters and sometimes we can sit for years in fact waiting to be paid.'
Derek: "The remains of the Seli 1 - known locally as the Seli 3 - tell the story of just how much salvage can cost the State... in other words, our own back pockets. The bill is roughly R25-million already, and there are more costs in the pipeline."
Dave M: "In many cases, such as in the Seli 1, she was fully insured and they assured us, but it took them about three days to find a loophole and then suddenly she was not insured."
Over the last decade there's been a massive increase in goods being transported by sea. But tough economic times mean that many of these ships are in a shocking state.
Dave C: "I think what people don't realise is that there is a constant procession of old ships, scrap ships and substandard ships that are parading past South Africa on any given day. But every now and again they come ashore or get into difficulties and we have to deal with it.'
Derek: "So it's an enormous problem if the ship isn't insured?'
Dave M: "They are not coming into South African ports and very often the first time we know that they don't have insurance is after they are on the beach.'
And our dedicated pollution control vessels have been out of action since the tender debacle when minister Tina Joemat Pettersson was accused of irregularities. Instead of reopening the tender, she handed them over to the Navy, stripping SAMSA of yet another resource.
Derek: "These vessels should be our first line of defence, but instead of being with SAMSA they are now strangely under the wing of the Navy and don't seem to be on active duty. They have been tied up here in Simonstown, since March."
The Panos Earth, a Chilean bunker, is SAMSA's latest headache. It was towed into False Bay after being adrift for two weeks 240 miles off Cape Town before the owners finally asked Smit Amandla to tow her in. The crew and the ship were in a sorry state.
Dave M: "We found them with virtually no fresh water, they couldn't shower, they could not wash, and in fact they were finding old scraps of meat and having a little braai, so to speak, on deck with bits of wood and so on."
The ship's generators had packed up, so the Chilean crew members had no electricity... and not much food.
Salvage master Juan Kilian has been on board for the last two months ensuring there is no fire or pollution risk.
Juan Kilian (Salvage Master): 'They continuously tried to recondition old parts and because of that, leaking pipes and poor maintenance, everything leaked into the bilges again and just created a fire risk.'
What was meant to be a three-week stay in False Bay has turned into a three-month saga and, inevitably, it's the crew who are caught in the middle, with the owner at fault.
Dave C: "First of all, he wasn't maintaining his ship properly so he starts having problems. Then the charter has problems with the owner because his cargo is going nowhere, and so he stops paying the owner and so the owner has even less money. So the whole thing starts snowballing. Now we sit there with an owner in Chile, an insurer in England and Greece, and the owner of the cargo is in China... so just trying to get anything arranged through all those lawyers is just about impossible."
Juan: "Normally in a situation like this where the owners neglect the ship they neglect the crew as well. So they will feel like prisoners; they will feel like they have been left out there to die."
Knowing the salvors wouldn't let the crew starve, the owner stopped paying for their food and their wages. Their families back home were suffering and after eight weeks of this the crew borrowed a phone from the salvors and put a desperate call through to Cassiem Augustus of the International Transport Workers Federation.
Cassiem Augustus (the International Transport Workers Federation): 'The men [was] very nervous, emotionally stressed out, they [were] wanting to get off immediately, saying that this vessel is not safe and that they needed to go home."
Leopoldo Velasquez (Crew member): "I felt like a prisoner, and to go for four month unable to set foot on land, this is not normal."
Franco Chappa (Crew member): "I need my salary, that is all... because that is the main problem. [If] I don't pay, the bank will take away my home.'
The ship is under arrest and will be sold on public auction. The ITF attorney is representing the Chilean crew and is ensuring their outstanding salaries form part of the claim when the ship is sold.
Derek: "This is a perfect day, but it is also the Cape of Storms and, with winter upon us, there is always the danger she could be ripped from her anchorage, spilling her deadly bunker fuel on the marine reserve and its penguins..."
... Which cost R52-million to clean in the last oil spill, so Smits's tug remains on standby and they are footing the R24-million salvage bill.
But if there was an oil spill we would be seriously compromised. Professor of Shipping Law at the University of Cape Town, John Hare, has spent the last 16 years trying to get the South African government to pass legislation which would dramatically increase the amount of money we can claim from the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund in the event of a major disaster.
Prof John Hare (Shipping Law, UCT): 'If there is a major cataclysmic oil disaster in South Africa, R180-million is all you are going to be able to get from outside. The rest of it is going to have to be paid for by you and me. The Erica and the Prestige have been between 6 and 7-billion [rand]; the most expensive was the Exxon Valdes - R23-billion.'
Because South Africa has not updated its legislation, local oil companies aren't paying the three cents on every ton of the oil they import to the International Fund, the insurance fund to which the world's major oil companies contribute. And, like all insurance premiums, if we don't pay our levies we can't claim.
Derek: "It seems like a simple equation - a major oil spill could seriously dent our economy... insurance to cover it relatively easy to get and not all that expensive. So why has it taken 12 years?"
Outgoing Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin is fully aware of the problem. His department has drafted the necessary changes to the law, but the finance ministry withdrew the bill from parliament last year.
Derek: "Do you agree that 12 years has been far too long to get this in order?"
Jeremy Cronin (Deputy Transport Minister): "No, it has been far too long."
Internationally, oil companies pay the levy directly to the Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, calculated on the volumes of oil they are transporting. The hold-up is that Treasury wants to collect the money directly and then pay it over to the fund.
Jeremy: "Treasury does need an ability to record what is happening, because it is our money basically, but going into a multi lateral entity."
Prof Hare: "I am not even quarrelling whether the government should be collecting it and then paying it to the fund. This is too important to really get bogged down by those sorts of quarrels; we have R180-million worth of cover and we should have R9.5-billion.'
Jeremy: "We have instructed our officials: really move now quickly and jointly on getting this right to have this complete for legislation to be passed in parliament in the course of this year."
But this legislation will only cover oil tankers. It does not protect us from uninsured ships.
Dave C: "What is really needed is compulsory insurance and not by an insurance company, but actually certified by the flag State so that somebody can't run away."
After nearly three months of being trapped at sea, 14 members of the Chilean crew finally flew home to their families, leaving just the captain and four essential crew behind to assist the salvors.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.