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Salvage resources need to be enhanced
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Salvage resources need to be enhanced

St Francis salvage puts team through its paces

SOUTH AFRICA: The current salvage and wreck removal of a fishing vessel that grounded at St Francis Bay earlier this month is putting the South African incident response team through its paces and helping to highlight gaps that may exist within the country’s emergency maritime support structures.

Speaking to the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s (SAMSA) COO, Sobantu Tilayi yesterday, he highlighted that much has changed in the world of shipping since South Africa had to react to its last major maritime incident a decade ago when the Smart ran aground and split outside of the Port of Richards Bay in August 2013.

“This is a good test case for us,” says Tilayi pointing to the comparatively small incident that has required a relatively straightforward response along the Eastern Cape coast.

While he is happy with the response from the Incident Management Structure, he notes that there has been some loss of capacity over the last ten or more years. Assets that were commonly seconded from sources such as the South African Airforce or the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment are no longer available.

“Access to a casualty can require the use of helicopters,” he says explaining that vessels in trouble in difficult areas can only be boarded from the air. “In this case we managed to find a private commercial helicopter in Plettenberg Bay,” he continues admitting that the team had to search for an option.

“I am slightly uncomfortable,” Tilayi says describing his present assessment of the existing (salvage) capacity given the increase in shipping traffic sparked by the situation in the Red Sea.

Noting the absence of any big incidents along the coastline, Tilayi does not believe that the country can afford to be complacent. “I am slightly uncomfortable,” he says describing his present assessment of the existing capacity given the increase in shipping traffic sparked by the situation in the Red Sea.

“We still have a window of opportunity, and we need to use this window to build capacity,” he says adding that the current salvage operations were largely assisted by the stock of equipment that exists in Port Elizabeth to ensure effective response to incidents relating to the offshore bunker operations in Algoa Bay.

Tilayi believes that this capacity needs to be replicated along the coast and notes how, elsewhere in Africa, much of the equipment required to respond to major maritime incidents needs to be imported at the time of the salvage.

“I pray we never get to that situation here,” he says highlighting the importance of the Emergency Tow Vessel contract that has proved its worth for decades along the South African coast.

“The big issue is to enhance our pollution prevention capacity with better monitoring capabilities and proactive management. Our resources are stretched, and we need to have that discussion about enhancing our equipment to respond effectively,” he concludes.

PHOTO: The fishing vessel Elke M that grounded at St Francis Bay on Saturday 7th January. (Source - SAMSA FaceBook)

 

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