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Municipality caught off guard by ship dumping toxic waste off the West Coast

A track hoe excavates the residue of NS Qingdao's reactive cargo. Picture: SAMSA/Holling

A track hoe excavates the residue of NS Qingdao's reactive cargo. Picture: SAMSA/Holling

Published Jan 19, 2022

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Cape Town - The dumping of about 1 500 tons of chemicals from the NS Qingdao bulk carrier into the sea about 250km off St Helena Bay appears to have caught the Saldanha Municipality off guard.

The dump is being supervised by the SA Maritime Authority (Samsa) and licensed by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), which issued an emergency dumping permit to the ship.

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However, Wouter Kriel, spokesperson of Local Government, Environmental Affairs MEC Anton Bredell, said the provincial department was aware of the issue and was taking part in the Joint Operations Committee under the lead of the DFFE and Samsa.

Reacting to news of the dumping, Saldanha mayor André Truter (DA) said he was shocked and disappointed.

Through spokesperson Tereza Burger, he said: “Unfortunately, prior consultation and engagement with the municipality and residents did not take place. An in-depth understanding of the environmental impact is required.”

Mayor Truter is very concerned about the current state of affairs and has already requested municipal officials to obtain more detailed information about the relevant operations, Burger said.

Meanwhile, Standing Committee on Environmental Affairs chairperson Andricus van der Westhuizen (DA) was also shocked.

“While Samsa has suggested that the toxic fumes should not be regarded as an immediate threat, the oceans should not be used or seen as dumping grounds.”

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He said South Africa’s unique biodiversity and fishing communities were under increasing pressure and should be protected from such activities.

Provincial Agriculture spokesperson Pat Marran (ANC) said the news underlined how critical it was for the province to appoint an environmental commissioner without delay.

“As the ANC we will apply pressure on the Premier to ensure a commissioner is finally appointed this year.”

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Good Party secretary-general Brett Herron said the nature of the chemicals and the safety of the operation for human and marine life was too vague.

He called for an explanation from Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.

“The authorities appear to be more concerned about the integrity of the vessel than the impact on our environment,” Herron said.

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