Moratorium on awarding more licences for Ship-to-Ship Bunkering in Algoa Bay to remain in place

Recently our client, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, became aware of the decision made in the Bunkering Stakeholder Forum Session (“BSFS”) in December 2021 to lift the moratorium on the awarding of bunkering licences in Algoa Bay that has been in place since August 2019.

Bunkering is the process of refuelling vessels by transferring liquid fuel oil to seagoing ships which are positioned alongside each other, either while stationary or underway. With the fuelling of very large vessels such as tankers, the possibility always exists that there could be a catastrophic oil spill such as was the case for MV Treasure in Table Bay. The MV Treasure released 1 139 tonnes of heavy fuel and 56 tonnes of marine diesel into the sea off Robben Island. 

Algoa Bay is a marine biodiversity haven, recognised by the declaration of the Addo Elephant National Park Marine Protected Area. St Croix Island previously held the largest African Penguin breeding colony in the world, and Bird Island currently holds the world’s largest Cape Gannet breeding colony, with two-thirds of the global population breeding at this site. These islands form part of a global network of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) identified for their global significance for bird conservation. 

A spill in Algoa Bay has the potential to impact on the Bird and St Croix island groups as well as the entire coastline within and around the Bay. A spill of this magnitude would impact significantly on various ecosystems within the Bay as well as several industries such as tourism, fishing and mariculture. 

The ship-to-ship bunkering is taking place at anchorage points 1 and 2 of the Port which are situated adjacent to the Addo Marine Protected Area, Algoa Bay Island Nature Reserve and in line with the ecologically important mouth of the Swartkops River. 

While spills of this magnitude (>700 tonnes) are unlikely events, with approximately 7.3 occurring worldwide every year, the possibility does exist that such a spill may occur (WSP 2001). If the spill is not contained it could make landfall on any or all the islands to the detriment of the intertidal organisms and birds on the islands. The floating slick will smother any seabirds, especially penguins that encounter it. It could also smother or foul fish. A large spill could therefore have a profoundly negative impact on the ecology of Algoa Bay at large and in turn have negative downstream socio-economic impacts.[1]

The African Penguin population is declining at an alarming rate due to anthropogenic threats, including oil pollution. St Croix Island, the closest island to STS bunkering activities has suffered a staggering 80% decline of African penguins in the past five years. During this time, vessel numbers have more than doubled in the bay, with bulk carriers having increased more than threefold. Vessel activity has been concentrated in shipping lanes and anchorage areas, where bunkering services are located, that overlap important foraging areas for penguins from St Croix Island. This threat cumulates with others such as oiling and competition with fisheries, and certainly contributes to the rapid and significant decline of penguins at this colony. African Penguins are known to avoid waters with excessive marine noise as was the case for penguins from St Croix Island during seismic survey activities in 2013.

The main concerns with ship-to-ship bunkering include:

  1. Threat of oil spills and pollution from the bunkering operations, specifically to the Addo National Park Marine Protected Area, and the type of oil that is used;
  2. Threat to biodiversity in the bay from the movement of vessels, engine and other noise,  spills, fires and eco-system damage;
  3. Poor management of the bunkering operations;
  4. Visual impact on ecotourism and beaches;
  5. Loss of tourism and the effect on the local economy; and
  6. Threat to species on the IUCN Red List such as the African Penguin, Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, Indian Ocean Humpback Dolphins, Abalone, Pipefish and Leatherback Turtles.

Minister Creecy acknowledged in a letter dated 15 October 2021 that concern regarding the decrease of African penguins led to the promulgation of the Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Penguin (AP-BMP) and concerns regarding ship-to-ship bunkering and ship-related disturbance to pelagic fish around St Croix Island are part of the ongoing discussions in updating this plan which is still to be published for public comment.  The Minister confirms in the same letter that the Department has had numerous engagements with SAMSA and TNPA and as a result of these engagements SAMSA “put on hold all new applications for bunkering until a comprehensive risk assessment has been conducted and relevant concerns have been addressed.”

All Rise wrote to SAMSA and the TNPA advising that an EIA must be undertaken, and that prior to any discussions being had or decisions being taken regarding the lifting of the moratorium the following must also be finalised:

  • the comprehensive risk assessment mentioned in Minister Creecy’s letter
  • the updated AP-BMP mentioned in Minister Creecy’s letter.
  • a Marine Spatial Plan for Algoa Bay

We are pleased to note that as a result of this correspondence and the ongoing efforts of a number of NGOs, the moratorium will remain in place for now.

The matter is ongoing, and developments will be communicated.


[1] Minerva Marine Bunkering SHE Risk Assessment 5 July 2020 ref: (CSIR, January 2013 Chapter 8, Marine Ecology, pg. 8-17)