Global protection for South Africa’s southern waters

Monday, March 27, 2006
London, United Kingdom
In a landmark move to protect South Africa’s fragile coastal waters and beaches from shipping pollution the international shipping community has agreed to the designation of the Southern South Africa Sea Area – a designation that will prohibit or severely restrict the dumping of oily waste in this area.
Meeting in London this week the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), a regulatory body of the International Marine Organisation (IMO), approved a 1,500 kilometre long, 35 to 135 nautical miles wide length of coastline, a “Special Area” in need of enhanced protection.

More than 25 countries from North America, Africa, South America, Europe,South-East Asia and the Caribbean as well as Russia overwhelmingly voiced their support for the proposal and subsequent approval.

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org), which facilitated the research supported the preparation of the proposal set before the MEPC, applauds the decision.

“The natural resources of the South African coastline are world renowned for their diversity – the Special Area supports 12 unique endangered or internationally protected animals, including the vulnerable (to extinction) African penguin[1], and the thousands of people who rely on its rich natural resources for their livelihood,” said Sue Lane, an environmental scientist based in Cape Town and leader of the research team.

The Southern South Africa Sea Area joins an exclusive group of marine environments identified as Special Areas by the MEPC because of the sensitivity of their waters and shores. They include the Mediterranean Sea Area, the Baltic Sea Area, the Black Sea Area, the Red Sea Area, the Gulf’s Area, the Gulf of Aden Area, the Sea of Oman, the Antarctic Area and the North West European Waters.

Special Area status will mean that chronic or acute oil pollution from passing vessels will be reduced as ships will be restricted or prohibited from releasing oil waste discharges. It will also deter illegal discharges of oil by highlighting the protected area status on international navigation charts.

In accordance with IMO procedures the Special Area will come into force in February 2008. In the interim period prior to entry into force the MEPC will publish a circular for world-wide distribution that will encourage voluntary compliance with the prohibitions and restrictions of the Special Area.

The coastline surrounding the Cape of Good Hope is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, and nearly 1,400 oil tankers, freighters and other vessels traverse the coastline each month. Many do not call at South African ports and routinely pump their bilges and tanks prior to rounding the Cape to better stabilise the load.

“IFAW initiated this project in cooperation with the South African Government in 2000 immediately after the MV Treasure oil spill when nearly 20,000 African penguins – 35 per cent of the entire global population – were oiled, as well as hundreds of other vulnerable seabirds,” said Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW’s Southern African Director.

“This is a wonderful first step by South Africa and the international community to safeguard South Africa’s extraordinary coastline and marine resources. In years to come we hope to see further efforts to greater ensure the safety of coastal waters.”

The IMO, based in London, is a United Nations body governing the law of the sea. The purposes of the IMO are to provide a forum “for cooperation among Governments in the field of governmental regulation and practices relating to technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade; to encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships.”

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