Environmentalists breathe easier as South Africa signs on for oil spill relief

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Cape Town, South Africa
Environmentalists have expressed relief that South Africa has finally signed on to a pair of conventions that will ease the cost burden of oil pollution caused by shipping accidents
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org), WWF-South Africa and BirdLife South Africa, have applauded the decision by Government to sign onto international conventions that allow multi-billion Rand claims for clean up costs in the event of an oil spill.

The 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC) and its associated Fund Convention provides for claims of R2-billion and, in special circumstances, up to R3-billion.

“South Africa lies on one of the world’s busiest shipping highways with giant oil tankers constantly passing our shores. Accidents will always remain a possibility and so knowing South Africa will have access to substantial financial support should disaster strike is a great relief to us,” said Jason Bell-Leask, Director of IFAW Southern Africa.

The decision to finally embrace the 1992 CLC and Fund Conventions comes after years of lobbying Government by environmentalists concerned that South Africa would not be able to bear the costs associated with cleaning up after a major oil spill.

Prior to October 2004 South Africa remained a signatory to the 1969 CLC that capped claims at R120-million and the 1971 Fund Convention that allowed claims of up to R200-million.

“South Africa is no stranger to oil spills and has experienced two in the last decade – the Apollo Sea in 1994 and the MV Treasure in 2000. Both spilled relatively little oil but badly affected threatened sea bird species like the African Penguin and the Cape Gannet.

“One cannot imagine the calamity were South Africa to face a spill of the magnitude of for instance the Exxon Valdez in 1989, when 87,000 tonnes of crude oil produced claims of over US$5-billion. The cost implications for this country would be ruinous and the effect on our seabirds and marine life a disaster,” said Bell-Leask.

Bell-Leask said that IFAW would be launching its Saving Seabirds campaign in South Africa in March.

“Reducing the number of birds affected by oil worldwide is crucial to conserving marine ecosystems and the Saving Seabirds campaign lobbies for more accountable oil shipping practices while providing for the care and rehabilitation of oiled birds,” said Bell-Leask.

Saving Seabirds will also lobby the Government to ratify a number of other marine conventions that it has still not signed with a view to ensuring the most comprehensive protection possible for South Africa’s marine environment under international law.

“IFAW has submitted a proposal to Government that it approach the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to have South Africa’s southern coastline declared a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) and Special Area (SA).

“Heavy shipping traffic, most of which does not even call in at our ports, legally and illegally discharges waste oil at sea damaging our marine and coastal resources. Declaring the waters around the Cape a PSSA and SA will go a long way to protecting our coastlines and their fragile eco-systems and will strengthen South Africa’s ability to manage shipping and enforce oil pollution prevention laws,” he said.

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