The city of Cape Town is not known as the ‘Cape of Storms’ for nothing. Strong winds and mammoth swells are common features of the coastline and have resulted in a number of wrecks. Investigative journalism programme Carte Blanche recently highlighted South Africa’s lack of legislation regarding oil pollution compensation, which is a major concern considering the amount of ships that run aground on Cape Town’s coastlines. Without the correct framework in place for oil pollution compensation, the local environment and the economy is facing potential devastation, which will affect both our marine flora and fauna as well as import export agents.
It’s a sad fact that three of the most tragic oil spills in maritime history have occurred off the South African coastline. However oil pollution compensation has never covered the full extent of the damage. The most recent ship to run aground in Cape Town’s seas was the Japanese trawler Eihatsu Maru, which was fortunately not a fuel carrying vessel. However, if the trawler had smashed into the rocks the debris still would have caused much damage to the environment, which would not have been covered by the Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. With the assistance of external companies and organisations, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) spent over R7.5 million rand salvaging the ship, which will hopefully be recouped in a costly legal battle with the Japanese parties. This near disaster is a drop in the ocean compared to the scope and damage of massive tanker spills, which is always a possibility. However, as Carte Blanche pointed out, South Africa’s oil pollution compensation legislation is not fully in place and thus we are not prepared for any future maritime accidents.
Nation states are to a degree financially covered for damage caused by oil spills by the international Oil Pollution Compensation Fund of 1992. In short, the Oil Pollution Compensation Fund (IOCP) is financed through levies, paid by local oil companies that receive oil after sea transport. Unfortunately South Africa has not updated its oil pollution compensation legislation and thus cannot claim back from the fund in the event of an oil spoil. If the correct frameworks were put in place, South Africa could claim billions from the Oil Pollution Compensation Fun. As things stand now, South Africa would only receive a maximum of R180 million. Furthermore, the Oil pollution Compensation Fund only applies to oil tankers and not regular vessels. Dave Colley, the regional manager of SAMSA, suggests that compulsory insurance policies and oil pollution compensation by member states and not shipping agents need to put in place in order to protect nation coastlines. Until then, South African and other well-traversed coastlines around the world will have to hold thumbs that disaster will not strike.