Reports flowing in now indicate that tons of diesel on-board the sunken crayfishing boat, the Baratz, is now escaping into the sea at a far greater rate than ever before. Yesterday at around 10:00 am the wreck area was approached by a dive tour boat from Expert Tours and owner Rainer Schimpf remarked to MyPE later that day that; “… the smell of diesel and extent of it on the surface was far greater than on previous encounters and more than one nautical mile from the wreck.”
At 14h00, Thursday, 26th November, NSRI Port Elizabeth duty crew were activated by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) following a request for urgent assistance from the 29 meter steel Crayfish boat Baratz reporting to be taking water with no motor power and adrift at sea South East of Cape Recife, Port Elizabeth, with 25 crew on-board in rough sea conditions of 4 to 5 meter swells and up to 20 knots South Easterly winds.
The rescue was a success and all lives were saved leaving kilometres of 20mm rope, crayfish traps, the normal trappings of fishermen at sea, 45 tons of diesel fuel on-board as well as 30 tons of bait on the ocean floor. [Editor: initially it was reported that 70 tons of diesel was on-board, today it was confirmed that the Bratz had 45 tons on-board. At a pump price of R10.00 per litre that represents over half a million rand worth of diesel].
A dive to the wreck on 27 November revealed slowly leaking diesel mixing with sand and oil making the visibility almost nil and diving of the area extremely dangerous.
Despite this evidence of a ‘smoking gun’ as diesel leaked into the bay authorities seemed to then go into a state of suspended animation and did nothing. This jeopardised the abalone seeding programme off of the Cape Recife Nature Reserve which led Tom Swartz, Commander of the Tactical Task Force to comment; “The slightest hint of oil in the water will suffocate the [abalone] sprats and, if the combination of an east south east current with an east wind occurs, then the seeding programme could suffer a serious setback.”
It was only on 2 December 2015 that Neville Noble from the South African Maritime Association (SAMSA) instructed the Tactical Task Force to enforce a no go area of two nautical miles around the Cape Recife Lighthouse.
It is unclear exactly what game the owners of the Baratz and their insurance company are playing as it seems as though they opted to only pick the ‘low hanging fruit’ by authorising divers from CDC with support from Xtreme Projects to retrieve items such as rope, crayfish traps and other easily moveable assets off of the boat. This DESPITE the slowly leaking diesel. In hindsight this action could be seen as a very selfish one on the part of owners and insurers who now appear to have only been protecting their own interests and not that of the environment and the citizens of Nelson Mandela Bay who rely on tourism for their very livelihoods.
The ONLY official authority to issue any form of comment on the wreck was Ms Mandlakazi Skefile, CEO of Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism who, on 14 December 2015 said; “Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism are aware of the sinking of the Baratz on 26 November and are relieved that there were no casualties. Currently the only concern is the possibility of an oil spill and pollution that could harm the ocean life until the wreck has been ‘sanitised’. Once the risk has been removed and the area has been cleared, the silver lining in the tragic situation is that it will add value to the deep-sea diving experience for scuba divers adding an additional underwater spot of interest to explore.”
It is now 7 January 2016 and we have no way of telling what toll the leaking diesel has had on the sea life that we all say we have a duty to protect, no authority has ‘forced’ the owners and insurers of the Baratz to clean up their mess and no salvage company has been instructed to attend to the greatest hazard from the wreck – the 45 tons of diesel slowly poisoning the sea.
Kudos to Kevin Kelly of Xtreme Projects and Raymond Taylor of Coega Diving Contractors (CDC) as Kevin Kelly, in a post on Facebook said; “I have just spoken to Raymond of CDC, we as a team Xtreme Projects and CDC will start with arranging authority to remove the fuel from the vessel, at this stage we will carry the costs, our beaches, environment, and PE is very important to us and so to the rest of PE. Once all is a go and we can start this is what we will do. Thanks Raymond for teaming up as your divers are a need for this operation.”
It is a crying shame that specialised salvage operators such as Xtreme Projects and CDC were placed on a ‘leash’ whilst backroom gambling with the fate of our environment went on by owners, authorities and insurers.
At the end of the day the insurers or owners will be forced to pay salvage operators for the removal of the diesel – an operation that they are now carrying at their own risk.
With the diesel escaping at a far greater rate other dangers now come into play: the fishing industry could suffer a serious setback, penguins and other marine life in Algoa Bay are being exposed to greater danger, we could lose our Blue Flag status beaches, the heavy metals in the diesel will stay in the waters of Algoa Bay and possibly contaminate fish and squid caught in this area.
One wonders what would have happened if a fish farm had been sited in this area – would the authorities also have reacted in the same lacklustre way and waited for the fish to be contaminated before doing anything or, would commercial considerations reigned supreme?
In our own small way MyPE and Rainer Schimpf from Expert Tours have been harassing and prodding the people involved in this mess – all at or own risk, with no expectation of any form of payment and only as concerned citizens that care for the environment.
Is it only now that the ‘smoking gun’ has turned into a ‘lethal weapon’ that we will see other Environmental NGO’s making their appearance and wringing their hands in front of the inevitable cameras that will be sent by media? I say; “Shame on you for waiting for this to become a disaster and media event when you could have quietly helped to prevent this from happening!”
Related: NMBT Comment on the Baratz | Underwater Footage of the Wreck of the Baratz | Diesel escaping from the wreck of the Baratz | Baratz wreck is a ‘No Go No Dive’ area | NMMU watches over Baratz Flotsam | Baratz Flotsam off Cape Recife | Baratz Diesel and Rope Flotsam | MyPE Image: Cape Receife | MyPE Image: Algoa Bay Yacht Club | Panyiota K Discharges into PE Harbour | We are in danger of destroying our HOPE SPOT | Fishing boat sinks off Cape Recife
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