Saturday, 19 March 2011

Oil spill threatens seabirds on Nightingale Island, southern Atlantic Island

SAFRING ringer, Claudia Holgate, is currently aboard the M/V Prince Albert II, a cruise ship to the Antarctic. She reports: "On Wednesday 16 March 04h30 the cargo ship Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island close to Tristan da Cunha. Because our arrival in the area was within 24 hours, our ship was informed by local authorities and asked to assist. On Thursday afternoon we conducted a rescue operation with our zodiacs to get the 10 remaining crew off the vessel. At 02h30 on Friday morning (yesterday), the ship split in half." This picture of the stricken vessel was taken by Claudia Holgate.
Currently there is an oil slick spreading, and there are reports from Nightingale Island of Northern Rockhopper Penguins coming out of the sea covered in oil. Claudia reports: "The spill could not have happened at a worse place."
The Oliva was a 75 300 tonne cargo ship carrying soya beans from Brazil to Singapore, and was carrying about 1500 metric tons of heavy fuel oil. The ship ran aground at Spinners Point, the NW corner of the island. There are many species of birds that are only found in this area and a major oil leak may have catastrophic consequences to the bird life around these islands. Nightingale Island and the closeby Middle Island host breeding populations of seabirds numbered in millions. Another potential problem is rats finding their way from the sinking ship onto the island and this is a real threat to burrow nesting birds. A salvage tug, the Smit Amandla, was dispatched from Cape Town on 17 March, and is expected to arrive on 21 March. The distance from Cape Town is about 2000 km. On board the tug is Estelle van der Merwe, who was in charge of SANCCOB at the time of the Treasure oil spill, and she is working in close collaboration with SANCCOB.


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