STS Bunkering vs Endangered African Penguin


17 November 2021

Wednesday 17 November at around 13:00 at least 80 litres of heavy fuel oil spilled into the ocean whilst the Croatian-flagged vessel, MV Solin was being refueled at sea by the bunker tanker Sea Express. The spill took place in a designated anchorage area known as Anchorage one. For now we know that a fuel tank on board the receiving vessel overflowed during the refueling process. The South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) is currently carrying out an investigation into the cause of the spill.

After the spill SAMSA initiated all relevant oil spill response teams as per the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan to assist with the containment and clean-up of the spilt fuel.

The question we have in mind is whether or not a precautionary boom was deployed before the transfer of fuel began? And could this have prevented the spilt fuel drifting across the bay and thus shortened the time it took to clean up the spill?

Although all species of marine birds are at risk when an oil spill occurs, with this spill taking place in Algoa Bay, not far from St Croix Island, special attention needs to be directed to the colony of endangered African Penguins that live and breed on St Croix Island. This colony that used to be ranked the world's largest breeding colony now only ranks as the fourth largest in South Africa with approximately 1500 breeding pairs left on the island. This figure is shockingly low considering that we had approximately 3600 breading pairs in 2019.

If there is to be any hope of the African Penguin colony on St Croix Island stabilizing and growing we need to protect them by mitigating the risk of having another oil spill in Algoa Bay.

This spill is the third spill that has been recorded in Algoa Bay since 2016, confirming that ship to ship bunkering in Algoa Bay is a major threat to the survival of the remaining African Penguins in Algoa Bay.

If you come across any oiled seabirds please contact SANCCOB Gqeberha on 041 583 1830.

If a large amount of oiled birds are found, SANCCOB may need assistance from public volunteers in the cleaning of oiled birds. Please keep an eye on our page as well as SANCCOB’s for updates and potential requests for volunteers.

We will be keeping penguin boxes on board our boats in case we come across any oiled birds at sea during our upcoming cruises in Algoa Bay.

Update: 03 December 2021   

Thankfully there seem to be only a few peguins harmed this time. The only reason there were so few fatalities  was because most of the penguins were molting at the time of the spill. Molting penguins are confined to their island breeding colonies for up to three weeks, so were not at sea when the spill happened. We have had great news from the Minister of Environmental Affairs re the bunkering and will make this known in due course.


Summary of the Presentations of Public Meeting - Bunkering Operations in Algoa Bay

A public meeting was organized by Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism on 1 August 2019 to share concerns and inform the public about the ongoing Bunkering operations in Algoa Bay. 80 people attended the meeting at Dolphin’s Leap, Port Elizabeth.

Shaun Fitzhenry, from Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, gave an introduction and explained how bunkering is a concern to tourism in the bay. Lloyd Edwards, from Raggy Charters, presented the biodiversity of marine life in the bay and highlighted the importance of protecting this resource. Ronelle Friend’s, from Enviro-Quest, presentation dealt with details of bunkering operations, the spill that occurred and the resultant impact on the environment. She also outlined the issues and concerns around the operation itself and the management thereof. A broad summary of the presentations are given here.

Biodiveristy in Algoa Bay – Presenter Lloyd Edwards, Raggy Charters

Algoa Bay is a biodiversity hotspot with the convergence of two oceans in the sea and the existence of rich fauna and flora on the land (5 biomes). As an ecotourism destination we can offer the tourist so much. Now with the declaration of the National Addo Elephant Park Marine Protected Area on the 1st August 2019 we can offer the Big 7 in fact. In close proximity to Algoa Bay we have numerous 5 star game parks to view the Big 5 land animals, while we have whales (humpback, right, minke, brydes and killer whales) and great white sharks present in our waters, making the viewing of the Big 7 possible. Other cetaceans in the bay are Common, Bottlenose and Humpback (listed as critically endangered by IUCN) dolphins.

We have Cape Fur Seals and a very rick marine life. Of further interest is the occurrence of 9000 pairs of endangered African penguins with their main breeding area at St Croix island, nearly half of the world population. Endangered Cape Gannets (90 000 pairs) breed on Bird Island, two-thirds of the global population.

Annual events are the world-famous sardine run that attracts international attention with film crew from National Geographic, BBC and many others. In addition the humpback whale migration from Antarctica up the eastern coast of South Africa for calving and then back again takes place from April to October every year.

The bay furthermore is an area of considerable research for the ocean and marine departments at various universities, not only the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth.

The rich biodiversity resulted in the declaration of Algoa Bay as a Hope Spot by Dr Sylvia Earle in 2014, the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World in 2016 and a Marine Protected Area in 2019.

In 2017 a total of 3.4 million tourists visited NMBM and generated R 7 billion, with half through coastal and marine tourism. Tourism supported 44 227 local jobs in 2017.

It is thus sad that while on a tourist outing on a boat to St Croix islands in July 2019 we were met by Sanparks rescuing oiled penguins from St Croix. Then we learned about the spill during STS transferring of heavy fuel oil.

For the second time since bunkering operations started in 2016, the world’s largest breeding colony of African penguins, Cape Gannets and other marine life was put in jeopardy. Can we allow it any longer?

Bunkering in Algoa Bay – Presenter Ronelle Friend, Enviro-Quest

Over the last 3 years, Algoa Bay has witnessed an increase in bunkering operations, with large international vessels frequenting our bay for refuelling. Bunkering, the ship-to-ship transfer of fuel or oil from one vessel to another while at sea, is a high risk operation. (Basically a fuel station at sea)

3 Operators have been licenced by South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) and Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA): Aegean Bunkering Marine Services Pty Ltd in 2016, South African Marine Fuels in 2018 and Colt Marine in 2019. Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) and Marine Gas Oil (MGO) are the bunkering fuels.

50 ships can anchor at any time. Each operator has 1 mothership and 2 – 4 delivery vessels. Samsa is planning to obtain the SA Amandla tug to bring bigger ships into the anchorage for refuelling in 2019.

An oil spill from these operations can have major environmental consequences, impacting on other ocean industries such as tourism, water sports and fisheries. Although numerous objections were raised by marine scientists, environmentalists and tourism groups, licences to operate in the Bay were issued without performing any legal assessments and studies.

The public has never been informed of these operations. No public meeting has ever been set by any of the operators, or any of the governmental bodies. Thus there has been no environmental impact, socio-economic, ecological impact or traffic assessments. Furthermore, the emergency contingency preparedness for a major disaster in the bay has not been addressed.

The numerous requirements for such a high risk bunkering operation in a sensitive marine environment cause an overlap of governmental responsibilities, ranging from SAMSA, TNPA, Port of Ngqura, Department of Environmental Affairs, Sanparks,NMBM Municipality, etc. Is the overlap of responsibilities the possible reason why due diligence has not taken place when the bunkering operations were approved?

This video explains the process that should be followed before, during and after a STS Bunkering operation.



Oil spillage on 6 July 2019

As feared by many an incident took place during offshore bunkering operations less than 10km from the St Croix island. In the early morning (4h30) of 6 July 2019, while SA marine fuel were refuelling the vessel Chysanthi S, a spillage of HFO occurred.

A vast amount of oil spilled onto the vessel and due to the movement of the ship the oil ran over the sides of the ship into the ocean. Approximately 1600L (8X200L) drums of spilled oil were collected on the ship’s deck (and was re-used as a fuel), while ~ 400 L spilled over the sides into the sea. (A total of ~ 2000L of oil)

Even though a commercial oil spill response service provider was summoned to mitigate and contain the spread of the spill, more than 100 birds, all endangered species, were oiled. It took ~ 10 hours to recover 350L of the spilled HFO. 50L of HFO was left in the sea.

This is an ecological disaster for our Bay.

It was reported that the spill occurred because a valve on the receiving vessel was not secured after the transfer, resulting in an overflow. A final copy of the incident report has not been made available by Samsa, who indicated that the incident is still under investigation. Even though endangered birds were oiled, Chrysanthi S was fined a mere R350,000 and pay for the clean-up operations.

The birds collected by SanParks were taken to SANCCOB's (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) Seabird Rehabilitation Centre near Cape Recife where staff and volunteers struggled to clean the birds. The issue was that the HFO that spilled stuck to the birds and numerous washes were required to remove it. It is therefore important to investigate the nature of the HFO that is transferred and handled in the bunkering process.

Nature of Heavy Fuel Oil

Heavy Fuel Oil is a viscous tar-like substance. It is the last bit of oil, dirt and gunge that remains after the fractionation distillation of crude oil. Since it is the remnants from the cracking and distillation process is has not been ”cleaned-up”. It is therefore contaminated with impurities, including sulphur and nitrogen compounds, as well as various metallic compounds.

Since it is the remnant substance from petroleum processes it is available at a relative low cost and HFO is therefore the preferred fuel for marine vessels.

HFO is classed as an aquatic polluter. It is very persistent in the environment and is extremely slow to biodegrade. Due to the viscous nature some of the HFO will sink, rather than float, making it impossible to recover by current spill control methods (skimmers and booms). Due to the toxins in HFO, even at low concentrations will kill certain species of fish, algae and plankton. HFO has therefore been classed as extremely toxic to aquatic environment with long lasting effects. A spill of HFO will thus persist in the environment for a long time (could be years), constantly releasing toxic compounds. This has a disastrous effect on biodiversity (fauna and flora) in that area. It will also bio-accumulate in marine life.

During the combustion of HFO (propulsion of marine vessels) the impurities cause several environmental issues, mainly air pollution (greenhouse gas emissions) and black carbon particle emissions. In addition spills from HFO have been identified as been extremely disastrous to an area due to its nature as outlined above.

It is for these environmental disaster reasons that the use of HFO as a fuel source in marine vessels travelling in the Antarctic has been banned by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Currently there is a green movement underway to get HFO banned from the Artic areas as well.

Dimethylsulphide (DMS) is present in HFO as a contaminant. DMS is known to attract birds, fish and plankton in a marine environment. On a spillage of HFO the DMS will be released into the body of water. That is probably why such a high number of penguins were oiled when a relatively small spill of oil occurred in Algoa Bay in July 2019. They were attracted to the DMS which was present in the 400L of HFO that was spilled. (more than 100 penguins and gannets were oiled).

Apart from the affected penguins and gannets, the oil spill in Algoa Bay will have an impact on the total biodiversity of the bay, since toxins were continously released during the 10 hours that it took to clean up the spill. Some HFO must have sank as well. In addition HFO also forms an emulsion with water, making it difficult to skim off. Toxins, such as the long-chained hydrocarbons and organometallic compounds can be ingested by birds, fish and cetaceans. In addition it is well-known that algae and plankton will absorb toxin chemicals, which again can impact on various marine animals. The toxins from HFO will bio-accumulate in fish, animals and birds over time. The spread and impact of the toxins in Algoa Bay is uncertain at this stage.

Concerns from spillage on 6 July 2019

There are several questions that are raised by this spill:
 What procedures were in place to prevent overfilling?
 Why was oil transferred at night?
 Why were no containment booms, absorbents, etc deployed by the transferring vessel? Is this not a marine legislation requirement?
 Why was the spill only reported as Tier 1 alert? Surely the mere fact that endangered species were under threat would have raised it to a Tier 2 alert?
 What happened to the missing 50L remaining oil?
 What will be the response time and how long will it take to clean-up a major spill of, say a 1000L?
 Why was no statement made by any other organization besides SAMSA? After all this was a serious ecological disaster.
 What will the effect be on marine life and ecosystems from this spill over time?
 Apparently a second spill occurred when the receiving vessel tried to remove the oil from the outside of the ship hull – this has not been reported.

What happened to that oil?

There is a total lack of emergency preparedness, according to SAMSA themselves. In March 2019, a SAMSA board member and chairperson of the agency’s Maritime Industry Committee, Ms Sekabiso Molemane described the country’s maritime risks as high and the state of readiness for emergencies as low.

This can only lead to the conclusion that the governmental organizations as well as the private bunkering companies, are not equipped to deal with a major spill. From the transferring of fuel, accidents including vessel collisions and major environmental disasters such as storms and other acts of God that my drive the vessels onto shore.

Summary of current concerns on bunkering operations:

In short:
1. Oil spill risk with catastrophic and severe consequences (accidents during transfer, vessel collision, or acts of god) impacting on endangered species

2. Effect of increased traffic and noise on marine life in the bay

3. Lack of emergency preparedness by operators and governmental bodies

4. Financial gains vs environmental protection

5. Total lack of transparency and public involvement – from all role players (DEFF, DOT, Sanparks, Port of Ngqura, TNPA, SAMSA)

6. Is this the best way to use the Bay‘s resources or should we be doing a Strategic Assessment that can guide us?

7. Decrease in quality of life, visual impact, movement of ships, unsightly bay horizon

8. Bunkering should not take place near a MPA

9. Fines for spills are too low

10. Stop bunkering till all the issues have been clarified.

Silence from other departments:

It is extremely upsetting that other departments are not expressing their concerns with the operations. We talk about Samsa in this presentation, however have the other role players been totally absent from the bunkering operations? For instance, SanParks and its Marine Protected Area must have some concerns? DEFF is also quiet in their role of preventing pollution in the seas and the requirements for an EIA. Overall it seems that the bunkering operations have been rolled out in a hurry without due consideration been given to the requirements of other departments, or are the other departments just not interested?

The way forward as we see it:

1. Approach Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries

We would like to request that STS bunkering be listed as an activity that requires an EIA (we are of the opinion that it is actually a listed activity, but need to investigate it further). The sole licencing operation must not rest with SAMSA, but jointly with DoT and DEFF.

We would also request that independent auditors be appointed and that an audit be done on current STS bunkering operations.

2. Submit Concern Report to DEFF and DoT

All the concerns raised verbally as well as those handed in after the meeting, will be collated into a concern report which will be handed to DEFF and DoT.

3. Stop all bunkering immediately!

Until all issues and concerns mentioned above are clarified, bunkering must be suspended in Algoa Bay.

With a proper EIA alternative ports can also be investigated for bunkering as well.


We are gambling with the biodiversity of Nelson Mandela Bay… can we afford this any longer?
thank you…

For more information please contact:

Ms Ronelle Friend Environmental Scientist Phone: 083 636 1156 email:

Mr Shaun Fitzhenry Head, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism Phone: 076 191 3981 email:


Results of Concerns collated at Bunkering Meeting

After the presentations the floor was opened for discussions. At the meeting the attendees could raise their concerns or issues in writing if they wanted. Questions were asked on the confidence that they have that the bunkering operations are managed well and if bunkering should be continued or not. They could then also indicate their top concerns or positive issues. Fifty people submitted written responses. The top concerns that were raised are as follows (from top to bottom):

1. Threat of oil spills and pollution from the bunkering operations

2. Threat to the biodiversity in the bay (vessels moving, noise, spills, fires, ecosystem damage)

3. Efficient management of the bunkering operations is lacking – for example no public involvement, no co-governance, 2 spills in 3 years are serious, not proactive, arrogant, etc. No dialogue is forthcoming.

4. Effect on tourism that will be negative from visual impact, impact of biodiversity, possible spills that can impact ecotourism and beaches, etc.

5. Legal issues – if bunkering is actually legal, why is precautionary principle not taken, no EIA’s been done, only SAMSA and TNPA are involved, what about DEFF and DoT, etc.

6. Financial gain – is the financial gain of a few individuals really assisting the region to the possible determent of the environment.

7. Job losses – from the current employment in bunkering and chandlers.


The respondents had to indicate if they have confidence that the bunkering operations are managed efficiently, that procedural controls are in place and that the government departments are effectively overseeing the operations. 85% indicated that they do not have confidents in the effective management of the current bunkering operations in Algoa Bay.

The responds to a question if bunkering should be continued or not in Algoa Bay, 88% of the respondents indicated that it should be stopped, while 12% indicated that it should be continued while improvements are being made.





To read how it all started follow this link to our News Article:


By Giles Fearon:  Oil spill scenario modelling due to offshore bunkering operations in Algoa Bay



Read the Publication on Daily Maverick 23 January 2020


Algoa Bay Conservation put this very informative video together, a great explanation about bunkering and the damage caused.

(see more about bunkering on Algoa Bay Conservations YouTube Channel)



In July 2020 Sofia Christensen, Journalist for Agence France Presse, and Marco Longari, Photographer for AFP Photographs Jhb, joined us on a cruise into Algoa Bay and during the cruise interviewed Ronelle Friend on the Bunkering situation in Algoa Bay. Read the full article published in THE CITIZEN on 17th August 2020 here.

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STS Bunkering



October 2021 - We have received feedback from the Minister and will share update on this project soon.


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