Knysna residents (including me) have held their breath since the German cargo ship, Kiani Satu, ran aground on Thursday, just south of Buffalo Bay, alongside the Goukamma Nature Reserve (-34.0656°/ 22.9078°). The worry is that an oil spill would threaten an area renowned for its nature and natural beauty as well as damage an already fragile, tourist-based economy.
SAMSA (South African Maritime Safety) took over from NSRI and Captain Nigel Campbell issued statements to the press which provided a broad overview. The Knysna Municipality has inefficiently been quiet the 4 days up until now.
On Friday, i published what had happened and since then have posted updates on our Facebook. This blog serves not only as a timeline of the events (which was often misreported by other publications) but also as an update.
Kiani Satu is a 157m x 59m cargo ship weighing almost 17 000 tons. It’s stocked with rice and gas oil (a fuel oil obtained in the distillation of petroleum). Additionally, it’s own heavy fuel is an estimated 330 tons. Kiani Satu is German owned yet flying the Antigua/Barbuda flag (a twin-island nation lying on the edge of the Caribbean Sea). It departed Hong Kong, stopping in Cape Town before continuing its passage to Gabon.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 7 2013
They issued an emergency signal at approximately 0300 on Aug 8, reporting engine problems and the risk of risk of running aground.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 8
The Dutch-owned tug, the Fairmount Glacier, went to their rescue but Kiani Satu was already aground when she arrived on Thursday, Aug 9. Partly on the rocks, the French (unconfirmed) captain was forced to drop anchor. Pushed by strong surf, the ship eventually landed up 50-100m from the shoreline of the Goukamma Nature Reserve.
Being an environmentally protected area, there are no tar roads which meant 4×4 vehicles were needed to get there. Initially, the 4 National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) boats from Knysna and Wilderness were unable to launch as 5-6m swells and a 40 knot wind threatened in the dark. They were there, when, just before sunrise, Kiani Satu went aground.
Commander Graeme Harding keeps the public informed.
A Sikorsky resue helicopter lowered NSRI staff onto the deck who then assisted in hoisting the 19, mostly Ukrainian and Filipino, crew members up to the helicopter. Spectacular photos of the rescue were quick to surface on the internet thanks to Wilderness NSRI member, Bianca Bezuidenhout.
Safely on the beach, the relieved crew were determined to have only suffered minor injuries. Police Sea Borderline transported them to Mossel Bay where their passports and visas were processed before they were given hotel accommodation.
In the meanwhile, salvage vessel Amandla Smit Amandla is on her way from Cape Town. SANParks, CapeNature and the Knysna Municipality are on the scene.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 9
It’s too dangerous for divers to weld underwater so efforts begin to pump it into an undamaged container higher in the ship.
SAMSA says that the vessel is in 7m of water and that there had been no leakage so far and that they predicted “no possibility of any leakage”.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
Captain Nigel Campbell states that there is in fact a leak: “One of them is a small leak in the engine room. It is a water pipe that we made fast on Saturday morning. We believe that there is a crack in the hull in the way of number 2 double bottom starboard tank which is holding the fuel.”
As a precaution, the mouths of the Goukamma Estuary and the Swartvlei river were bulldozed closed. This proves necessary as photos by Knysna residents, showing a fuel and oil leak, start to surface.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 11
SAMSA says that 3 tons of fuel has leaked and that it is mostly heading offshore. The Department of Environmental Affairs’ Oil Spill Response team says it is “under control”. However, uncorroborated sources claim that that figure is as high as 30 tons. As more aerial photos surface, it is apparent that the shoreline has been polluted.
MONDAY, AUGUST 12
3 oil-drenched penguins become the first animals to be rescued by locals. Pool & Pet Warehouse takes a photograph of one of the penguins and sends a request for locals to help with products needed to assist these and expected birds’ rehabilitation at Tenikwa Wildlife in The Crags, 40km north of Knysna.
The primary goal for Monday was to float the Kiani Satu. The attempt was scheduled for early evening at high tide but had to be delayed as the helicopter, which was essential to the operation, had experienced unspecified technical difficulties. However, its later arrival helped to successfully connect a tow rope between the cargo ship and tug. The flotation project is rescheduled for Tuesday morning, Aug 13, at 5am.
The clock is ticking as bad weather on its way with swells as high as 6m (20 feet). Already, as this video shows, much more oil has reached the shore.
In a letter to ‘stakeholders’, Knysna Municipality confirms that the Kiani Satu’s German owners, Esmeralda Schiffahrts GmbH, are fully insured.
Only excess water is being pumped from the ship. No oil. No rice.
The crews are working in cold conditions which have included downpours (it even hailed in nearby Knysna early evening, yesterday) but the swells have not climbed as predicted because strong winds are flattening them. However, the team has managed to turn Kiani Satu 45 degrees so that it is now facing out to sea. With every high tide, they have tried, and will continue to try float her.
Cape Town is experiencing storm. Important that rescue operations are successful before it reaches Knysna.
Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) reports that oiled birds are at a manageable 13.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 15
Official estimates of the oil spill are now closer to that said by local sources, saying 35 tons. Pieter van Dalen, the DA’s Shadow Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries issues a statement disagreeing with this, claiming it’s climbed to 70 tons. Van Dalen also says that all 6 environmental vessels that could assist with the oil cleanup are not available, sitting unseaworthy in dock owing to the incompetency of Fisheries Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Suitable, 1 ton plastic storage containers for storing the oil are found.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 16
Cape Nature calls for helpers to find oiled birds.
More failed attempts to pull Kiani Satu free.
The cargo helicopter successfully airlifts 2 x 1 ton containers of oil from the ship. This is repeated until 8 tons are ashore. Unfortunately, winds are strengthening and nightfall ends the operation.
The Goukamma beach clean-up, and natural tidal action, has worked well. The oil is barely visible and the beach has had time to ‘breathe’ as the leak on the ship, in it’s new position, has stopped.
Over 200 birds, penguins and gannets, rescued and being rehabilitated so far.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 17
Captain Nigel Campbell (SAMSA) confirms that they have achieved success. The Smit Amandla pulls Kianu Satu off the rocks, safely navigates the reefs and heads out to sea in search of deep water.
The storm has arrived. The swells are a massive 7-8m. The tug boat, Smit Amandla, is bow deep with each swell. The worry is that the tow rope will break and Kiani Satu will drift or crack open, spilling it’s estimated 252-287 tons of remaining oil.
10 men crew the Kiani Satu but a helicopter is expected to brave the 45 know wind and winch them to safety before night descends.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 18
Tow rope holds through 20m waves and 45 knot winds. Now 24km out to sea with over 150m of water below it. Success!
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 21
Kiani Satu sinks 1km downwards, 110 nautical miles (200km) south of Knysna. Smit Amandla waits to ensure no debri. Currently no plan to recover the remaining oil. Bird rescues at 239 so far.
- Photo gallery at www.loveknysna.com/photo-gallery-kianu-satu-grounding-and-oil-spill.
- Videos at www.loveknysna.com/video-knysna-oil-spill.