Steering South Africa’s Marine Pollution Incident Management Preparedness: IMOrg At The Helm

It takes many people doing lots of different things to ensure that the environment is protected following a marine pollution incident. The challenge is to involve the right people at the right time with the best-suited skills and accountabilities – and a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities for managing the response to oil or any other marine pollution incident. By adopting international best practice in incident management, South Africa is proactively preparing to manage marine pollution incidents effectively, ensuring that the appropriate resources and stakeholders are mobilised quickly – and important and timeous decisions made. The South African Interim Incident Management Organisation (IMOrg), under the Department of Transport, plays a critical role in co-ordinating preparedness and response, utilising the internationally recognised Incident Management System (IMS) which was introduced in 2015.

Interim IMOrg Chairperson Mr Chueu Terrence Mabuela from the Department of Transport explains:

“In identifying the potential impact of offshore oil and gas production, the critical issue of oil spills and their impact on the marine environment was raised. In the context of preliminary discussions which initially took place in 2014 during the Operation Phakisa ‘Oceans Economy’ collaboration sessions, it was clear that there was a need for a joint-government/industry response approach to marine pollution incidents in the maritime and oil & gas sectors.”

Over the past few years since the Interim IMOrg was constituted, clear advantages and synergies have been achieved in establishing a holistic approach towards managing oil spills in the marine environment. And preparedness is key. 

As part of this focus, the Third Joint Industry Government National Oil Spill Response Exercise will take place in Cape Town in November 2019, following a formal IMS National Training Course, endorsed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

“South Africa is fortunate to be part of the ‘Global Initiative for West, Central and Southern Africa’ (GI WCAF), a project that sees the IMO collaborating with IPIECA – a global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues – to enhance the capacity of partner countries to prepare for and respond to marine oil spills,” notes Interim IMOrg CoChairperson Captain Ravi Naicker, the South African Maritime Safety Authority’s Senior Manager for Navigation, Security & Environment, whose commitment to sustainability is reflected in the drive to ensure the successful implementation of the IMS involving multiple stakeholders.

Informed by the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), all relevant national government departments and authorities, local and municipal responders, pollution prevention, containment and clean-up organisations, as well as vessel and offshore installation operators need to be aware of their responsibilities in the case of an incident.

Regular Oil Spill Response Exercises – initiated and managed by the Interim IMOrg utilising the IMS – bring together accountable designated representatives from the South African Department of Transport (DOT), Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries (DEFF), South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), Department of Minerals and Energy (DME), Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), Petroleum Agency South Africa (PASA), PetroSA, Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), Offshore Petroleum Association of South Africa (OPASA), Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF), South African Police Service (SAPS), National, Provincial andLocal Disaster Management Centres, various environmental Conservation Agencies, as well as Non-Profit organisations such as the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), Industry role players in emergency response, oil spill response and marine operators, amongst others.

Each exercise scenario is carefully created to ensure that response systems and processes are tested and accountable stakeholders are involved. Previous exercises have entailed oil spill scenarios focussing on Table Bay in March 2018, Algoa Bay (November 2018) and with the upcoming November 2019 exercise focussed on the area off Mossel Bay.

The Interim IMOrg, under the DOT, was constituted on 25 October 2017 following preparatory work done by the B1 Working Group under the Operation Phakisa ‘Oceans Economy’ initiative, initiated to fast track the implementation of the National Development Plan.

Establishing the internationally recognised IMS in South Africa as the primary marine pollution response co-ordination process is a key output for the IMOrg, in addition to providing advice, recommendations and support to the DOT and SAMSA as well as the appointed Incident Commander.

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