Thursday, 31 March 2011

Environmental disaster looms at Nightingale Island.

Bulk carrier ‘Oliva’ breaks up, crew rescued.

Oil from the stricken bulk carrier ‘Oliva’ has spread up to eight miles around the entire uninhabited Nightingale island of the Tristan da Cunha Group, threatening ecological calamity. Awful scenes are reported; the group of islands is home to some 20,000 northern rockhopper penguins- about half the world’s population and the most threatened species of penguin- hundreds of which have been already found coming ashore coated with oil. Transport Malta says it is investigating the grounding and subsequent complete hull failure of the Malta-registered 40,170 gross tonnage bulk carrier. All the 22 crew aboard were safely evacuated before the Oliva broke up.

The ship was on a voyage from Brazil to Singapore with 65,000 tonnes of soya beans and around 1500 tonnes of fuel oil when she ran aground off the remote islands on March 16, 1500 miles from South Africa in the South Atlantic. Her fuel tanks are ruptured and are leaking oil into the sea. Environmentalists are extremely concerned that the leaking oil and cargo- and any rats on the ship that may get ashore- will irretrievably decimate the penguins, the rock lobster fisheries and the internationally-important seabird colonies there.

As an immediate response, the Tristan Conservation Department has placed baited rodent traps ashore near where the Oliva grounded and a salvage tug, the Smit Amandla, is reportedly on the scene now, having travelled 1500 miles from Cape Town with an environmental expert aboard. A second vessel is due to follow. Sadly, this small group of islands is incredibly remote, with the nearest landmass 1500 miles away and only accessible after a 4-7 day voyage by sea; there is not even an airstrip there. Local authorities say that tens of thousands of penguins and seabirds will be affected, and a superhuman endeavour would be needed to address the disaster.

Biologist Richard Cuthbert from RSPB, Europe’s largest conservative charity, is angry: "How a modern and fully-laden cargo vessel can sail straight into an island beggars belief. The consequences of this wreck could be potentially disastrous for wildlife and the fishery-based economy of these remote islands. The Tristan da Cunha islands, especially Nightingale and adjacent Middle Island, hold millions of nesting seabirds as well as four out of every ten of the world population of the globally endangered Northern rockhopper penguins. Over 200,000 penguins are currently on the islands and these birds will be heavily impacted by leaking oil. Nightingale is one of two large islands in the Tristan da Cunha group that are rodent-free. If rats gain a foothold their impact would be devastating”.

Trevor Glass, the on-scene Tristan Conservation Officer, is more direct. “The scene at Nightingale is dreadful as there is an oil slick around the entire island. The Tristan Conservation Team are doing all that they can to clean up the penguins that are currently coming ashore. It is a disaster!"

No comments:

Post a Comment