Spearheading tackling marine waste

Shem Oirere
Shem Oirere
Port Elizabeth has gained notoriety for its waste management plan Photo: Wikipedia/Frans-Banja Mulder CC BY 3.0
Port Elizabeth has gained notoriety for its waste management plan Photo: Wikipedia/Frans-Banja Mulder CC BY 3.0

Five years ago, South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Harbour was named the third safest of country’s eight commercial ports in terms of security, an achievement it now appears determined to replicate in its environmental protection programme, writes Shem Oirere.

South Africa has the privilege of having many major shipping lanes passing along its coastline, which exposes the area to increased marine pollution from ship wastes, oil spill, ballast water discharge and hazardous wastes.

Also, being on a major international shipping route, South Africa has in the recent past carried out substantial institutional and infrastructural reforms through Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) to attract more vessels and private sector investment in its eight ports including Port Elizabeth.

These developments have attracted more people and business activities to cities such as the city of Port Elizabeth but on the downside, have increasedthe risk of generation of additional marine pollutants.

Management regime

Port Elizabeth has gained notoriety for its waste management plan, which is one of the few successful ones in Africa.

For the port at Port Elizabeth, the need for a strong waste management regime is even more important because of its location within the Algoa Bay which TNPA describes as a “Sensitive zone where Southern Right whales calve and nurse their young, endangered sea turtles feed and a multitude of water fowl feed and nest.”

TNPA, which is the port’s landlord, has acknowledged the sensitivity of the surrounding marine environment and come up with one of the few waste management policies to reduce marine waste, re-use or recycle waste and where necessary, compel other port users to comply with stringent pollution regulations.

Perhaps it is important to note that whereas other Africa port operators could be having some form of waste management strategies, few could stand out in terms of detail as does the Port Elizabeth port’s marine pollution prevention plan.

For example, the port, which hosts a three-berth container terminal, one of five in South Africa, has delegated responsibilities such as the removal and disposal of waste to waste management providers and provision of waste reception facilities for ship generated waste to terminal operators at the port.

This delegation of waste management roles is to ensure the port’s environment does not become contaminated and the process of collecting, storage and disposing of marine waste is smooth.

Key departments

TNPA has also addressed any ambiguity on the role of the port’s key departments such environmental department, harbor master, licensing manager, marine control officers, marine operations manager and port engineering department, by spelling out specific tasks for each of them in the protection of the port from marine pollution.

In addition, the port’s waste management plan has been aligned with international legislation and requirements such as MARPOL Convention and association regulations, International Convention for the Control and Management of Ship’s Ballast Water and Sediments (2004) and the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, to name but a few.

In addition, the port’s waste management plan, which was revised for the fifth time in January 2017, undergoes a scheduled periodic review to accommodate emerging global and national changes in marine waste generation and disposal.

This is important because as Dr Linda Godfrey of the Waste RDI Roadmap Implementation Unit at the Centre for Science and Industrial Research in South Africa said, during the July 2017 African Marine Waste Conference: “Africa is at a watershed, in that if we do not stop and take action now, we are going to be faced with a massive marine waste problem locally, regionally and the potential impact globally.”


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