Blobs of black oil have mysteriously surfaced on the beaches north of Durban, threatening to spoil them for holidaymakers ahead of the festive season.
Residents began noticing pockets of oil on the shores of Zinkwazi, Salt Rock, Zimbali and Blythedale beaches.
Department of Environmental Affairs experts and South African Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) officers were dispatched to the scene yesterday to investigate the source of the oil and plan its removal.
What is puzzling residents and officials is that the slick is not very far from Sheffield Beach, also north of Durban, where in July the India-bound ship Phoenix became stranded for more than two months.
The ship’s 16 crew members were airlifted and later repatriated to India. It cost the South African taxpayer more than R35m to drain the Phoenix of its dirty oil, refloat and then sink her more than 270km off the Amanzimtoti coastline.
Samsa executive head Sobantu Tilayi said they received a report at the weekend of a ship that was leaking oil, nearly 580km offshore. Rough sea conditions may have washed the oil to the shoreline.
Grant Conway, Samsa’s Durban principal officer, told The New Age they are still investigating the source of the spill but it was too early to link it to the sunken Phoenix.
“What I can confirm that it is indeed black fuel oil. Our officers and those from the Department of Environmental Affairs are still working on the scene. We will have a full report later today or early tomorrow,” he said.
Conway said officials from Samsa, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the local municipality were doing the clean-up yesterday. “So far, they have collected about 10 bags over the period of a day. At this stage we don’t think there will be more oil spilled,” he said.
Zimbali resident Tony Webster said many people were looking forward to spend the holiday on the beach.
“My family is coming from Gauteng and others are coming from overseas. We were looking forward to a cool holiday but now with this spill I don’t know whether it is still possible. We will have to decide if we should cancel the whole thing,” said Webster.