Tristan news from Cape Town
- Cape Argus
`Oil spill could have been worse'
April 29 2011 at 12:01pm
JOHN YELD, Environment & Science Writer
TRISTAN da Cunha islanders are now fully trained to rehabilitate oiled seabirds, and there is expensive equipment ready on the island for any possible future spills.
These are two of the positive outcomes from the disastrous grounding and subsequent breaking up last month of the MS Oliva on Nightingale Island, one of the Tristan group, says Venessa Strauss, chief executive of Sanccob (SA Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds).
Sanccob was contracted by the insurers to help deal with the aftermath of the oil spill.
Strauss led a six-member Sanccob response team, all oiled-bird rehabilitation experts, who spent three weeks helping on Tristan and who were among those who arrived back in Cape Town on board the research vessel Ivan Papanin yesterday.
The Russian vessel, one of four chartered by the ship's insurers and carrying a much-needed helicopter, arrived at Tristan on Monday, April 11, and left last Saturday. The Sanccob team had sailed earlier on board the salvage tug Svitzer Singapore, and had arrived on April 4.
They were part of an international group of 28, which included veterinarians, representatives of the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, and oil pollution and salvage response experts, who worked alongside an 80-strong island volunteer force.
Strauss said the team members felt privileged to be able to help.
"We had a chance to make a difference," she said.
She did not want to comment on criticism by BirdLife SA that the response to the disaster had been too slow and with too few resources.
However, she said the remoteness of the Tristan group of islands, six days' sailing from Cape Town and the most remote inhabited island in the world, had been a factor.
Team members had spent the first week helping with the rehabilitation of the oiled birds each had worked on a different aspect of the operation and had spent the next fortnight training the islanders who "really got their act together", she said.
"We left behind skills, knowledge and equipment. That's the good that came out of this, and the next response (to an oil spill there) will be quicker and more efficient. This has highlighted how important it is for these faraway places to be equipped and (people living there to be) trained."
The team had been provided with everything they needed by the insurers, Strauss said.
"Once we got there, the birds had the best possible chance."
Strauss acknowledged the high mortality rate, but said it was unfortunate that the oiled penguins had just finished moulting and were therefore in a poor physical condition.
"They were in an emaciated condition with not enough weight on them, and they also weren't waterproof."
It was difficult to know now what the overall conservation impact of the spill would be, Strauss acknowledged.
"But it could have been worse. If it had been even just a month earlier, it could have been much worse," she said.
Nor do we know why this great team was originally announced to consist of 15, but only six were allowed to go.