Government condemns non-declaration of hazardous cargo

Oct 14, 2003
Author: P&S

The Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Mohammed Valli Moosa today (Tuesday 14 October 2003) strongly condemned the non-declaration of extremely hazardous chemicals on board the vessel Sea Elegance, which caught fire on Saturday 11 October 2003 approximately 6km outside of Durban harbour.

Minister Moosa lashed out from Iran where he has signed a memorandum of understanding on behalf of South Africa, shortly before departing for India where he will accompany President Mbeki on a state visit.

"This is completely unacceptable as this non-declaration could seriously impact on the safety of our people and of the our marine environment. This non-declaration of hazardous cargo will be met with the strongest possible action from my department as we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the public and the protection of our environment".

Moosa said that it was ironic that an incident of this nature occurred at a time when the nation was celebrating National Marine Week - a week during which the focus is on the importance of protecting the valuable marine and coastal environment.

According to the department the container ship Sea Elegance had an undeclared hazardous cargo of calcium-hypochlorite in a 20 ton container. Calcium-hypochlorite is a highly flammable substance, most commonly found in diluted forms in household bleach. It is believed that the explosion onboard the vessel was caused when the calcium-hypochlorite reacted with two containers of atrozine, a herbicide.

Although the vessel does not pose any immediate risk of pollution, the department said it is monitoring the situation closely to ensure that it can respond immediately to any potential pollution threat. The Department currently has 60 tons of dispersant at Durban, and will airlift any other necessary equipment from Cape Town, such as booms, should this become necessary.

Ports & Ships has received a separate report which says that the suspect container was loaded at a Chinese port.

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