Situated along South Africa’s coastline Algoa Bay is a natural inlet in the Eastern Cape. Approximately 680km from Cape Town the bay is located on one of the busiest trade routes in the world. Until recently the Algoa Bay has not been on the map for bunkering with the harbours of Durban, Richards Bay and Cape Town being the dominant players.
In 2016 however, a license for bunker trading was granted to a Greek-owned company under the name Aegean Marine Petroleum Network Inc. to begin bunkering in the bay. The company is now operating as Minerva Bunkering. Unlike the major ports of South Africa, Algoa Bay does not have a busy harbour. The license for bunker trading was granted by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) together with the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) as a job creation and economic initiative. Although Algoa Bay is a natural bay. This bay is what allowed for the nations first offshore bunkering operation. For the last three years the new operation has been bustling. Bunkering in Algoa Bay has provided employment and economic opportunities which before were not available. Such benefits are the reason for the granting of the license. It didn’t take long before another company, South African Marine Fuels (SAMF), were brought into the fold. SAMF is the first local company to be given a license and is hopefully only the beginning. This license opened the door for trade to begin in Algoa Bay and could be the beginning of good opening for South African maritime business. As with all things offshore bunkering does have some negative aspects. The process of refuelling a ship in the open water will always carry with it the risk of an oil spill. While one ship acts as the terminal the other moors and so even in calm waters this can be risky. In the case of Algoa Bay there is protection offered on both sides by Cape Recife and Cape Padrone. However, even with this protection the operation encountered its first major bump in the form of an oil spill on the 6th of July this year. It is estimated that between 200-400l of oil was spilled after the receiving tank overflowed. The spill did not bode well for the case of offshore bunkering in South Africa. Even though it was cleaned up and declared by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries as a tier 1 level incident, because it could be resolved using local resources without national assistance, it still had a negative impact. Such an incident creates doubt as to whether this offshore model is sustainable in the long run. Since July there have been no further spills but that doesn’t erase all doubt. Reportedly Algoa Bay has been earmarked as a possible Marine Protected Area. If this were to happen it would cripple the bunkering initiative made possible by SAMSA and the TNPA. Since the incident Algoa Bay has been operating without hinderance and will need to continue to do so in order to establish itself as a successful model for offshore bunkering in South Africa. If South Africa would be able to create more offshore opportunities it would do a lot for their maritime business. Where the usual harbours restrict fuelling to port calling ships offshore bunkering offers refuelling to all ships passing by. Such variety of choice for customers could boost shipping traffic off South African shores. Boosting traffic flow by giving shippers incentives will only grow our maritime business while creating jobs and stability in the sector.