A ship with a history of carting nuclear waste around the world has blown a piston and is drifting off the Wild Coast.
Dubbed a “dustbin ship” by activists, the 4090-ton cargo vessel, BBC Shanghai, was 35km off Mazeppa Bay in an unusual cyclone-affected south swell.
Transnet tug Shasa was racing to the rescue last night to put the vessel under tow. They were expected to arrive at East London harbour at dawn today.
In a statement approved by port manager Jacqueline Brown, Transnet’s East London Port spokesman Terry Taylor said: “Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) confirms that it is responding to a call to provide assistance to MV (merchant ship) BBC Shanghai, a 101m general cargo vessel with 11 crew members on board.
“The TNPA tug Shasa, with a bollard pull (maximum pulling strength) of 70 tons and a crew of 10, sailed from the Port of East London at 2pm [yesterday] en route to the vessel.
“The Shanghai’s last stated position was 16 miles (30km) offshore of Mbashe Point.” The Shasa was expected to rendezvous with the BBC Shanghai at approximately 9pm last night.
“Once a tow line is secured the vessels will commence their journey back to the Port of East London.”
Repeated questions yesterday about what cargo was being carried drew a blank from all sources.
Transnet did not know and by late yesterday afternoon would not alter its formal statement.
Save Nahoon activist Kevin Harris called on the authorities to immediately state if there was nuclear waste on board.
“Why won’t they say what is on board? A thorough investigation should be done and the public informed immediately.
“What if cargo is dumped overboard in the night before she is reached for towing?
“Nuclear waste must not enter our waters. Not at all.”
In 2015 Nathalie Geismar, of French environmental group Robin des Bois, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that other ports had found a “staggering number of flaws” in the then-14-year-old BBC Shanghai.
The Sydney Herald reported that when the BBC Shanghai arrived at Port Kembla near Wollongong on December 5 of that year, she was met by Greenpeace protesters and heavy police presence including the riot squad, mounted officers, police in boats and on jet skis, and divers.
Greenpeace protesters followed the Shanghai into port and protesters unfurled a banner that read: “Don’t waste Australia.”
In November 2015, BBC Shanghai was reported to be carrying 125 tons of nuclear waste by Indonesia’s maritime security board (Bakamla) which barred the vessel from entering Indonesian waters.
At the time, Bakamla Chief Vice-Admiral Desi A Mamahit told reporters at his office in Jakarta: “Our investigation has found that the vessel had entered our seawaters when sailing to France.
“And now we are monitoring its travel back to Australia.”
The BBC reported in October 2015 that the ship left the French port of Cherbourg carrying nuclear waste from France-based nuclear company Areva in Beaumont-Hague nearby.
Greenpeace and French environmental campaigners called for the shipment to be stopped.
Yannick Rousselet of Greenpeace France said the BBC Shanghai “should not be used” to transport nuclear waste.
French Green MP Denis Baupin tweeted that the BBC Shanghai was “a dustbin ship to carry waste, without any serious inspection”.
BBC Shanghai is registered to the twin island country of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean.
At lunchtime yesterday, a Dispatch source said BBC Shanghai was drifting shorewards 35km from Mazeppa Bay.
The source said the ships were expected to arrive in East London at 6am.
There will be a 20km/h north-easterly wind tomorrow morning, according to the SA Weather Service. Windguru.com is predicting a 1.6m southerly swell with winds up to 26km at dawn.
The vessel was bound from Durban to Lagos, Nigeria.
Yesterday the site marinetraffic.com showed the BCC Shanghai drifting at one knot, down from an average speed of nine knots. — firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mike Loewe
Daily Dispatch / Tiso Black Star Group