Transportation of cargo by ocean-faring vessels is a risky business for the environment.  With Cape Town and the southern Cape coast being situated on one of the world’s main oil tanker shipping routes, the risk of potentially devastating marine incidents cannot be underplayed – the Kiani Satu and SMART cargo ships running aground during August 2013 along the South African coastline and the MV Treasure bulk ore carrier sinking near Table Bay in 2000, which resulted in the oiling of more than 20 000 indigenous African penguins, illustrate this hazard. 

 Recently, Parliament has taken steps to heighten protection of the marine environment by introducing a suite of complementary legislation, namely the –

  • Merchant Shipping (International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) Act, No. 24 of 2013 ("Compensation Act");
  • Merchant Shipping (Civil Liability Convention) Act, No. 25 of 2013 ("CLC Act");
  • Merchant Shipping (International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) Administration Act, No. 35 of 2013 ("Administration Act"); and
  • Merchant Shipping (International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund) Contributions Act, No. 36 of 2013 ("Contributions Act").

Collectively, these pieces of legislation advance the protection of the marine environment in South Africa and address issues of liability and compensation for environmental damage caused by pollution from oil and other substances. 

The Compensation Act, CLC Act, Administration Act and Contributions Act were assented to by President Zuma during December 2013.  The President declared the commencement date of the CLC Act and the Compensation Act to be 30 May 2014 under Government Notice R34 in Government Gazette37687 of 26 May 2014 and Government Notice R35 in Government Gazette37696 of 29 May 2014 respectively.  The Administration Act and the Contributions Act were declared to commence on 1 May 2014.

These Acts arguably are much-needed additions to the current legislative framework as they will provide victims of marine oil pollution with long-awaited access to international funds and improved compensation from ship owners.  This is a welcomed step in enhancing the protection afforded to, as well as assisting in the remediation of damage caused to, South Africa's ecologically-sensitive coastal and marine environments.