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Shipwreck at Tristan da Cunha threatens endangered penguin species

by Selwyn Bergman
on 22 Mar 2011
Oceanography SA
Oceanography SA

A Greek-owned bulk carrier ran aground at Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha Island chain on 16 Mar 2011. The subsequent break up of the wreck caused a fuel leaks into the surrounding ocean which in turn poses a risk to the endangered Northern Rockhopper penguin colony on the island.

The MS Oliva, a 75 300 tonne bulk carrier was en route from Brazil to Singapore with a cargo of soya-beans. The vessel contained approximately 1 500 tonnes of oil at the time of impact. All of the vessel's crew have since been safely evacuated from the vessel.

The salvage tug Smit-Amandla (formerly known as the John Ross) was mobilised from Cape Town to assist in the rescue operations. The vessel contained equipment to be used in cleaning oil from seabirds. An environmental advisor is also on board.

Nightingale Island is home to approximately half of the endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguin species. The island is also home to thousand of nesting seabirds. The disaster occurs at a time when adult penguings are going out to sea daily to gather food for their growing chicks. An oil slick currently surrounds the Island and extends a further 8km offshore. Conservation teams are doing all they can to clean up penguins that are coming ashore.

Aside from the direct risk due to leaked oil, scientists have taken cogniscance of a second environmental risk. If rats are present on the wrecked vessel, and these manage to reach the island, the infestation would be devastating to the island's seabird inhabitants. Despite assurances from the vessel's owners that no rats are onboard, the Tristan Conservation Department has made preparations to send a team to install bait stations.

Sources:
* Shipwreck threatens penguin colony on South Atlantic island
* Environmental disaster unfolding in Tristan da Cunha
* MS Oliva runs aground on Nightingale Island
* Bulk carrier Oliva broke in two on the Tristan da Cunha rocks
* MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island on 16th March 2011
* Ship ploughs into island


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