Shipwreck Off South Africa Endangers Thousands of Penguins

Whoever was on watch this day is in big trouble. Environmentalists and salvors are negotiating with the South African and British governments to provide a ship to launch a rescue operation at Nightingale Island in the Tristan da Cunha chain, which was hit by a bulk carrier last week.

The Oliva, a Greek-owned, Malta-registered bulk carrier laden with about 64,000 tons of soy beans and carrying 1,500 tons of heavy fuel oil, smashed into the volcanic island’s unprotected and inhospitable northwestern shore at full speed on Wednesday. The Oliva was on its way from Brazil to the Far East. None of the ship’s 22 crew were injured when it ran aground.

On Saturday, the ship broke in two, leaving the after section, with the accommodation, capsized in the shallows among rocks, and the forward section, comprising most of the cargo holds, against a vertical cliff face that rises from the ocean. Environmentalists in Cape Town have been scrambling to organize transport to Nightingale Island to launch an urgent clean-up of thousands of affected sea birds.

Shipping sources yesterday told the Cape Argus that the grounding could develop into an environmental nightmare, making the penguin rescue effort after the 2000 sinking of the Treasure in Table Bay “look like a picnic.”

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