The Ghana Ports and Harbours Authourity (GPHA) is to impose a $50,000 penalty on the Mediterranean Shipping Company for polluting the Tema Port environment with heavy marine oil (HFO) spilled from its container vessel, MSC Alexa.
The company and the terminal operators, Meridian Port Services (MPS), according to officials of the GPHA, would also be surcharged with the cost of cleaning the oil from the surface of the water.
The spillage, said to have occurred at about 3a.m. on Tuesday, May 10, 2016, spread to the new jetty under construction and dry-dock areas.
The marine dock, oil jetty and VALCO Wharf,as well as the leeway breakwater of the canoe beach and portions of the fishing harbour were also affected.
The Director of Port at the GPHA, Mr Jacob Kobla Adorkor, told the Daily Graphic in Tema that the GPHA could have constrained the spill to a small area if the terminal operators and the agents for the vessel had reported the incident to the GPHA.
“We have an oil spill contingency plan in place and we would have responded immediately to minimise the effect of the spill if we had prior notice”, Mr Adorkor said.
“The spillage only came to our attention on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, when our security men, who were on an international standardisation organisation (ISO) compliance patrol at the port, smelled the oil in the environment”, Mr Adorkor asserted.
He said the massive nature of the spill was only known after an investigation was conducted following the report received from the security patrol team.
According to Mr Adorkor, the vessel was said to be ballasting when the spillage occurred.
Vessel ballasting is a process by which sea water taken up at sea is disposed of at the port or at sea.
The director suggested that the vessel’s tanks got contaminated in the process of ballasting, thus causing officials to spill the oil since the vessel had no oil spill response equipment on board.
He stressed that while it is an international regulation that the port authority should be informed in situations of ballast spills, the two entities failed to do so, hence “our resolve to penalise them to send a signal to other port users that you cannot pollute the port and go scot-free”.
The director said the GPHA had deployed a boom and askimmer equipment used to contain oil spill to the affected areas. The boom, which is a floating barrier, would isolate the oils at various areas to enable officials to use the skimmers to collect the oil from the surface of the water.
He said a reception facility operation, which has been put in place, would receive the spill scoop for the water to be processed for proper disposal.
Mr Adorkor mentioned that the marine dock entrance to the drydock and the new jetty areas had been cleaned up, but officers were still on standby since spills in the adjoining areas could still move there.
“The cleaning process would last for two weeks due to the severity of the spill, and we can only declare the port to be oil-free after the process has been certified by our safety personnel”, Mr Adorkor stressed.
Mr Adorkor pointed out that the spill, apart from polluting the marine environment, also had a lot of environmental implications on the ecology of the harbour basin.
Spilled oil, he said, could harm living things because of its poisonous chemical constituents.
“This can affect organisms both from internal exposure to oil through ingestion or inhalation and from external exposure through skin and eye irritation”, he suggested.
He said the likelihood of fish stock in the fishing harbour area where the spill spread could also record some level of mortality.