It’s been several months since the decommissioning of the marine gas oil (MGO) pipelines in the Port of Cape Town and the situation continues to stifle businesses with no real viable solution on the table to adequately address the needs of the fishing fleets using the port for bunker calls.

In addition, news that Chevron plans to sell 75 percent of its South African business, has many unsettled as they question whether new shareholders will see merit in pursuing the bunker market.

And, as a decision to discontinue the bunkering of fishing vessels by barge came into effect at the beginning of the year, vessels are not finding much relief as access to the JBS (Joint Bunkering Services) pipeline is from one berth only.

Stakeholders were invited to a meeting by Chevron to discuss safety procedures relating to the supply of bunkers via the JBS pipeline in the port in February and were introduced to a new Safety Checklist that needs to be completed before any loading hose connection can be made to fishing vessels in the Port of Cape Town.

“The general feeling is that these safety concerns can be addressed and are manageable,” says Gunnar Engbers, Ships Agency Director at Trade Ocean who attended the meeting. He adds, however, that some of the stipulations made by Chevron in relation to undertaking inspections 24 hours ahead of bunkering are adding to frustrations.

Engbers hopes that some compromise can be reached to allow for inspections to be completed just prior to bunkering. He points out that the need to conduct safety inspections 24 hours ahead of scheduled operations will deter bunker-only calls to the port. “Previously all inspections were undertaken just prior to bunkering,” he adds.

Another concern that he believes needs to be addressed is the stipulation that vessels can only be loaded to 80 to 85 percent capacity. “This is also a concern as vessels will have to call more frequently at port to refuel. Given the current economic climate, this is likely to have dire consequences,” he says.

Engbers, however, advocates for more investigation into sustainable long-term solutions that will provide real relief for congestion and stabilise the situation.

“Additional smaller tankers dedicated for use by small vessels only and the recommissioning of the pipelines to allow supply via pipe need to be urgently addressed,” he said.

Vessels that have not taken their business to other ports are now experiencing significant congestion and wait times during busy periods. It’s an issue that may well result in the complete loss of this sector of the market and cost Cape Town jobs that it can ill-afford to lose.